Ballyliffin Golf Club
Golden Jubilee Commerative Booklet 1947 - 1997
Glashedy - Ballyliffin
Close your eyes and think of Donegal. Imagine a secret place with a thousand acres of classic golfing terrain, an endless range of sand-dunes hidden from the outside world by towering mountains and heather-clad hills, where the only other boundary is a sometimes stormy, sometimes sparkling Atlantic Ocean.
Ballyliffin enjoys such a setting. Ireland's most northern golf club is situated near Malin Head on Donegal's Inlshowen Peninsula. The links hugs the shore beside Pollan Bay and overlooks a vast stretch of sand. At one end of the bay are the ruins of Carrickabraghy Castle, and at the other the small village of Ballyliffin nestling beneath the slopes of Binion Hill. Just off the coast, sureying everything, is Glashedy Rock, Ballyliffln's own Ailsa Craig.
A golfing paradise? No doubt if this were the east coast of Scotland, the game would have been played here for centuries. In fact, golf didn't come to Ballyliffin until after the Second World War, and even it began inauspiciously. In 1947 a crude nine-hole course was laid out on poor ground close to the village. A few dedicated members cut the greens and several dedicated sheep tended the fairways. Little changed for more than twenty years, until the club resolved to purchase some of those endless acres of classic golfing terrain.
Ballyliffin's first eighteen-hole links was indeed a classic. Not too many people outside Ballyliffln got to hear about it, but it was a classic nonetheless. The most distinctive feature of the course was its amazing rippling fairways - the handiwork, of course, of Mother Nature. Another twenty years slipped by until, one sunny day in June 1993, a helicopter landed beside the clubhouse and out jumped Nick Faldo.The then reigning British Open champion dropped in en route to defending his Irish Open title at Mount Juliet. He played eighteen holes with his friends, was wined and dined in true Donegal fashion and left raving about those rippling fairways and generally singing Ballyllffin's praises from the hilltops. Faldo promised he woutd return and, sure enough, within three years (and as the reigning Masters champion), he did. By which time Ballyliffin had thirty-six holes.
In August 1995 the Glashedy Links was unveiled. Designed by Tom Craddock and Pat Ruddy, the club's second eighteen holes have been carved out of predominantly more rugged duneland beyond the (now named) Old Links. Since the day it opened, the new course has been showered with accolades. The proverbial ribbon was cut by Declan Howley, President of the Golfing Union of Ireland, and in his words, 'It is a truly wonderful links. Rarely do you ever see a course without a weak hole or two, and here we have no weak holes. I don't think the club should wait too long before bidding for a championship event.'
In November 1996 Golf World magazine rated the Glashedy Links 'the best new links in Ireland' and 'one of the top six new courses in the British Isles', while in a recent article for a leading American publication, John Hopkins, The Timesgolf correspondent, compared Ballyliffin favourably with the mighty Ballybunion.
The Glashedy Links lies harmoniously into its landscape and, in a manner reminiscent of Royal Birkdale, the fairways flow along natural valleys beneath the dunes. It has been built on an heroic scale with vast undulating greens -several of which are two-tiered and deep riveted bunkers. As the links can be stretched to 7,102 yards, it presents a formidable (and potentially overwhelming) challenge.
The course sets off very boldly with three mighty par fours, each measuring to excess of 420 yards from the back tees. Their combined effect is to lead the golfer away from the clubhouse and deep into the dances. The green at the 1st is perched, rather ??? between two large sandhills. The threat of hitting out of bounds looms at the 2nd -as does an alarmingly cavernous banker in front of the green -and the landing area appears painfully narrow from the elevated tee at the 3rd.
The dunes increase in size as you approach the dogleg at the par five 4th and, just as the fairway swings to the right and a cross bunker reveals itseif. Glashedy Rock comes fully into view directly behind the green. It is a magical moment.
Glashedy becomes an almost constant companion for the remainder of the round. It dominates the backdrop to the 5th, the first of the short holes. Stand on the tee of this hole on a lovely summer's evening with the sun reflecting off the sea and you may think Ballyliffin the most heavenly pace on earth... at least, until your ball plummets into one of a series of deep bunkers that practically encircle the green. The 6th is perhaps the most gentle of the par fours. After a vertigo-inducing tee- shot at the 7th, where you play from the top of an enormous sand-hill to a green sited almost l00 feet below, the course flows gracefully back to the clubhouse.
Each of the holes on the Glashedy Links has been given a Gaelic name. Thus you tee off with 'Creig a 'Bhainne' (the 1st), return to the clubhouse via 'Barr na Gaoithe' (the 9th), set off again along 'Stúca Bui' (the l0th) and sink your final putt on the green of 'Gort na Mona' (the 18th).
The second nine on the Glashedy Links is the longer and tougher of the two halves. Holes 10 and 11 weave a path through the Old Links and head back out towards the higher, wilder duneland behind the great sand-hill. Now begins a marvellous sequence of holes; the 12th is a fearsome dog-leg right, probably the most difficult two-shooter of the entire round, and the 13th a massive par five -uphill and breathtaking in both senses of the word. The fairway at this hole is framed by huge sand-dunes and sweeps uphill in dramatic rollercoasting fashion, eventually meeting up with a severely sloping green that is defended by a mischievous assortment of bunkers. Five is a very good score at the 13th! The seductive 14th is arguably the best of the short holes-like toe 5th it affords stunning views of the ocean and Glashedy Rock. The 15th is the longest of the par fours. It is another of the Glashedy Links' sweeping dog-legs and calls for a downhill drive followed by a searching second to a raised green.
From the 16th tee, the course returns towards the clubhouse. It is an examining and potentially perilous journey home: an arrow-straight par four into the prevailing wind, a second par five that seems to stretch forever and a day and, finally a superb finishing hole. The 18th is a classic right-ngled dog-leg, where the approach must be threaded along a corridor of sentinel-like dunes and between two riveted bunkers - miss the green to the left or right and you may have to display your short game skills in front of a packed clubhouse.
While some may consider it a little premature to judge the quality of the new course, no one can deny that the Glashedy Links is both beautiful and dramatic. There seems every possibility that it will one day take its place alongside Royal Portrush and Royal County Down as one of the three great links courses in the North of Ireland. 'I have found the new Ballybunion,' enthused John Hopkins, in the lengthy article he provided for Links magazine. 'Its name is Ballyliffin and like Ballybunion, it has two links courses. One, the Old Links, looks so natural it could have been laid out hundreds of years ago; the other, the Glashedy Links, opened in 1995 and may be the best new links course to have been built this century. It is good enough to stage the British Open'. Agreed. If only it were situated on the east coast of Scotland.
by NICK EDMUND
Article by kind permission of Nick Edmund, '25 Classic Courses of Great Britain and Ireland.