Relatively remote resorts like Bundoran became fashionable places to visit at the end of the 19th century when newly built railway lines made it easy for people to travel from the centres of population to the fresh air of the seaside for some rest and recreation.
Railway companies were quick to cash in on the holiday traffic and many destinations had huge hotels constructed to cater for the incoming customers. Of course, the land adjacent to these hotels was also utilized to keep the hotel customers occupied with healthy outdoor sporting pursuits like golf.
And so Bundoran, through the Highland Railway Company, came to be the location for the 111-bedroom Great Northern Hotel in 1894, and with it came the first 9-hole course designed by a Scotsman, G. L. Baillie, who had associations with the Royal Belfast Golf Club.
According to the History of Bundoran Golf Club 1894-1994 the course was altered again in 1936 when additional land became available for lease: "the decision to lease land on the east side of the existing course, to make a championship course, was of major significance, and this extra space allowed greater scope for development and the foundation of the present course.
The plans for the extension were drawn up by a Mr. Roofers. [Please contact us if you know more about this gentleman] New holes built included the present 2nd, 3rd, 4th , 5th and 6th on the land which was acquired. This resulted, naturally, in major changes in the remainder of the course and eventually the 8th, 10th, 11th and 15th became par 4s in the 1940s, while the present 17th tee was later built. The 6th hole is currently played as a par 3 due to boundary difficulties. The present course includes features from all the various designs since 1894."
It was extended ten years later to an 18-hole layout by Cuthbert Butchart from Royal County Down before the legendary Harry Vardon remodeled the course in 1927 when he repositioned greens, replaced tees and added new bunkers.
Another famous Irish golfer with connections to Bundoran is Christy O’Connor Snr who was the professional from 1951 to 1957. The story goes that Christy was playing in a four ball with three members when one asked him what club he had used at the 230-yard par three 13th hole. When Christy replied that a 3-iron had been used, the member proudly informed the others that he had only needed a 4-iron to reach the green. At this, Christy pulled ten balls out of his bag and proceeded to knock every one onto the green with a different club!
Situated to the south of Donegal Bay where the mighty Atlantic rolls in, and surrounded by the imposing Dartry and Ben Bulben Mountains, Bundoran enjoys a fantastic location. It is a very wide, open course – where the wind is its primary defence – with holes routed in two loops over a large crest of cliffs on the seaside.
The principal charm of Bundoran is that little has changed over the years and if you like your golf simple and uncomplicated then this is the place for you!
It’s easy to drive past Bundoran heading to bigger names in County Donegal or south into Sligo – I’ve done that several times myself in the past – but this time I decided to stop off and see what the course had to offer. Currently on this site as a GEM, it should appear as a ranked course in Donegal when the charts are updated early next year.
Measuring 5,729 metres from the back tees, Bundoran is configured with returning nines, each of which play to a par of 35. Interestingly, the three men who left the biggest design imprint on the course have holes named after them: Harry Vardon at the 1st, George Baillie at the 12th and Cuthbert Buchart at the 14th.
The front nine is mainly laid out on to the southeast of the clubhouse, with five of these holes brought into play last, during the 1930s. Probably the best of the holes on the outward half is kept until last, at the par four downhill 9th, which plays to an original green that enjoys a unique setting hard up against the back of the hotel.
The back nine features two great par four holes played back to back in opposite directions along the coastline at the 11th and 12th. The first plunges downhill then up to a semi-blind green, followed by a shorter uphill two-shotter which plays to a benched green that’s protected by a line of cross bunkers.
Much is made of Christy O’Connor and his association with the club but that lasted for only eight years during the 1950s – the current club professional David Robinson has been in post for five times that amount of time (and head gerenkeeper Terry McShea is only a year short of having the same 40 years of service). Now that’s what you call devotion to duty at Bundoran!