Golf365 review: Discovering Ireland’s hidden gems in Donegal

Golf365’s Andrew Swires spent a weekend in Donegal, courtesy of Tourism Ireland, and gives the run-down on a memorable golfing experience.

I was lucky enough to spend three April days in beautiful Donegal with clubs at the ready to take on two outstanding Links at Rosapenna and Ballyliffin, the latter being the venue for the 2018 Irish Open in July.

The two rounds were the highlights of a superb trip which opened my eyes to the scenery, hospitality and sport Golf Ireland has to offer.

A short 45-minute flight from Leeds to Belfast City Airport was followed by a scenic coach journey with colleagues through the North to the South and stunning North West Donegal and the “Wild Atlantic Way”, 1,500 miles of rugged, coastline running from Donegal to Cork.

The view over the cliffs to the Atlantic below stirred memories of John Mills and “Ryan’s Daughter”.

Our first overnight stay was at the luxury Rosapenna Hotel at Downings, County Donegal, where we enjoyed a welcome dinner in their charming dining room.

The hotel was strewn with golf memorabilia and art reflecting the hotel’s connection to the Rosapenna Links.

This hotel is at the top of end of the hospitality market, providing spacious rooms, quality dining (including a freshly cooked breakfast with white and black pudding) and personal attentive service.

The hotel provided a 5-star start to our Donegal experience, however the area offers a plethora of accommodation choices, hotels, guest-houses and B&Bs to service all preferences and budgets.

Rosapenna hosted our first day of action and following use of their driving range, we took to the first tee.

Rosapenna offers two courses, the original Tom Morris Links opened in 1893 which runs alongside the dunes and the much newer Sandy Hills designed by Pat Ruddy, opened in 2003 which runs right through them!  

We chose the latter and were treated to a thorough test of golf enhanced by superb views to the bay across these rugged dunes.

The course required accurate driving and a soft feel on quick greens and is viewed by the locals as a “thorough examination” for their members and visitors. Both lay-outs are dramatically impressive and certainly deserve their places in Ireland’s top courses listing.

Following a late lunch at the Rosapenna Hotel we travelled through narrow lanes, bordered by high hedges, rolling green fields, small villages and bustling market towns including the impressive Buncrana to Ballyliffin.

The Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel again provided luxury accommodation and superb cuisine in their lively bar.

As you would expect in Ireland the Guinness was served at its brilliant best.

In addition to very welcoming rooms and leisure facilities, the hotel boasts great views across Ballyliffin Bay and those fortunate to have a sea view could not be anything but impressed by the spectacle.

Ballyliffin is a small but lively village located on the North West tip of Inishowen and this year it has achieved superstar status as the chosen venue for this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open which will take place from July 5-8.  

Supported by the Rory (Mcllroy) Foundation and endorsed by the four-time Major winner as a superb venue for the event, the Ballyliffin Club are putting in fantastic efforts to present the Glashedy Links course to many of the world’s top players in A1 condition.

The village, golf club and European Tour have infrastructure plans and preparations well underway.

In sync with Rosapenna, Ballyliffin offers the visitor two courses, The Old Links and the Glashedy Links named after the rock which sits so proudly in view off the coast as you work your way round the course.

The Glashedy Links are quite simply stunning and fully deserving of the honour bestowed upon them in hosting such a prestigious tournament.  

Again, designed by Pat Ruddy in partnership with Tom Craddock the Glashedy Links meander their way beneath the dunes, providing a formidable but inspirational test.

This course has genuine picture postcard views throughout and its signature par 3 6th hole takes the breath away as one approaches the tee from the 5th green.  An elevated tee overlooks a glistening lake with mountains and the ocean in the background of a manicured green.

This course has been designed with the world’s best, the club member and holiday golfer in mind. It provides a searching but very fair test. Its back tees (some additional yardage is being added), pot bunkers and slick greens will challenge the elite – but given a reasonable wind they and the rest of us can thoroughly enjoy this hidden gem.

The Ballyliffin Clubhouse provided a fine lunch and on completion we set off back through the Donegal countryside to our final overnight stay at the Radisson Hotel in Letterkenny. Once again luxury accommodation but in a more “business” hotel style.  

A favoured eating venue for the locals in this significant market town, the hotel provided a lively atmosphere for the visitor and a fine last venue for our group to reflect on two days of great sport and hospitality.

Ireland and specifically Donegal offer a great package for those fortunate enough to visit. The scenery is largely unspoilt and combines rugged with tranquil, with the coastline stunning.

The choice of accommodation is substantial and varied and the welcome assured.

For the golfer this area is a “must visit”, the courses are both challenging and spectacular and in addition to those highlighted here, there are plenty to choose from to suit all levels of ability.

The walks around these courses alone are enough to excite, and combined with some occasional quality ball striking they take the golf experience to a very high level.

Those visiting Ballyliffin’s Glasheda Links to watch the Irish Open in July or see it on TV, I am sure will be inspired to make a return visit to play on these Links or those close by.

By Andrew Swires

Booking information:

For a stay-and-play package at Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Links, click here and here.

For a stay-and-play package at Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa, click here or here.