Sunday 23 July 2017

Ballyliffin link with Rory key to Irish Open move

Rory McIlroy had a big influence on the decision to keep the Irish Open on a links in the top end of the island. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Rory McIlroy had a big influence on the decision to keep the Irish Open on a links in the top end of the island. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

A long-cherished dream to stage the Irish Open golf championship at Ballyliffin GC will finally become reality when the tournament, under the banner of Dubai Duty Free and the Rory Foundation, takes place from July 5-8 next year.

"To the European Tour, it's another week. To us, it's the whole world," club captain Bryan Northey said yesterday.

John Farren, general manager, added: "This has been many years in the making, not just over the last ten, but maybe 20, 30 years, the development of the club.

"We've come from a remote, rural village in Donegal to probably one of the best links complexes in the world.

"We're absolutely delighted at the vote of confidence from the European Tour and their partners in giving us this huge opportunity to showcase Ballyliffin, showcase Donegal and Derry, and the region, on a world stage to an event now which has become one of the premier golfing events in the golfing calendar in the world," said Farren.

Rory McIlroy, an honorary member of Ballyliffin since his amateur days, had a big influence on the decision to keep the Irish Open on a links in the top end of the island.

"Rory first came to Ballyliffin in 2005 for our Scratch Cups, and he and his father, Gerry, attended every Scratch Cup until he turned professional.

"He has a long association, and both he and his father have a great love for Ballyliffin and the area," said Farren.

The club began in 1948 with nine holes, and went to 18 in 1973. The opening of a new clubhouse in 1987 was a major milestone.

Membership began to increase and tourism numbers rose, and word reached Nick Faldo that this was worth a visit. By the time he visited the club in 1995, the design team of Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock were completing the new Glashedy Links.

In 1997, I broke the story in the Irish Independent that Faldo had made a bid to buy the club - or, to be more precise - to take out an extended lease on the property.

The story put a national focus on an issue which was already dividing the members into 'Yes' and 'No' camps, and 2017 club president and 2004 captain John McEleney remembers the intense level of the debate.

"It was more like civil war," said McEleney yesterday.

Eventually, the members decided to turn down the Faldo offer and keep control of their own affairs.

They're glad they did their own version of 'Brexit' with Faldo now, as regards the 'no sale' decision, but there were no hard feelings, as Faldo did a deal in 2005 to renovate the Old Course for what McEleney said was a "reasonable" fee.

The job was completed in 2006, and McIlroy and Faldo played in a fourball to mark the opening of the re-designed Old Links.

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