Ballyliffin Golf Club
Golden Jubilee Commerative Booklet 1947 - 1997
Ballyliffin Golf Club 1997 - Expert Appraisal
The Links at Ballyliffin
It was christened 'the Dornoch of Ireland' and for years golfers in the know regarded Ballyliffin as the ultimate hidden gem. Not only is this one of the friendliest clubs in the country but the setting is unsurpassed and the quality of the terrain so perfect for golf that those who accidentally stumbled across Ballyliffin felt compelled to speak of it in whispers. Thus it was enchanted as well as enchanting and Ballyliffin seemed destined to dwell in splendid isolation. Then two things happened.
In June 1993, on a glorious day when 'seals basked on Glashedy Rock and the sea off Pollan Strand was as blue as the Bay of Naples', a helicopter landed adjacent to the clubhouse and out jumped Nick Faldo. The world's number one and reigning Irish and British Open champion immediately fell under the spell, but then he hadn't encountered anything quite like Ballyliffin before. With its amazingly contoured fairways, this was a course that added new meaning to the phrase 'a natural golf links'. Suffice to say Faldo was bowled over by the experience and word of his visit soon filtered down the golfing grapevine.
The visit was, in fact, extremely timely for only a few months earlier the club had taken the ambitious decision to begin construction of a second 18 hole links course. The architects were to be Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock who promised the club that they would build one of the world's finest golf courses. Within two years they had honoured that pledge. So now Ballyliffin has 36 holes, to savour - two outstanding and contrasting links courses: the classic Old links and the magnificent new Glashedy links. Perhaps the sun will soon set over our Dornoch of Ireland. ..only to rise with the Ballybunion of the North.
Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of The Old links at Ballyliffin. The drive to the clubhouse is straightforward enough but when you stand on the 1st tee of The Old links the sensation is invariably one of total bewilderment. 'Is that the fairway?', you ask incredulously. Somewhere up ahead (a dog-legging par four away) is the green, but your gaze is fixed firmly on the extraordinary terrain in front of you. Like most fairways on The Old links it twists and tumbles in every conceivable direction.
During his 1993 visit Nick Faldo was as fascinated as anyone by the course's myriad humps and hillocks: 'Do you play bump-and-run here or do you just run and bump?'. Of course, there is no one to whom you can readily turn for advice or explanation as the principal architect of The Old links was the greatest of all golf course designers, Mother Nature.
The Old links is something of a museum piece. Transport BaIlyliffin to the east coast of Scotland and you could easily imagine that it had existed since the 16th or 17th century. It is an unashamedly old-fashioned links. It bristles with charm, character and curiosity. There are no real blind shots to confront but awkward stances, like the vagaries of the wind, come with the territory.
And what a 'territory' this is! By the time you have reached the elevated green at the 2nd - and it is a formidable par four - you will have caught several glimpses of Glashedy Rock, Ballyliffin's own Ailsa Craig off to your left. Now as you contemplate a severely sloping putt the ocean comes fully into view, and with it a sweeping 360 degrees vista. For the first time you are able to appreciate the full glory of the links as it unravels majestically between the sea and the encircling hills.
The 3rd hole is played directly towards the ocean along a perilously narrow fairway. It is an exhilarating (if intimidating) hole and one that provides a classic example of how a par four need not be long to be challenging. Next comes the par five 4th, with its bite-off-as-much-as-you-dare drive and splendidly rippling fairway. Play this hole at dusk on a fine summer's evening and you may witness what the locals call 'the fairway of a thousand shadows'. It is an almost mystical experience.
The most legendary hole on The Old links is undoubtedly the par three 5th, or 'The Tank', as it is known. It is one of those holes that people either love or hate. The green enjoys a stage-like setting perched between two large sand - hills and only the perfectly judged tee shot will find the sanctuary of the putting surface.
As the sea disappears from view for the next few holes the hills and mountains demand their share of attention. Crockaughrim, Buluba and Binion jostle for prominence with some of the larger and more distant mountains on the horizon. In spring and early summer these hills can appear almost purple or deep blue in colour, save for the great splashes of gorse. During the winter months (although at Ballyliffin you occasionally experience four seasons in the space of 60 minutes) the same hills can appear grey and menacing.
Some of Ballyliffin' s extensive bird life could also distract you as you complete the holes on the front nine. Shelducks and barnacle geese have been frequently spotted alongside the 7th, while anything from skylarks, lapwings and snipes to ravens, buzzards and great black-backed gulls may appear overhead. How can a golfer concentrate in such an environment!
