Rugged Donegal stages the Irish Open

Rugged Donegal stages the Irish Open

Visiting Ireland on a golf break has always been a highlight. To date I’ve played more than sixty Irish courses, so a recent media invite to highlight July’s Irish Open venue was simply unmissable. When asked to pick my favourite golfing countries, Ireland always tops my list.

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is being held this coming July on the Glashedy course at Ballyliffin Golf Club in County Donegal, continuing the theme of moving the event around the country. Portstewart, K Club, Royal County Down, Fota Island and Carton House have staged the previous five tournaments.

This most recent visit, hosted by Tourism Ireland, was to showcase County Donegal and the North West of Ireland, an area with not only wonderful golf venues but also memorable accommodation.

Rosapenna Sandy Hills 5th hole

We gathered at Belfast International Airport and made our way across the Emerald Isle to the Rosapenna Golf Resort for the first night. As per usual in Ireland, nothing is too much trouble for the staff (however late you arrive) and the accommodation at the resort is first-class where stunning views over the bay are freely included.

The first round of the trip was played on Rosapenna’s Sandy Hills course (ranked #11 in Ireland). It’s a course I first encountered in 2006 and my main memory from back then was that it’s a very tough layout with accuracy a premium on so many shots.

Approaching the 6th hole at Sandy Hills

A number of course updates have been implemented since my initial round twelve years ago – our editor, Jim McCann, wrote about these in his review posted in April 2015. There are some new greens, a number of bunkers have been removed to allow the lower running shot option into the greens, and certain fairways are now a little wider. Have these changes made the course any easier? Not really. Sandy Hills in my opinion remains one of toughest courses I’ve played anywhere in the world. You have to bring your A-game and you also need a little luck with the weather, as anything bar a still day will test even the best golfers. Yes the course is tough, but it’s exhilarating from start to finish – it’s undoubtedly a must-play.

We then travelled through Donegal and headed north to Ballyliffin. There are a few accommodation options in the town, but we chose the Ballyliffin Lodge & Spa Hotel, which is the perfect base to explore the Inishowen Peninsula and it’s also a great hotel for golfers.

Ballyliffin Glashedy course 7th hole

The next morning was always going to be the highlight of the trip for me – a round on the Glashedy course (ranked #9 in Ireland) and host to the 2018 Irish Open. This is a course that I’ve played twice before alongside the Old course at Ballyliffin Golf Club. It’s a firm favourite amongst Top 100 team members and I can’t wait to see it on show for the Irish Open in July.

The Glashedy has been tweaked recently in preparation for the big event. Summarising a few of the changes; a number of new bunkers have been installed at key distances for the longer hitters, many new tees have added length to cater for the professionals, and also a few new raised tees have been built, adding more drama to an already exciting course.

Ballliffin Glashedy course 4th hole new tee

The main change, which impressed me the most, is the new tee on the 4th hole, which was previously a par five measuring only 477 yards. Now the hole has been stretched to nearly 600 yards with a spectacular new teeing ground. With this added length, maybe, just maybe, the Tour pros won’t reach the green in two!

Our last night in Ireland was spent at the Radisson Blu hotel in Letterkenny where we continued to enjoy the famous Irish craic and the obligatory few glasses of the equally famous Guinness.

Thanks to Tourism Ireland and the Azalea Group for a very enjoyable trip.

Andy Newmarch
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