|The view back from the 13th green on the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin Golf Club includes Glashedy Rock off in the distance. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)|
COUNTY DONEGAL, Ireland -- Here's a painful conundrum: You've got one five-hour window to play golf at Ballyliffin Golf Club. Which course do you choose, Old Links or Glashedy Links?
Bucket list chasers will gravitate toward the Glashedy Links, the higher ranked and more dramatic of the two. But there are plenty of fans of the Old Links, too, especially among the membership of the club at the northern tip of the Inishowen Peninsula.
"I prefer the Old Course," said Gerry Mullen, a resident of nearby Greencastle who has been a member at Ballyliffin for 25 years. "It is the more natural links. Glashedy is wonderful. They are completely different."
The debate about which links is best can go on endlessly in the grill room of the cozy, two-story, brick clubhouse. The respected Web site, www.top100golfcourses.co.uk, ranks the Glashedy Links ninth and the Old Links 20th among the top golf courses in Ireland. Golf Digest Ireland has Glashedy Links 14th and Old Links 22nd.
"We are blessed with two contrasting links," said Ballyliffin General Manager John Farren. "One is pure mown from the ground as God laid it. The other was made by man. It gives golfers of all ability the chance to sample two different type of links."
So which is better?
"It depends on a personal preference," Farren added. "Members and older and higher handicaps prefer the Old course. Better golfers might prefer the Glashedy."
Most of the Old Links at Ballyliffin dates back to 1973 when Ballyliffin grew from a quaint nine-holer to a full 18 at its current site with the help of Eddie Hackett, the late, great Irish architect who designed a number of legendary links.
Five holes are relatively new, however. The spectacular, par-5 14th along the shore was redesigned by Nick Faldo in 2006, and four holes were rerouted by Pat Ruddy when he was hired to build the Glashedy Links in the 1990s.
Faldo's love at first sight for the links inspired him to try to buy the club, but he was rebuffed. Instead, the club hired him to renovate all the bunkers and re-positioned several tees, allowing for more soul-stirring views of the Glashedy Rock off the coast.
What wasn't touched were the fairways that bobble and dip to and fro whimsically like boiling water. There's nary a flat spot. The course is infinitely more playable among the dunes smaller than those on Glashedy Links, but better players can get rubbed the wrong way when a drive down the middle hits one of these humps and bounds into long grass or a deep bunker.
"The bad bounces (of the Old course) can knock the ball in the rough as much as it can knock you stiff," Farren said.
The dynamic, uphill par 3 at No. 5, known as "The Tank," lays claim to being the best hole on the course.
Ballyliffin's Glashedy Links, a 7,200-yard course built in 1995 by Ruddy and Tom Craddock, is now considered a championship test of the highest order.
Already more of a bully than its sister course, dozens of new sod-walled pot bunkers were built during a two-year project by Ruddy to better defend the fairways and greens.
The club felt it needed to better define holes. The Glashedy Links features stern par 4s that dance among the dunes. The layout climbs gloriously to the green of the par-5 13th hole for a great view of Glashedy Rock off the shore. The par 3s at No. 7 and No. 14 deliciously drop from elevated tees, demanding punch shots under the ever-present wind.
Ruddy calls the 13th through 15th holes the "Magic Circle." The 15th plays as the toughest par 4 on property. Ruddy said golfers could play those three holes "in a continuous loop forever in the knowledge that golf doesn't get any better."
I'm not a huge fan of the new bunkers at Ballyliffin. I think they'll frustrate first-timers because they're so deep and so prevalent throughout the round.
The course, routed narrowly through the dunes, played tough enough already, especially in the wind. Even so, I'd rather play the Glashedy Links over the Old Links every time. The elevation changers and bigger dunes are spectacular.
August 2, 2012
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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