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Ballyneal Review


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About a month and a half ago, I was able to play Ballyneall. @iacas encouraged me to write a review, and I finally have some time to write something up. Ballyneal is probably not a course you've heard of unless you're an architecture geek. Ballyneal is a private course in the sand hills of Colorado. When you think of sand hills, you'd normally think of western Nebraska where places like Sand Hills and the Prairie Club are. Extreme northeastern Colorado has similar sand hills to that area, although my understanding is that they're a little bit smaller in Colorado. Ballyneal was built in these sand hills by Tom Doak in the mid 00s. Ballyneal is a private club, but I wouldn't consider it super exclusive. Members seem to like sharing it with people, and it does not feel exclusive when you are there.

The trip from Denver is very boring. It's about a 3 hour drive, and it's almost entirely flat until the end. All of the sudden, it goes from flat, farmland, to hills. At that point, you turn off the main road, and within 15 minutes you arrive at the course:

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Ballyneal is golfing paradise. There is nothing else there to do during golf season (there is hunting you can do in the off season, if you want). There is an 18 hole course and a par 3 course with 12 greens (the Mulligan Course). I haven't played the par 3 course, so the only note I have on that is that it is entirely forced carries over the scrub. They may be building a 2nd 18 hole course in the near future. The course is remote - it is quiet out there and you can't see anyone outside of the course. There is a huge putting green, and a small range. That's it. The only thing to do is play the courses. Which I love. I could spend a long time out there.

The course itself is my favorite course I've ever played. I would rank it either a 9.5/10 or a 10/10. I haven't put enough thought into it whether it's truly a perfect golf course for a 10/10. That's my only hesitation in giving it a perfect 10. It is very unique - you feel like you're playing on the surface of the moon almost. It is incredibly fun. It's gettable but also challenging. I never have found it unfair, but it's not straightforward either.

If you want to see what I mean by playing on the surface of the moon, here are some pictures that show you how unique it is:

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That is a picture from the tee box on the 4th hole. You can see how there is nothing out there but the golf course and my group.

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This is looking back at the clubhouse from some hole on the back 9. I'm not sure which. No matter what, you can see how unique the setting is. 

Ballyneal is a links course. It is build on sand, which is normally what I use to decide what is a links or not. There is basically no rough - it's pretty much all fairway, bunkers, and the scrub off the fairway. There is no OB or water on the course. The course is firm, although the fairways are quite a bit firmer than the greens. You can get a lot of roll out on the fairways, but you can still stop balls on the greens. The fairways are generally very wide, and you can still find balls in the scrub. It's not quite a course where you can drive it anywhere, but driving accuracy is not super important here. The difficultly off the tee is avoiding some bad fairway bunkers. If you hit it off the planet, you will still have problems.  Instead, it's a ballstrikers course. The premium here is on approaches into the green. There are spots around the green where you are dead. There are also spots where a small miss will leave you with a really tough chip or putt. There are a few holes where the ball that hits the fringe or on the edge of a green will funnel off the green to a spot way below the green. There are some holes where hitting the green in the wrong spot will leave you with a 50 foot putt.

I'm not going to go hole by hole, but I'll talk about of a few as examples of this. The first par 3, the third hole, is a short par 3. It plays between 120 and 150, depending on the flag and tee box. It's slightly downhill. It's not a short template, because the green is huge. We had a front flag when we played. Here's the trick to this pin - you actually didn't want to hit the green to get it close. If you went short left of the green, the ball would funnel down to the pin and leave you 10 feet for birdie. If you were just short of the green, you had a decent, downhill look at birdie. The member I played with hit it short left the second time we played it, and he had a short birdie putt. Meanwhile, I hit it just past flag high and had a 50 or 60 foot putt back to the hole. With a wedge! Some people might find that frustrating, but I think it's incredibly cool. Here's a picture of the hole from the yardage book:

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The hole was in the front left bowl. The first time I played it, I was just off the front center of the green and had an straightforward 2 putt down that slope.

Another hole like this was 12. It was a short par 4, but not quite driveable. You can see the huge expanse of fairway in the yardage book picture below. The key here is the green. The hole was front right when we played. The first time, I had 50 yards to the flag, thinned the ball slightly, and ended up on the back of the green. I had a 60 foot putt over that ridge. The second time, I laid back to a full wedge, hit a decent shot to the front fringe, and had a good look at birdie.

