Ballyliffin, the Perfect Challenge for the World’s Best Amateurs and Everyone Else Too

Very shortly, the world’s best amateur golfers will take on the challenge of playing the Old Links and the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin in the 129th Amateur Championship. This is the R&A’s flagship tournament for amateur golfers where 288 golfers from around the world will be whittled down through strokeplay to 64 and then through matchplay to decide the winner.

Your intrepid editor was lucky to play both courses the day before they closed in preparation for these elite players. Elite is not a word I would use to describe my golf these days but on a calm day with the sun shining, I can still pop in round in under 80, and sometimes, under 75.


Although Ballyliffin Golf Club was formed in 1947, the Old Links opened as an 18-hole course in 1973. We find this astounding as the course plays and feels like it’s been there for hundreds of years. The best way we can think of describing the fairways is that they are rumpled. You rarely get a flat lie or stance on this course. There were several people involved in the design of the course. Irish architect Eddie Hackett, English architects Lawrie and Pennick and also Martin Hopkirk. It’s anyone’s guess who had the most influence, but it doesn’t matter. The course design is wonderful.

The Glashedy Links also plays like it has been there forever but you can tell by its design that it’s a more recent construction opening in 1995. The course was designed by Dublin architects Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock. These architects also carried out considerable changes to 6 holes on the Old Links during the construction of the Glashedy Links. Holes 6,7 and 8 along with 13, 14 and 15 all benefited from their alterations.

The Old Links

The first tee on the Old Links

The Old Links is a par 71 with four sets of tees ranging from 5443 yards to 6937 yards. We chose to play from the white tees at 6450 yards. We got off to a great start when four members let us play in front of them off the first tee. It was much appreciated. There are no “bad” holes on the front nine but the standout holes for us were the 5th and the 9th.

The 5th hole

Curiously named “The Tank”, the 5th is a par 3 of 157 yards. It was named after the water tank that fed the old clubhouse which was located atop the dune next to this green. The hole plays sharply uphill. You MUST take enough club to get there. Anything short will run back at least 30 yards and will leave you with a difficult pitch shot back up the hill. The green is large so take the yardage to the centre of the green then club up. You won’t regret that decision.

The 9th hole

At only 385 yards, the 9th is deceiving. You must hit the fairway as anything offline means you will struggle to reach the green with your second. Like most of the UK and Ireland, it’s been a wet winter and spring and the rough is juicy and penal. Accuracy triumphs over length every time.

The Back Nine

Our favourite holes on the back nine were the two par 5’s, the 14th and the 18th. Why? Well, both are challenging holes where strategy counts.

Our approach to the 14th green

The 14th plays 530 yards and wasn’t in range for us. After missing the fairway off the tee, we laid up into the centre of the fairway. This left us a long third shot into a well-protected green. We managed a par and avoided a disaster but it was a close thing.

Approach to the 18th

The 18th is a fine finishing hole and we had to include it as it bears our name, Callaghan’s Straid. Straid means street or road. It’s the longest hole on the course at 550 yards and it took us three good shots to find the green.

In Our Opinion

The Old Links is a cracking course and was in excellent condition as you would expect. We loved the old-fashioned feel. It has eight par 4’s under 400 yards but that doesn’t mean there are any easy holes. We played quite well and didn’t manage any birdies. The greens are not the biggest and there are plenty of run-off areas to keep you fighting for your par.


After our first 18 holes of the day, we made our way into the clubhouse for lunch. After much discussion about what to have, we decided on the Piri Piri Chicken Tacos and the Open Prawn Sandwich. Both were freshly made and delicious. Just what was needed before our afternoon round on the Glashedy.

The Glashedy Links

The Glashedy Links is a par 72 course with four tees ranging from 5588 yards to a monster 7542 yards. We again chose the white tees at a reasonable 6395 yards. Although a little shorter than the whites on the Old Links, this was by far the hardest of the two courses.

The Club’s Tribute to Pat Ruddy

Next to the first tee on the Glashedy, this dolmen structure has been erected in tribute to Pat Ruddy and his massive contribution to Ballyliffen and Irish Golf. Pat returns to Ballyliffen regularly and for the past 20 years continues to tweak and improve the Glashedy masterpiece. Pat was also involved in the construction of the Pollan Links, the 9-hole course which we didn’t manage to play. Rumour has it we missed an opportunity there as it’s a cracking layout.

