Ballyliffin’s Glashedy Links – Young In Spirit, Mature In Outlook.

Those who can recall watching TV coverage of the 2018 Irish Open surely must have been in awe of the pictures being beamed around the globe from the host venue – the Ballyliffin Golf Club.

It was the first time, and no doubt the goal of owners of the club, that Ballyliffin was shown to the world in all its glory.

For four days under virtual cloudless skies the Glashedy Links course shone brightly, a golf course laid-out along the shores of the mighty Atlantic Ocean, a golf course that looked as though it had been there for centuries when, in fact, it had only been officially open for play on the third day of August, 1995.

Welcome to Ballyliffin Golf Club – Image Ballyliffin GC

And if you missed TV coverage of the 2018 Irish Open be sure to be around later this year (2024) in June when Ballyliffin will add another great chapter to it’s already rich short history with the hosting of the Amateur Championship, when the best male amateurs in the world will test themselves on the northernmost course in Ireland.

The championship taking place from 17 to 22nd June.

In it’s very short history, the Glashedy Links course is up there with the likes of many Irish links gems including Portmarnock, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Castlerock, Ardglass, Royal Dublin, the European Club, Waterville, Ballybunion, Tralee and Lahinch.

Ballyliffin – the northernmost golf course on the Emerald Isle.

Ballyliffin is located about an hour’s drive north-west of Belfast Airport.

It boasts two golf courses – the Old and the Glashedy Links and hereunder, and with thanks to good friend, John McLaughlin and the CEO at North & West Coast Links Ireland, is a superb aerial video of the Ballyliffin Club, and taken ahead of the 2018 Irish Open.

It is also John who I have to thank for our visit to the Ballyliffin in 2019, and if you should be looking for someone who that knows everything about Irish links golf then North & West Coast Links Ireland is who you should turn to.

Click on:

Ballyliffin officially became recognised as a golf club in August, 1947 and with the then 9-hole club officially open to play in May, 1948.

It was not until 1973, and through the work of golf designer Eddie Hackett, Ballyliffin boasted a full 18-hole lay-out.

Unfortunately, the club faced a series of financial disasters in the ’70s and early ’80s and had it not been for the tireless work of the members, along with the opening of a stunning new clubhouse, who knows what may happened to Ballyliffin.

The next chapter in the club’s history took place in summer 1992 when the management met with Dublin-based golf course designers Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock, and agreed to commission the duo to design a ‘championship standard’ golf course and, I’m also sure, in the hope of attracting tournament golf to this region of the Emerald Isle.

Construction began on 7th May, 1993 and was completed in record time for an official opening two years and three months later presenting golfers with two courses – the Old Links and the Glashedy Links – along with a state-of-the-art clubhouse.

The Glashedy course in all it’s glory and you can spot the Ballyliffin clubhouse near top left of the photograph & photograph with thanks North & North West Links Ireland

It was just three years later when Ballyliffin got a first taste of championship golf in hosting the 1998 Irish Ladies Open won by Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson.

I visited Ballyliffin for a first time in 2002 and found myself, and along with two other media colleagues, playing alongside Scotland’s Andrew Coltart in the Pro-Am ahead of the European Tour’s North-West of Ireland Open.  Andrew eventually finishing runner-up to Sweden’s Adam Mednickson, and this after both Andrew and Adam kick-started their week with shock scores of 76 ahead of Adam winning at seven-under and Andrew sharing second with Italian Costantino Rocca five shots back.

During the week in 2002 I was residing in a B & B virtually opposite the short roadway that leads to Ballyliffin, and so close I could walk each day to the course.

I was also fortunate to be able to play the Old Links course that’s still in itself is a great links challenge at 6,45o yards off the white tees. The course is a classically old fashioned links layout but here at Ballyliffin the terrain tumbles and turns in all different directions. Though the Old Course still bristles with charm, character and curiosity.

What I also liked about the Old Course is that 18th hole finishes right under the nose of all those looking down from the clubhouse – around the 57 second mark in this video hereunder of the course thanks to Foinse Golf.

The Old Links also played host to the 2008 European Tour’s Irish Seniors Open boasting a really strong field and won by Spain’s Juan Quiros from Ireland’s popular Des Smyth.

A decade on, and over 70-years after the club officially opened, Ballyliffin was brilliantly showcased to the world with the the club proudly hosting the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and the field boasting overwhelming crowd favourite and honourary Life Member Rory McIlroy.

As mentioned in my intro, it was a week the course and surrounds were bathed in glorious south-of-Spain like sunshine, and with my good self being on the receiving of emails from my Irish journalist colleagues wondering why I was not in attendance.

A wonderful framed photograph within the Ballyliffin clubhouse and taken during the sun-drenched days of the 2018 Irish Open at Ballyliffin.

Scotland’s Russell Knox shone through, coming off finishing runner-up a week earlier at the French Open, in holing a remarkable curling birdie putt at the 72nd hole and then to hole virtually the same birdie putt from close to the same spot to win out in the play-off from Kiwi Ryan Fox.

The affable Knox was never more happy as this video shows.

As for McIlroy?  He had set the course record with a 66 in an exhibition match against Nick Faldo in 2006 however not on this occasion ending his Irish Open campaign with scores of 70, 73, 72 and 71 to finish a dozen shots behind Knox.

Knox’s win also was somewhat of a reward as two years earlier McIlroy had brilliantly out-played the Scot over the final round to win a first Irish Open title in 2016 at the K. Club, and with Knox three shots back in sharing second.

Before delving into the Glashedy Links course itself, Michael Court and I sat down for a great chat with John Farren, the long-time General Manager at Ballyliffin.  No-one knows the club better than John.  Of course, our chat was back over four years ago and that’s my fault in not posting this feature article sooner however John’s message is still as valid a reason to visit Ballyliffin as it was in speaking to him in 2019.

