The Takeaway: Ballyneal goes toe-to-toe with Sand Hills to lay claim as the great golf course in the sand hills of the Midwest. The course fits seamlessly with the terrain and the green complexes are as good as it gets. Grade A+
Designer: Tom Doak in 2005
Phone Number: (970) 854-5900
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Ballyneal Golf Club's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - One Ballyneal Lane, Holyoke, Colorado 80734 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: Located in the northeast corner of Colorado on a patch of natural sand dunes, Ballyneal is the kind of course that makes golf purists drool. The O'Neal brothers (Jim and Rupert) recognized something special in these sand dunes and wanted to build a course that reflected the timeless design of the links courses found in the United Kingdom. While you won't find the ocean nearby, the terrain is exactly what you'd expect to find at a pure links course with choppy dunes and firm/fast conditions that begs players to use the ground game to access certain pins. The O'Neal brothers knew there was one man that would be the perfect fit for the job; Tom Doak. Doak, a self-proclaimed minimalist, was oozing with excitement about the possibility of routing this walking-only course that would feature caddies, no tee box signs, no yardages on sprinkler heads, and no water hazards. At Ballyneal it is simply man versus the elements with natural looking bunkers, sand dunes, and green contours teaming up with the unobstructed winds to battle the golfer from the 1st tee to the 18th green. The course features mega wide fairways and several "1/2 pars" that is a Tom Doak "pet" design feature. The absolute remoteness of the location brings a peacefulness to the property and delivers an experience not readily available at most golf courses. Ballyneal and Sand Hills have revealed just how good links golf can be in the Midwest away from a body of water; and they are insanely fun to play.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 3rd Hole – 145 Yard Par 3 – This is the postcard hole at Ballyneal and shows how attractive a short one-shotter can be at an inland links course. Being less than 150 yards, most pin locations can be attacked by taking dead aim, but there is an argument for feeding the ball into the green off the left side contours or by attacking the right side which features tamer contours and easier two-putts. The undulated green is a lot of fun to play, especially since the grass length is such that you can confidently play the undulations without great fear of blowing your putt by.
Best Par 3: 15th Hole – 237 Yards – The final par three at Ballyneal is also the best. The green sits in a hollow surrounded by sand dunes and slopes from front to back. Fronting the green is a pronounced slope with the left side sitting higher than the right. Tee balls that fall short of this slope will be repelled down and to the right and come to rest in a chipping area well short of the green. Tee balls that catch the backside of the slope will run along the land contours and find a spot on the putting surface.
Best Par 4: 17th Hole – 481 Yards – The 17th hole at Ballyneal is brilliant due to the conflict the golfer finds himself in when standing on the tee. With the hole turning to the right, long hitters have a tendency to want to cut the corner and leave themselves a short shot into the green site. However a bunker protects the inside corner and requires a 315 yard bomb to clear. Therefore the safer angle is down the left side which opens up the hole but it also lengthens the approach and brings in the possibility of hitting it through the fairway. If you can manage to catch the center ridgeline then the contours of the fairway will propel your ball forward and to the right and thus promising a great angle from a manageable distance.
Best Par 5: 16th Hole – 546 Yards – Ballyneal's final par five falls in the middle of a fantastic set of finishing holes. On the tee, the golfer is afforded a view of a generous sized fairway that eventually descends out of sight. With over 300 yards of depth to play with, most golfers will select a driver off the tee to setup their next shot. Upon arriving at your tee ball, golfers will find that the hole turns sharply to the left as the fairway pinches down tightly between a pair of sand dunes before climbing back uphill to the undulated green site. At just 32 yards of depth, the green on the 16th is one of Ballyneal's most shallow and should be taken into consideration before making a decision on your second shot. Tee shots played up the left side of the fairway will be in a position to cut off a small corner of the sand dune and go after this green, while tee shots up the right will likely have the golfer considering laying up beyond the tight neck and hitting a 50-80 yard chip shot. That being said, this hole is great because the options afforded on each shot are not forced upon the golfer. A drive up the right side doesn't demand the golfer into a layup shot and a tee ball up the left side isn't an automatic green light for the green. Wind conditions, turf firmness, and the pin position will all be guides in deciding how to play the 16th when you face it.
Birdie Time: 7th Hole – 352 Yard Par 4 – As can often be the case in golf, the best chance for birdie is at the funnest hole on the course and Ballyneal is no exception. I consider #7 Ballyneal's most memorable hole and one that everyone I talk to seems to appreciate. At just 352 yards and an extremely wide fairway, the 7th is plenty playable for everyone and delivers some nifty options. If you want to take a crack at the green, your tee shot needs to carry the bunker on the left side of the fairway that is in line with the green while avoiding the natural foliage left of the short grass. If you put enough on it then your tee shot can ride the land contours onto the putting surface. If you didn't quite get enough of it or your shot tailed to the right then your ball will find a large swell to pitch from (70-100 yards from the green). Taking an iron off the tee will still leave a comfortable distance into the green and take the bunker out of play and bring in the widest part of the fairway. From the fairway or the chipping swell, golfers can let their creativity ooze out with a plethora of options of how to attack one of the finest green sites in the world. Shots can come in high, skip in low, be played off the side hill, spun back off the ridge in the middle of the green, or caromed off the backstop; and that is just with your wedge - the options are endless with 14 sticks to pick from in your bag! With the hole being short, extremely playable, and affording plenty of options; the 7th is a great chance to card a birdie.
Bogey Beware: 10th Hole – 509 Yard Par 4 – Ballyneal features more 1/2 pars than any other course I've played and the distinction between par 4s and 5s can get blurry, especially is certain wind conditions. The 10th is one of the those 1/2 pars and stretches out to a 509 yard par four. Danger lurks up either side of the fairway with a bunker in the driving zone up the right size and a blind approach being handed to the golfer that drives up the left side. Since your approach shot will likely be pretty lengthy, utilizing the left-to-right fairway slope in front of the green can help aid your shot reach the green that doesn't feature any bunkers right next to the putting surface. Between the sheer length and challenges up both sides of the driving zones, the 10th at Ballyneal certainly is a contender to place a box, or two, around the number in your scorecard.