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Again, you have to get the approach right, and the line between birdie and not making a birdie is extremely thin.

Another example of that is 2. I hit a great shot the first time there and had this for birdie:

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If I had ended up about 3 foot further from the hole, it's likely my ball would have funneled down the green another 20-30 feet. A very thin line between a great shot and good shot.

(Yes, I made the birdie putt, which was not a gimme at all.)

The 12th hole is also a good place to highlight something else - this is a cerebral golf course. Off the tee, you are mostly hitting driver at Ballyneal. But, there are a few where driver is probably not the right play. This hole was an example, because I needed more spin than I get on a pitch to be able to stop the ball in a decent spot on the green. There is a driveable par 4 where driver is not the play unless you really want to risk a double for a change at eagle. More importantly, you have to think about your approaches and where to leave balls. That is where the difficulty is When you are around the green, you have to know when to take your medicine and play for bogey, because it's very easy to try a hero shot and end up with double. Experience really pays off here, although you'll probably earn that experience with some scar tissue.

Another great thing about this course is that there are no bad holes. There are some that are less challenging than others - 1 is a very gentle handshake opener - but no bad holes. The par 3s are my favorite group of par 3s on a course. I talked about the first one already. The second par 3 is a redan-like hole. There is a huge slope on the left side of the green, and you have to figure out how that slope plays into the hole. The next par 3 is an uphill shot onto a huge tabletop green. You have to get your clubbing right, and if you don't hit the green, you will be punished. The shot is really cool, though, and pulling it off is a great feeling when you get to the green. The last par 3 is a long, downhill par 3 into a punchbowl style green. Depending on where the flag is, you don't know where your ball ended up off the tee. If you hit a good shot, you will have a makeable birdie putt, even if you can't see the ball when it stops. They each test different clubs - I hit gap wedge, 8/9 iron, 7 iron, and 5/6 iron into them. I love 3 of the 4 par 3s, and even the one I don't love (the redan) is still good.

I'm going to highlight one other hole. 9 is my favorite tee shot. You can't see the green from the tee because the fairway plays over a hill. You don't have to get to the top of the hill to see the green, but you have to get up it a decent amount. The tricky part is that the fairway pinches in at the top of the hill, so you have to decide if you want to hit driver and risk being in the scrub or sand for a guaranteed clean look at the green. Here's what the tee shot looks like:

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And here is the green:

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I find it hard to pick a favorite hole, but this one is probably it. 

Here is a dump of the rest of the pictures I took. I'm horrible at making sure I'm taking pictures, so there's not a ton:

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I don't know what hole that is, but it's some hole on the back 9.

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I think that is the last par 3 (15), but I'm not 100% sure.

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A shot of the fairway on 17.

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A flowering cactus I found in the scrub off the fairway. It also shows you what the scrub looks like. You can play out of there, but your lie is a roll of the dice.

To top it off, I love the scorecard:

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You pick the tee box you play from on each hole. I don't think the course is rated, or at least I haven't been able to find the rating. I believe the intent is that you play a match, and the person with honors selects the tee box. 

Overall, Ballyneal is incredible. If you have a chance to play it, play it. You will not regret it.

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-- Daniel

In my bag: :callaway: Big Bertha V Series (11 degrees) :callaway: Epic Flash 3.5W (16 degrees)

:callaway: Rogue Pro 3-PW :edel: SMS Wedges - V-Grind (48, 54, 58):edel: Putter

 :snell: MTB-X :aimpoint:

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Erik J. Barzeski —  I knock a ball. It goes in a gopher hole. 🏌🏼‍♂️
Director of Instructor Development, 5 Simple Keys®/Golf Evolution • Owner, The Sand Trap .com • AuthorLowest Score Wins • Golf Digest "Best Young Teachers in America" 2016-17 • "Best in State" 2017-20 • WNY Section PGA Teacher of the Year 2019 • Penn-State Behrend Head Coach • • • • • • • • • • :aimpoint: :edel: :true_linkswear:

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