Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock did a first rate job with a first rate piece of land. This course is routed through the mountainous dunes north of the Old Links course where the terrain offers lots of elevation changes and visual feature. It was a challenge to start and end the course in the flatlands by transitioning up the towering dunes in the middle of the property and then back down to the clubhouse. Both on the front and back ramp up slowly to the dunes through a series of par fours and then bring you down precipitously fast with one abrupt and dramatic downhill par three. It seems to me that the holes have the right proportion no matter the wind direction-it is evident that certain bunkers are upwind bunkers and others are downwind bunkers.
A fan reflecting the Irish Open held at Ballyliffen in 2018
Much like the European Club the flow of the holes to the land is marvelous-it just seems like the links belong there. Plenty of room to play in, the dunes just seem to frame the holes without being overly threatening like at Tralee or Enniscrone. They demand plenty of penance for the wayward shot so you must carefully choose your shot lines of approach. The bunkering is just stupendous-mostly the curved edge collection type that seem to gather any approach shot played without conviction. The bunkering is not overdone-usually a few framing the driving area and two carefully placed ones around the greens. The greens are sizeable and have plenty of slope so you are going to get those long sweeping breaks whether you like it or not.
Staring down the dramatic drop on the Par 3 7th at the Irish OpenEmbed from Getty Images
The difficulty in scoring is primarily in the sequence and proportions of the holes. Just three five pars and three par threes makes for a stiff challenge on those pesky par fours. Only one par three on the back gives you two runs of four long holes on that side. The par threes are visually stunning holes-you will not forget them. Make sure to consider the wind when picking your tee length for the day. It is no crime to play at the whites when the wind is up-and that is pretty much all the time. It is plenty hard and more enjoyable if you do not have to kill yourself with 400+ par fours.
If there is any criticism of the course is that the end is not that strong. Back in the flatlands the last four holes are a longish par four, two medium par fours and a medium five. Clearly the wind can make these harder but they are not memorable holes for such a distinctive course.
This is just a jewel in the links tiara of Ireland-a must play for anyone who appreciates links golf. Go out of your way to play this one.
Ballyliffen, Northern Ireland
Architect: Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock (1995)
Par Yardage Rating
Gold 72 6884 73
White 72 6466 71