And as I pointed out above, after hosting the 2018 Irish Open the news just gets better for Ballyliffin as will host this year’s 2024 Amateur Championship from June 17th to 22nd.  It will be just an eighth occasion since 1885, and also a fifth since 1993, that a Northern Ireland course will host the Amateur.  Of course, the Open Championship returns to Royal Portrush next year and just six years since those remarkable scenes of Shane Lowry winning in 2019.

The Glashedy Links course opens with three mighty par-4s and off the back tees measuring respectively 422-yards, 463-yards and 426-yards.

Michael, Barry and Paul (wearing Callaway caps) with the official Ballyliffin starter – Bernie (Callaway supported) & Mick in the photograph hereunder

You’ll soon learn a strong feature of the Glashedy course is the contours on the fairways, making the famed Old Course at St. Andrews appear mild by comparison, and also with a handful of the giant traps on the Glashedy course dwarfing the shallow lower pots to be found at Carnoustie.

This is especially so at the entrance to the second green and one awaiting you also at the front of the third but there’s not  point in complaining if you’re in one, as it all part of the excitement of playing links golf.

On this theme, those who know Pat Ruddy well, and this author has been fortunate to have been in his company often to also know of his famed dry humour, as you will understand when Pat, and with his golf course designer hat on, once remarked:  “We like one in 10 of our golfers to come home sane”.

The third hole green on the Glashedy course – Image GolfByTourMiss

After putting out on the third, you take a short walk up the hill where the full glory of the Glashedy course is revealed including the stunning Glashedy Rock lying there much akin to a sleeping giant in the Atlantic Ocean, and where from thereon it rarely disappears from view in playing the course.

The fourth hole green at Ballyliffin’s Glashedy course – Image GolfByTourMiss

Looking into the 6th green on the Glashedy course at Ballyliffin. Image – GolfByTourMiss

Standing on the fifth tee and the first of the par-3s, Glashedy Rock is there in full view and in all its glory.

In playing the sixth, you then turn and head back in the direction of the clubhouse but then in walking-up to the seventh tee you’re greeted by another stunning Ballyliffin vista – including in the foreground the seventh known as the Loch na nDeor or Lake of Tears.  As I’ve said, knowing Pad Ruddy I am sure he had some say in the naming of this hole.

And at 183-yards anything right off the tee here at sevent could lead to many tears.

From this seventh tee you can see the eighth and ninth holes running back towards the clubhouse, and the clubhouse noticeable in top middle of the video.

Glashedy’s inward nine begins from the opposite side of the clubhouse and is laid-out closer to the Atlantic shoreline than the outward half.

Just like the opening trio of holes on outward nine, the opening three of the home nine are also no pushover with three par-4s firstly measuring 397-yards at the 10th, 419-yards at the 11th and the 12th the longest of any of Glashedy’s par-4s at 448-yards.

Stepping onto the par-5 13th, and where you are now playing the second of the three par-5s,  just take a look behind you as for a split second you might think you’re at Turnberry, given the likeness of the Glashedy rock to the famed Alisa Craig.

A great skyline heading up to the par-5 13th green – Image GolfByTourMiss

Moving on, and if you thought the view from both the fourth and seventh holes was breath-taking then the vista off par-3 14th tee is another ‘must get a photograph’ shot.

The 14th, and playing to 183-yards off the back and 131-yard from the white, is also a great chance to squeeze out a hopeful birdie ahead of tackling Glashedy’s No. 1 index which is the 15th hole and the longest, at 440-yards, of the par-4s.

There’s no missing the great sight of Glashedy Rock in reaching the par-3 14th hole.

The 15th’s named Tobar Mhuiris or Morris Well, a hole were you must be aware of three bunkers less than 15-yards short of the green that await to take another prisoner.

The 16th and 17th holes run parallel with the beach, and with the penultimate hole easily the longest of the trio of par-5s at 549-yards off the back tee.

Stunning backdrop here at the 17th hole on the Glashedy Links course at Ballyliffin GC – Image GolfByTourMiss

That leaves the last, a 411-yard par-4 that dog-legs right off the tee, and with a bunker on either side of the fairway at the dog-leg before hitting into a green sporting bunkers also left and right of the putting surface.

Ahh .. Ted gets himself into the story on a hole named Gort na Mona or Turf Field, and also the name of a Northern Ireland Gaelic football team. Not that the world’s most-travelled Koala is going to be playing football of any kind.

That leaves the last, a 411-yard par-4 that dog-legs right and with a bunker on either side of the fairway at the dog-leg and then to a green sporting a bunker also left and right of the putting surface.

The final green on the Glashedy Links course but certainly not the last of the great memories in returning to Ballyliffin.

Writing this feature, and like so many feature articles we post on this website, forever brings back so many great memories of being afforded the opportunity to play so many great golf courses.

However, it’s hard to believe more than 20-years has passed since I first visited Ballyliffin in 2002 when I found myself playing the pro-am in the company of Andy Coltart, and who since has become a good friend and also, of course, one of the respected members of the media now working the Tour.

It is amazing also that it’s been over four years since I last visited Ballyliffin but in writing this long overdue review those memories of experiencing the delight in playing the Glashedy course and knowing, and I do, course designer Pat Ruddy so well, and being joined on this 2019 visit by three lifelong friends and colleagues Michael, Barry and Paul, has just whet my appetite not to leave it another five years in getting back to Ballyliffin.

Thank you to John McLaughlin at North & North-West Links Ireland and to John Farren and his great team at the Ballyliffin Golf Club.

Hope to get back to Ballyliffin soon.

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