How Ballyliffin shimmered in the Irish Open spotlight

There is no underestimating what this Dubai Duty Free Irish Open meant to everybody at Ballyliffin Golf Club, but it was general manager John Farren’s mission not to squander the opportunities that hosting the European Tour event presented to Donegal as a whole.

It is not lost on folk in these parts, the Inishowen Peninsula, the county and the north-west region, that an Irish Open has only once visited the west coast of Ireland and that when it did, in 1999, it was 300-odd miles down the Wild Atlantic Way in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry.

Shane Lowry tees off from the 8th tee box during Day One of the Irish Open Golf Championship at Ballyliffin Golf Club. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Now wonder Farren was both welcoming of the tournament and ambitious for possibilities it could bring the area in the decades to come.

“We were all very excited about staging a world-class tournament,” Ballyliffin’s general manager said. “It’s a big, big deal for this part of the world and we’re very grateful that the tour has had the confidence to bring it to the region for the first time.

“We’re breaking a lot of new ground and I think it’s going to be ground that’s going to be well ploughed and harrowed over the next 20 or 30 years.

“It is a breakthrough event for Donegal and the north-west region, we do appreciate the opportunity and we intend to seize the opportunity as best we can. We’ll be ready, we’re doing our very best and the members as well as Donegal County Council are striving to get everything done that we possibly can get done.”

Only talking to Donegal people brings a sense of just what sort of an impact this Irish Open has had on the locality, with Farren not shy of measuring its impact on this corner of the island against the biggest sports events on the planet.

“It’s been huge for us,” Farren said. “A tournament of this scale coming to Kildare, Galway, Dublin, it’s just another week in the year. A tournament like this coming to an area like this for the first time, I’ve compared it to Donegal staging the World Cup. This is how big a deal it is in terms of the exposure we’re going to get.

“It’s exposure that’s long overdue but we intend to take our moment in the sun. And did we get some sun!

“In terms of the economic impact, the week will match attendance records of previous years, we’re quite confident of that. Yesterday’s final day crowd of over 27,000 took the week’s tital to just shy of 95,000.

“The accommodation was great, we worked very closely with Donegal and Derry in terms of co-ordinating accommodation structures for people so that they can come and we have capacity. Everyone in the region has used this as a huge opportunity to showcase not just golf but the whole region, the scenery and what we have to offer up here. Everyone is buying into it and I haven’t heard any negative reports from anyone about the event coming to Ballyliffin.

“There were going to be impacts on the local communities but people see the big picture up here because we’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a while.

“We believe we have a product here in terms of the Glashedy links. The Tour and the sponsors are bringing a world-class product to a world-class golf course, there’s no reason in the world why we can’t deliver a world-class tournament that has a long-standing impact economically here. Not just for golf but for tourism in general and for confidence in the county.

“That’s how big this is. Everybody put their shoulder to the wheel in terms of assisting and doing everything they could to make sure that Donegal was ready.”

They built it, and the crowds did come to Ballyliffin, just as Irish Open championship director Simon Alliss predicted.

“We’ve come to a region that’s relatively undiscovered. Its beauty was there for everyone to see and appreciate and we hope we exposed the very best essence of Donegal and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

“In terms of infrastructure and the venue, the first time we visited here and saw the facilities and understood from John the plan, the vision and commitment from the members, we had no fears from that day.

“This place is world-class in everything it offers. It now has an incredible locker room facility, an incredible pro shop, fantastic catering, amazing space and God’s great green out there is something you can’t buy.

“We’re delighted and confident that all will leave here with a very lasting and positive impression of Ballyliffin.”

Added Farren: “Ballyliffin (was already) held in very high esteem throughout the country.

“Our proximity to Northern Ireland means that it’s very, very accessible. Northern Irish golfing fans, they’re the people who do a lot of travelling to Irish Opens, no matter where they are in the country.

“The fact we’re breaking new ground, the first time it’s been on the west coast north of Ballybunion means that it’s a new option, a new destination, a new holiday for people.

“We’re all used to travelling down to Portmarnock for many, many years, but the shoe’s very much on the other foot now!”

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