I‚??m tasked with capturing in a few paragraphs our absolutely sparkling couple of days up at Ballyliffin. ¬†Goldberg is putting together one of his sublime flicks (you can skip my musings and go straight to it, below, if you‚??re so inclined). ¬†If I were to use 4 words they‚??d be: perfect weather, vintage craic. ¬†Donegal turned on the weather; Ballyliffin GC turned on epic hospitality. ¬†Two days we‚??ll look back on at the end of 2010 and beyond with great fondness. ¬†Two characters that we‚??d gladly have along with us for the rest of the trip ‚?? John Farren (General Manager) & Jim Porter (Club Captain). ¬†‚??nuff said, really.
The lucky folk of Ballyliffin (which is up in north County Donegal, an hour or so from Malin Heads, the northernmost point in Ireland) have two cracking courses to call their own: The Old Links & The Glashedy. ¬†Both wind up and down and left and right and forwards and backwards (well, not backwards) through a spectacular stretch of links bordered on one side by mountains, on the other by aqua blue sea. ¬†Out past the surf is Glashedy Island, from which the newer course (laid down by Pat Ruddy) obviously takes its name. ¬†Faldo redid the Old some 15 years or so ago. ¬†If you get either/both on weather like we did, it‚??s a Golfing Garden of Eden. ¬†As close to paradise as the South Island of Aotearoa. ¬†And that‚??s very close.
In such circumstances it‚??s hard to concentrate on playing golf. ¬†The obvious temptation is to instead look all around you, to snap vigorously with your (recently revived) Sony HX1. ¬†But golf we did. ¬†And we did it badly, I regret to inform you. ¬†poorgolf2010.
The Glashedy since being added to the Ballyliffin lineup has received much acclaim in the somewhat flippant world of golf course ratings. ¬†It‚??s the one we played first, and the one we found to be significantly harder. ¬†From the blacks it‚??s 7200 yards or thereabouts; the lightning fast greens are heavily guarded by bunkers whose catchment area would rival that of The Nile Itself; and there‚??s enough change in altitude to ensure your legs are suitably swimming in lactic acid by the finish. ¬†It‚??s the full shilling golf experience. ¬†Yes, we loved it.
Happily the Glashedy‚??s not one of those courses that rests on its views alone, that has been contrived to give you an infinity green on every second hole. ¬†The scenery is there ‚?? in spades; at times you‚??re made well aware of it, at other times your focus is diverted back down to earth. ¬†Firmly, back down to earth. ¬†Holes like the 580 yard steeply uphill (and on Thursday into the wind) par 5 will put hairs on your chest. ¬†I don‚??t usually hit Driver, 2 iron, 5 iron into a green (or not if I hit them all well anyway)!
Probably the most notable feature of the course is its collection of downhill par 3s (the 5th, 7th and 14th). ¬†If you were to build a decent house on each tee you might get 30 million Euro for the three. ¬†Jaw dropping stuff, particularly the 14th, from which you can see right across the bay and through faded valleys to far off parts. ¬†The snap I took of Mike hitting his tee shot appeared in The Irish Times yesterday. ¬†
Thursday on The Glashedy may have been a happy golf experience, but It was Friday on The Old Links that will spring to mind when Ballyliffin is mentioned from this day forth. ¬†We‚??d twisted John & Jim‚??s arms into joining us for a haggle, you see. ¬†A pair of likely local lads with sharp wits who play their shots between fags. ¬†They can hit a ball, too ‚?? especially The Tall One (who but for a back injury in his mid-20s would, I imagine, have gone onto be a Gaelic Football star).
En route to the golf club from Sharon Wilson‚??s cracking farmhouse B&B I was gripped with frustration about the lack of birdies we‚??d been rolling in of late. ¬†So. ¬†I decided we‚??d shuffle the incentives. ¬†Mike was with me. ¬†If one only made one birdie, one would be darting into the sea fully clothed after the match. ¬†And there would be no pint of the black stuff waiting for one either. ¬†If one made a solitary birdie, the forfeit would be the same, although one could have a pint sitting there on the beach ready to chew when one got out. ¬†Obviously if you made 2 or more birdies you were safe. ¬†And so a haggle was formed.
Despite initial protestations the locals were good spirited enough to count themselves in. ¬†Jim was muttering about net birdies and the like, but we were having none of it once he had signed on the dotted line. ¬†John broke 3 hearts when he rolled in a putt for a second consecutive birdie on the 9th; and yes, he did look very pleased with himself. ¬†I shaved the lip on both holes, but was confident my birdies would come on the back. ¬†Judging by the pictures you‚??ll see in Mike‚??s video, it‚??s quite clear that not enough of them came (just a single one on the 10th). ¬†
The challenge added another dimension to what otherwise was a smashing game of golf anyway. ¬†John held his nerve with a colossal drive down the last to put me under pressure, the visitors needing to win the hole to halve the match. ¬†We didn‚??t give them (7 and 8 handicappers) any strokes either, but their local knowledge and canny tactics saw them through as worthy winners. ¬†More to the point, neither Goldy nor Jim sank a birdie between them ‚?? so the 3 of us were Going In. ¬†
Before Swim Time we were treated to a fabulous lunch in the clubhouse, which overlooks both courses and the bay. ¬†It‚??s a magnificent setting and a fine place to drown your sorrows with a jar. ¬†The food was marvellous too; my goats cheese tart was inhaled with lusty enthusiasm and perhaps a lack of decorum. ¬†At this point Jim looked to be coming up with a Dog Ate My Homework excuse (his daughter needing a lift somewhere down the road), but to his credit he was a man of his word (albeit he cheated by getting changed into swimming gear for the dash). ¬†
John ferried us a kilometre or two down the road to the beach in the back of his pickup (a sensible idea so that we wouldn‚??t be getting any car seats soaked), pint of Guinness in hand, ready to be consumed after charging out of the chilly Atlantic, Baywatch Styles. ¬†The dramatic effect of our dash was reduced given the scores of locals down at the beach getting into the water themselves (some fully clothed too). ¬†However. ¬†It didn‚??t in any way diminish the fun from our perspective, or the amusement factor for the young pro who came down to watch his Captain get drenched. ¬†Jim was a good sport. ¬†John was looking smug, but did a fine duty as photographer.
The lads couldn‚??t have been any more good natured, or hospitable for that matter. ¬†We left after having thoroughly enjoyed two great golf courses; having enjoyed their sparkling craic; having been fed and watered; and with a goodie bag each of golf accessories and a polo shirt in tow. ¬†
John & Jim ‚?? a huge thank you from Michael and me to you both, and to the club. ¬†A memorable couple of days ‚?? although I‚??ll be hoping to erase from memory the image of Jim‚??s builder‚??s crack and gut shining through that Captain‚??s polo shirt he was wearing in the sea!
Cheers, the best 12 handicappers Jim‚??s ever seen...
JP ¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬†¬†
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