A sense of deja vu is induced by the l0th. The tee is right beside the lst tee in front of the clubhouse; the hole dog-legs to the right just as sharply and its fairway is equally crumpled in appearance.
Many ancient battles must have been fought on this land. The 11th is longer and swings back the other way, after which comes a second outstanding short hole. From the back tees the 12th measures in excess of 200 yards and if the green at the 5th has stage-like qualities this one is akin to an amphitheatre.
At the 13th the course heads out towards Pollan Bay and eventually overlooks the beach on the 14th tee. It is a good time to pause and take in the ultimate visual feast: from Malin Head to Fanad Head with mesmeric Glashedy in between - nothing but landscape, seascape and golfscape.
The 15th, played into the prevailing wind is a worthy stroke index one hole and the par three 17th has the most extraordinary green - it has been likened to a dishevelled duvet - but arguably the best hole is kept until last.
The par five 18th on The Old links at Ballyliffin is one of the finest closing holes in golf. True to form, the fairway meanders and wriggles its entire length before coming to rest beneath the windows of the clubhouse. Only when you step off the 18th green do you finally return to terra firma.
To play The Old Links at Ballyliffin is to experience golf on one of nature's most beautiful stages. All around are dramatic hills and mountains. You rarely climb much higher than sea level but when it happens you are treated to magnificent views of the bay, the ocean and, of course, Glashedy Rock.Another natural feature has long stirred the golfer's imagination. Adjoining The Old Links is a massive sand hill and, beyond this, a seemingly infinite stretch of spectacularly wild duneland. The mind cannot help but wander. And wonder. 'Imagine building a golf course in amongst those dunes!' ...'Think how sensational the views would be from up there!' Mere golfing flights of fancy? Not any more. Glashedy Links provides a roller- coaster tour of this remarkable, almost lunar landscape. As we all suspected, the wild duneland (now tamed) makes for glorious golfing country. And, yes, the views up there are out of this world.
On a calm day it is a shimmering diamond, but when the wind is howling, beware the smiler with the knife. Anyone wishing to tackle this links from the back tees (7000 yards plus) on such a day will need to possess a masochistic streak. There is no gentle break in. The course opens with three mighty par fours, the combined effect of which is to lead the golfer away from the clubhouse and deep into the dunes. Deep into that other world. The links will become notorious for its plethora of revetted (i.e. turf stacked) bunkers. Just as some of the contours on the fairways of The Old Links make those at St Andrews appear mild by comparison, so a handful of these giant traps on the Glashedy Links dwarf the shallower pots of Carnoustie. An especially cavernous bunker guards the entrance to the green at the 2nd and there is one almost as gaping in front of the 3rd. Another lurks just off the fairway to the right of the 4th and as for the quintet that ring the putting surface at the short 5th...be careful you don't lose your partner!
The greens are generally very large and full of subtle undulation; as many are also two-tiered, accurate approach shots are properly rewarded. Modern machinery was used during the construction stage to temper some of the landing areas - though there are still undulations aplenty - with the intention of eliminating the bad bounce and awkward stance. As Pat Ruddy puts it: We like one in ten of our golfers to come home sane!' The course fits harmoniously into the landscape and flows along natural valleys beneath and between the dunes. It is rugged country and it is a rugged links.
As you saunter up the 4th fairway, admiring perhaps the little clusters of primroses and the orchids that nature has sprinkled in the rough, the dunes begin to increase in size. Then, just as an alarming cross bunker reveals itself, Glashedy Rock emerges directly behind the green. It is a magical moment. From this point onwards Glashedy rarely disappears from view. Another shock awaits, however, once you have completed the 6th and climbed to the 7th tee. You are now standing on top of the giant sandhill - the one that towers over The Old Links. The panoramic views border on the intoxicating and yet you must try to keep a clear head because the 7th requires you to go 'over the top' as you play a par three down to a green sited one hundred feet below.
On the back nine a tremendous sequence of holes commences with the fiercely dog - legging 12th. The par five 13th is already being heralded as one of the greatest par fives in Ireland (look ahead and you are reminded of BaIlybunion, look back at Glashedy could be Turnberry) the 14th is surely one most seductive short holes.
The 15th is the longest of the par fours. It is another of the Glashedy links' sweeping dog-legs and aIls for a downhill drive followed by a searching second to a raised green. The course starts very boldly and finishes with a touch of panache. The shot to the 18th must be threaded along a corridor of sentinel-like dunes and between two revetted bunkers - miss the green to the left or right and you may have to display your shot - making artistry in front of a packed clubhouse. At least you an count on the members' sympathy.