O'Tooles of the Trade - Back to the Republic
A cold and wet welcome from County Donegal. The golf has been amazing despite the fact that I haven’t seen a dry day for about 2 weeks. I have made my way out of Northern Ireland back into the Republic of Ireland. My last few days have been spent in the Inishowen Peninsula, where I have come across some of the best links golf that many people have not heard of. This area is a secluded retreat that offers many small beaches with mesmerizing views of the ocean coupled with tall hills that peak into the clouds. This is also an area where gaelic is still spoken and many of the signs are written solely in the Irish language.
The Ballyliffin Golf Club, which has two championship links courses, was first on my list. As you head out of the village towards the course, you look down the hill onto the largest stretch of linksland I have ever seen. As I said they have two courses here and after talking with some folks at the club, there is enough open land to build two more. However, doing any development today on linksland in Ireland is next to impossible due to environmental restrictions. My first round had me on Ballyliffin’s Old Course where Nick Faldo has recently done a lot of work to upgrade this 18. His work has produced a classic links that is not overly long, but demanding of precision as he has placed new bunkers throughout the course. The wind and rain once again are part of my round but as I make the turn, I am lucky enough to join up with 3 members from the club who were heading out to play the back nine. They are good fun, and not afraid to let the other ones know when they have hit a bad shot. I am becoming an expert on finding golf balls in the rough, which is one skill I can say I am not exactly proud of. Once we complete our round, my playing partners are kind enough to invite me up to the clubhouse for a pint and a bowl of soup. I try to pay for their pints but they will have none of it. They tell me the club has approximately 1400 members, which I find amazing considering the location of the club. However, a membership at these Irish golf courses is quite minimal and allows people from all walks of life here to be members, which is something you rarely see back in the States.
The following day I played the Glashedy Links which is the newer of the two courses at Ballyliffin. The course is named after Glashedy Island, which is a small island located just off the coast from the golf course and can be seen from many points on the links. This track is a bit longer and it winds its way through some imposing dunes providing some eye-catching views of the course, the clubhouse and the ocean. I had requested a caddie for the day but when I arrived at the course it was absolutely pouring and I did not see any caddies waiting to go out. On the first hole, I was finishing out my par and noticed a young man running up the fairway towards me. I putt out for par as he reaches the green. “Did you ring for a caddie?” he asks. “I did.” I reply and we make our introductions. The young man’s name is Connor and I thank him for coming out in such ‘lovely’ weather. We head to the second tee to play the next hole which is a par 4 with OB along the right side. I then blow 2 drives directly over the OB fence. I look back at Connor and a look of terror is on his face as he is wondering what he just got himself into. I say to him, “You can go back if you like.” He pauses for a second and says, “No worries, we’ll get you straightened out.” I am happy to say that is just what happens as I make 2 birdies on the front and play a solid round of golf. For a young caddie, he knows the course well and is a more than capable reader of putts. I would say the Glashedy links is a tougher test of golf but both are equally enjoyable and each presents to you a separate challenge.
After the round we head into the clubhouse which is about as nice as I have seen in my travels. The second floor bar and restaurant provide sweeping views of both courses and is a fine place to toast to a round completed. Ballyliffin is an interesting town in that there are 5 small hotels but only about 100 permanent residents in town. In talking with the Pro at Ballyliffin, he says, “It is quite busy in the summer months, but in the winter, it is just me and the sheep.”
One thing that I would like to mention before I head off is some charity work that I have been lucky enough to start in conjunction with my trip. In November of last fall, my mother passed away after a 30 year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. I spent much of those final months in her hospital room planning this trip and telling her about my progress. Much of the time she was unconscious but I know she was listening. After she lost her battle with MS, I decided to try and raise some money to help fight this terrible disease. I am happy to say that I have partnered with the National MS Society and created a fundraising campaign around my trip. Our goal is to raise $10,000 by the end of my trip that will go directly to the National MS Society. Just being able to raise awareness of the disease to readers like you is valuable in itself. If you would like to learn more about the fundraising campaign and how to make a donation please click on the link below.
Well, I am off to western Donegal County for my next few rounds. Keep your fingers crossed that summer will make an appearance and I will check back shortly.