World-class Ballyliffin comes of age
Ballyliffin will host the Amateur Championship in 2024 and it’s no surprise given the love lavished on this wonderful corner of northwest Donegal by the co-creator of the wonderful Glashedy Links.
Pat Ruddy, who created the great links with Tom Craddock, becomes almost poetic when describing this special piece of golfing paradise on the Inishowen peninsula, which is slowly becoming a golfing Mecca for lovers of the game worldwide.
“Sitting in the grass behind the green at the thirteenth, sheltered from the wind, allows one to imagine oneself as an ancient Irish King sitting on his throne, formed by hills on three sides to provide the back and the arms to the throne, looking out over his lands and ocean and to Glashedy Rock standing proud in the waves,” Ruddy said of this special place.
“Those men saw it all. The ocean whipped into a frenzy by ship guzzling storms. The waters of Pollan Bay twinkling placid and blue. The sloping sun prodding a rainbow into the sky. A scurrying rain cloud rushing along to shroud the mountains from view. Perhaps a ghoulish mist filling every depression with cotton wool!”
Nick Faldo renovated the Old Links, which will host qualifying for the Amateur, and the work never stops with General Manager John Farren, PGA professional Gareth McCausland and Links Manager Andy Robertson, a Scot who has been with the club for over 20 years, forming a true dream team in tandem with a dedicated membership of over 1,200.
“I’ve been here since 2004 and it is a continual progression we have seen and it’s a testament to the confidence of continued councils and members over the years to reinvest and improve the place,” Farren explained. “We’re constantly tinkering and trying to improve what we have. That the R&A will stage one of its premier events here in 2024 is a testament to the quality of the venue, coming on the back of the successful Irish Open in 2018. It further reinforces the quality of the product here and keeps Donegal and Ballyliffin on the world stage.”
Boasting 36 championship holes and the nine-hole, par-three Pollan Links, Ballyliffin is a place for golfing aficionados to immerse themselves in the game for a day or two and then head off to visit Donegal’s growing list of world-class venues.
“It’s very important that we keep our place in the public eye internationally because we’re competing with the south continuously and indeed with Scotland and these tournaments help us do that most effectively.”
That Ballyliffin will become just the fourth Irish club to host the Amateur alongside Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and Portmarnock speaks to the quality of the venue.
“The members are thrilled and proud and we see ourselves on a par with any course in the country,” Farren added. “We make no apologies for saying that. It’s important that recognised international by the powers that be – the DP World Tour or in this case, the R&A. This is as prestigious as staging an Irish Open. On a worldwide scale it’s very important for us to be staging premiere events such as this It continues to keep us in the limelight and that’s what it’s all about.”
Ballyliffin is still playing catch-up with the southwest in terms of visitor numbers but with the Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush in 2025, those figures are only going to improve.
“We would be keen to stage the Irish open again that’s on stage in the future and we will continue to develop a relationship with a DP World Tour,” Farren said.
It will be 2026 at the earliest before that happens but having taken just 15,000 green fees a year 18 years ago, Ballyliffin now does well over 20,000 visitor rounds a year on the two courses and some 100,000 rounds a year in total.
The green fee for domestic golfers with Golf Ireland handicaps is a snip at €80 (€50 in winter) and the quest to improve is never-ending.
“Since the Irish Open was held in 2018, upgrades and changes have been made to both courses and we feel that’s important that we keep pushing forward and improving because of the competitive nature of the golfing market in this country and indeed internationally,” Farren said.
Ruddy’s lovely, nine-hole Pollan Links, is proving very popular with locals and holiday makers who are not regular golfers but gladly part with €20 for two spins around the par-three.
“It’s a good challenge and very well received by beginners to the game the people starting out and the kids love it as well and so do the older members because it’s on such flat ground,” John explained.
“It’s an easy walk and they can get around quickly and even guys finishing work on a summer’s evening can play it in an hour and 10 minutes, so it’s ideal for sharpening up your short game.”
With four hotels in the village and a growing AirBnB offering, the time to make that long overdue visit has arrived.
“Developments such as St. Patrick’s, the Gil Hanse revamp of Narin & Portnoo, the continuing development of Portsalon and indeed the other lesser known courses such as North West and Greencastle and Cruit Island are all good reasons to come up and see us,” Farren insisted.
“Donegal is a great golfing destination for both the domestic and the international market and the awarding of the Amateur Championship to the club here in Ballyliffin shines a light on improved golfing facilities in this part of the world.”
Green fees: Midweek/weekend etc €80 Domestic Golf Club Member Rate
Society rates: €80
Buggy hire: Yes/no and cost (if available) Yes €40
Club hire: Yes/no and cost (if available) Yes €40
Electric trolleys: Yes/no and cost (if available) Yes €20
Range Balls: Yes/no and cost (if available) Yes €4
Signature hole: The Old Links Hole 5 “The Tank” 179 yards Par 3
Uphill par 3 surrounded on dunes with little room for an errant tee shot.
Glashedy Links Hole 13 “Bun a’Chnoic” 571 yards Par 5
Uphill Par 5 to a raised green with a cavernous bunker swallowing up anything short and a sloping green testing your putting skills.
Professional’s tip (or expert tip) on playing signature hole:
The Tank: Take an extra club- no prizes for being short.
Bun a’Chnoic: Fairway is king- favour the right side of the green with your approach.
Membership rates/info: Details on website- Full Membership from €771 pa.
Nearby clubs: Portsalon, Letterkenny, North West and Greencastle.