November 26, 2022
Another super exclusive fly to golf club. What must your net worth be to think "Sure I'll join that golf club in rural Colorado that's open five months a year." And have your spouse agree!
Welcome to Ballyneal Golf Club. We are a private golf resort with on-site lodging and dining facilities for our members. Ballyneal was created for golfers that appreciate and respect the traditions, the camaraderie and the challenge of golf. Located in the high plains of eastern Colorado near Holyoke, Ballyneal offers a true inland golf experience that is reminiscent of the great links courses in Scotland and Ireland. As a destination club, Ballyneal is, for the most part, a second club for our members where they can escape the calls of everyday life and enjoy golf the way it was originally meant to be played. Golf at Ballyneal is an expression of the land. It’s not meant to be rushed through or gulped down; it is best played often and with friends new and old. Thank you for visiting the Ballyneal website, a small glimpse into a vast experience.
Circa 1979, Ballyneal was simply a vision of a young, local golf enthusiast, Jim O’Neal. Jim recognized the swath of sand dunes just south of Holyoke that the locals call the “chop hills” as being reminiscent of the dunes in faraway Ireland and Scotland where golf was born. The dream of creating an authentic links course stayed on the back burner until older brother Rupert fanned the flames of creation when he brought up the idea of building a course to compliment the family-owned hunt club.
The two purchased 700 acres of land from a local farmer and in 2002 hired Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design (who had just finished the highly regarded Pacific Dunes course in Bandon, Oregon). Tom and his Renaissance team studied, discovered and refined the routing for two years before construction finally began in earnest on Ballyneal. Letting Mother Nature dictate the flow instead of forcing the flow was paramount in his approach to routing the course.
The fescue sward that defines Ballyneal took hold better than anticipated and Tom Doak struck the first ball in summer of 2006. The course has since matured to become one with the native sage and yucca that abound in the Chop Hills. What’s most striking to players is the variety presented by the combination of the design, the playing surface and the conditions. The fescue surface and the gusty conditions promote true links style golf where a ground game is often the best approach.
The one thing Ballyneal has proven is that a great course will withstand the test of time. Despite the financial headwinds that many private clubs faced in the years following the 2009 recession, Ballyneal emerged with a change of ownership as one of the top destination golf clubs in the world. Its ‘village’ where play starts and completes boasts four lodges in addition to the pro shop, restaurant and reception buildings. They all surround the Commons, a putting complex, where friends new and old meet to swap stories and laugh about the day’s play and the shot that nearly went in.
Meet the Architect, Tom Doak
Every great golf architect has taken the time to study the great links of the British Isles, upon which the game of golf evolved. Thanks to a scholarship from Cornell University, I got to live on the links — caddying at St. Andrews the summer after my graduation, then spending the next seven months playing and studying every golf course of note.
In that year abroad, I discovered a challenging, natural outdoor sport played by all ages, on exciting courses which has cost nothing to build and which were affordable for all to play. Ever since, I have felt a responsibility to build courses which reflect the ideals of the game as the Scots still play it.
My ideas of golf course design are shaped by having seen nearly every great course in the world — more than 1,000 in all. It still fascinates me how different good courses can be from one another. Sometimes a stretch of ground will remind me of a golf hole I saw in Britain twenty years ago, but the best designs of all are organic, evolving from the subtleties of the ground they inhabit. The chance to create an interesting golf hole which is a bit different than anything I’ve seen before is what makes all the travel worthwhile.
I spent three years working on construction projects for Pete Dye and his sons, learning how golf courses are built at the highest level. Along the way I discovered that I love the work, too – being out in the field, refining design ideas while the course is coming together. My first solo design opportunity came at the age of 26, and I haven’t looked back; but we continue to improve at the craft of building golf courses with every project we do.
I’ve been called a lot more names than most golf course architects. Iconoclastic. Cerebral. A traditionalist, and a radical. I love to be considered a radical, but it’s ironic that we’re also trusted consultants to some of the most conservative golf clubs in America. Most of all, I’ve been labeled as “controversial”, But so, too, were my heroes in the business, Alister MacKenzie and Pete Dye.
Today, our design commissions give us the chance to lead by example. And I’m excited to finally be getting the opportunity to show what I’ve learned.
BALLYNEAL GOLF & HUNT CLUB
Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club, Holyoke, CO Par 71 7,147 Yards Architect: Tom Doak (Renaissance Golf Design) Private – Opened in 2006 Few courses in North America can stir a walking golfer’s soul like Ballyneal, which boasts golf that is so pure and natural that Old Tom Morris would approve wholeheartedly. Ballyneal is still somewhat of a hidden gem that is slowly being discovered as golfers venture into the chop hills of North Eastern Colorado, about 3 hours from Denver International Airport. The club is private, laid back and only reached after driving several miles along a dirt road located a few minutes south of Holyoke. While you may be “in the middle of nowhere”, the passionate walking golfer will feel very much “at home”.
Ballyneal was carefully routed over and around the chop hills by Tom Doak – and this could very well be his masterpiece. It is probably the most natural course I have ever played in North America because it melds seamlessly with the environment as the golfer journeys through a unique and beautiful landscape. Dave Hensley and his team keep Ballyneal playing firm, fast and fun by using very little water and only managing the fescue as necessary on fairways and greens. The experience at Ballyneal is heightened by an excellent staff that create a laid back and welcoming atmosphere at the club. It is, absolutely, inland dream golf on a course that changes day to day and hour to hour as wind and weather move through the property. Ballyneal is so pure that there are no yardage or tee markers. It is a match play course with serious distance elasticity depending on the wind and where you happen to put your peg in the ground. Creativity abounds at every green and many approaches can be played along the ground or through the air. While Ballyneal is not a “true seaside links” it certainly plays like one. For a walking golfer, there can be only be a handful of experiences that rival time spent at Ballyneal – especially if you are on the property with friends. Having finished a round at Ballyneal there is nothing a walking golfer would rather do than walk right back to the first and tee it immediately. Ballyneal receives a 3.5 out of 4 for walkability, because the routing is so strong that elevation changes are barely noticed. Most of the green to tee transfers are very short – in fact – you can often tee it a few club lengths from the hole. 54 holes a day at Ballyneal should not be a problem for the fit walking golfer. The Architecture and Aesthetics at Ballyneal are world class. While there are no ocean holes, the chop hills provide a spectacular setting for the game. As mentioned, the course is routed seamlessly over the terrain and paced wonderfully. A more fun or interesting set of green complexes may not exist anywhere else in the country. Ballyneal is an easy 4.0 out of 4 for Architecture and Aesthetics. In terms of Strategy and Playability, Ballyneal receives full marks. The fairways are wide enough to handle strong winds, but strategy is always important off the tee as ball placement provides a significant advantage on most holes. Ballyneal is the type of course where the stick will have to work to score well, because it is tough to get the ball close to the hole on approaches, but the bogey golfer, if he plays smart, can navigate the course while playing to his handicap. Ballyneal is The Walking Golfer’s Top Modern Golf Course in the United States. It is a walk that should not be missed if you ever have the chance to play there. TWG Rating for Ballyneal: 3.5 / 4 – Walkability 4.0 / 4 – Architecture and Aesthetics 2.0 / 2 – Strategy and Playability