“You must be mad,” exclaimed one of the old gents who had gathered in the lounge at Ballyliffin for a lunchtime tipple. They had thought we were crazy enough to take on the freezing weather to play the Glashedy links in the morning but were incredulous that we should be going out to play the Old course in the afternoon. After we supped on our Guinness and downed hearty meals, my pal did stress how comfortable he was on the clubhouse sofa. But I was having none of it. “It may be winter outside but in my heart it’s spring,” wrote my namesake, Barry White, and I wanted to take on another top 100 venue.
So, we added jumpers and jackets and headed out on a buggy (good luck if you want to walk both courses because there is a heck of a lot of ground to cover). After three rounds in three days at Portrush, Portstewart and Ballyliffin’s Glashedy and a bit of Irish nectar inside me, I found my very best form, on the Old.
Somehow my low trajectory game worked in the increasing wind and pars flowed. This is a very different course from the Glashedy. Sure, the views are similar but there are fewer elevated tees and there are many more dramatic undulations on its fairways.
It begins with a tough left-to-right curving par-four and a tee shot in the full glare of the clubhouse. Fortunately, we steered ours down the centre of the fairway, albeit not very far because the moderate breeze of the morning, had now built into a freezing flurry which was later accompanied by hailstones. False fronts are a hallmark of the greens at Ballyliffin and this is particularly true of the 4th which should be comfortably reachable in regulation but needs precise club selection to take the wind and slope into consideration.
The fifth is a par-three is uphill all the way. It is tricky enough but my pal mistook the parallel green on the Glashedy for our target and so aimed rather too far right. I could not stifle my laughter as he realised his error. My favourite holes on the Old course are on the back nine.
I was thrilled with a par three on the 200-yard 12th having found its green with a driver against the prevailing wind which made the long par-four 13th which was barely reachable in three. For the stunning 14th, air was at our back as we looked out to the gorgeous blue Atlantic. Even on such a crisp day – it was a view to die for.
It inspired my best tee shot of the day, a curling effort resting between bunkers on either side of a fairway with myriad undulations. The 17th is a short par-three whose only protection appears to be one bunker but this was where it was proven that the wind in our sails would not always be to our benefit.
My compadre his what seemed to be a perfect shot only to be unable to find his ball – presumably, it caught a gust a flew over the back into the tufty rough.
The green on the 17th, in common with many on the old, is long and changes levels. I putted well throughout the afternoon but this one defeated me. The 18th is a cracking finishing hole although, by this time, we were turning blue and could barely feel our hands. It’s a 586-yard par-five climaxing with a shot into a bending, layered green, framed by dunes and with the clubhouse looking down.
It marked the final putt on three days of superb golf and a trek that I would heartily recommend. Indeed, Ballyliffin has two of the best courses that anyone could hope to play in one day. Their condition is superb and the scenery is breathtaking.