Our favourite holes on the front nine of the Glashedy were the 3rd, the 5th and the 7th holes. Two of these are par 3’s but they couldn’t be more different as you will see.

Approach to the 3rd green

The 3rd is a beautiful par 4 of 386 yards and we are pretty sure that the designers cut away the mound at the back to give you this view. Take enough club to reach the centre of the green as anything short will roll back down into the swale short of the green. A pretty but dangerous hole.

Two Different Par 3’s

The 5th hole

Again, it’s the backdrop of this hole which made it one of our favourites. A par 3 of 164 yards, it’s not an overly difficult hole IF you hit the green. It plays slightly downhill and is just a beautiful-looking hole. There is something special about having the sea as a backdrop, especially on a par 3. Don’t you agree?

The 7th hole

Stunning, spectacular and maybe a bit unusual, the 7th is the most unique hole on the course. The tee is situated on top of a dune and the green is way below, perhaps 60 to 70 feet below the tee, There is a water hazard on the right and the green looks tiny from the tee. The card says it plays 149 yards but on a calm day, it was only a pitching wedge as the pin was on the front. On a windy day, this must be a nightmare of a hole.

The Back Nine

The inward nine on the Glashedy links is the longest nine holes on either of the courses. Off the whites, it measured 3416 yards, almost 440 yards longer than the front nine. Our favourite holes were the 13th, 14th and 16th.

Looking back down the 13th hole

The 13th is a par 5 of 481 yards which is uphill. The hole is visually stunning as the fairway is almost dead straight and sunk between the dunes on either side. It will take two strong shots to reach. We thought we had hit two perfect shots but the slope on the right kicked our ball across to the left and into one of four bunkers that surround the green.

The 14th hole

This is the shortest par 3 on the course at only 122 yards. That doesn’t mean it is easy. Again any shot not quite up to the middle of the green will roll back off. There is a deep bunker waiting if you are short. Too much club and there is a pot bunker beyond the green. Go in there and it’s a difficult up and down. A great short par 3.

A Birdie at Last

The 16th hole

We had to include the 16th hole as it was our only birdie of the day. A par 4 of 399 yards, we were very fortunate as our tee short finished about 4 feet short of the two bunkers. This left us an 8 iron into a right pin position. We don’t know what happened but for once, we hit it right at the pin and it stopped two feet away. A tap in birdie. As the saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good……

In Our Opinion

The Glashedy Links is a tough test of golf. We played it our a sunny calm day and it was testing. We hope the weather stays the same for The Amateur Championship. The matchplay rounds are due to be played on this course. If the wind blows, the pro shop better stock up on golf balls and woolly hats.

Thank you to John Farren, the General Manager for allowing us to play both of these fabulous courses and for sorting out a perfect weather day too. Both courses will certainly live long in our memory. Ballyliffin is certainly off the beaten track but it is worth the diversion to play two of Ireland’s best links courses.

Where to Stay

We stayed in the town at Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel and Spa. It’s located just over a mile from the golf club and from its hillside location you can look out over the town towards the golf courses.

Our room

We had a large room with a comfortable bed and a balcony. If the weather is good, it’s a great place to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the view. We didn’t manage to visit the pool and spa on this trip and maybe we should have as it was our first time playing 36 holes in about 7 years….

The hotel’s bar and restaurant in called Jack’s. There is a large menu and plenty of choices. We had the Chicken Enchilada and the Spicy Chicken Stir Fry and both were excellent. Just what was required after a long day on the golf course. We had a couple of pints of the black stuff and reminisced on a glorious day on the links. You’ve got to love golf in the Emerald Isle. We certainly do.

After a great night’s sleep, we headed down for our breakfast. We went for the Full Irish(minus the black pudding) and the Porridge with Strawberries and Honey. It must be something about the Irish air that makes you hungry. You won’t be disappointed with the portion sizes so bring a hearty appetite.

Thank you to Marcin Rechmal, the front office manager for sorting out our booking and to the rest of the staff for a fantastic stay. It was with a heavy heart and a full belly that we departed Ballyliffin and headed south to Donegal where our next adventure awaited. We hope to visit Ballyliffin again one day.


At a Glance
  • 45 holes, 36 holes of championship links
  • Two of the finest links courses in Ireland
  • Full practice facilities with a short game area
  • Excellent pro shop with attentive staff
  • Excellent food in the clubhouse
  • Located 45 minutes drive north from Londonderry
  • For more info, visit
  • For info about the hotel, visit



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