The small town of Dunfanaghy sits on the western shores of Sheephaven Bay in northern County Donegal and the golf course is set on a narrow strip of land between Dunfanaghy and Portnablagh, where six-time Open champion Harry Vardon is said to have laid out the fairways for club members.
The golf club was founded in 1906 and affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1920. According to Dunfanaghy’s centenary book, British soldiers stationed in nearby barracks may have played golf in the area as far back as 1740. The book also mentions the existence of a course connected to the Stewart Arms Hotel in 1886.
Vardon returned to Donegal in June of 1910 but the purpose of this visit was to take part in an exhibition match at Rosapenna involving John Ball Jnr, George Duncan and Sandy Herd. It’s thought he may have revisited Dunfanaghy at that time, or maybe even later in 1927 when he re-designed the course at Bundoran.Dunfanaghy appears to be rather flat at first sight but the ground rises and falls gently with plenty of humps and hollows to contend with and ditches that cross a few fairways also have to be negotiated. The holes in the rocky outcrop section between the 6th and 10th are the most pleasing, with the short coastal par three 9th hole on the eastern extremity on the property well worth its tag of “signature hole”.
I didn’t expect Dunfanaghy to be nearly as well appointed as it is – and there’s absolutely no slight intended with that remark, I might add. I just thought beforehand that a club which has flown under the radar for so long – it’s course only recently featured in the national chart at #100 – might be a little less developed in such a relative golfing backwater.
How wrong could I be? Dunfanaghy Golf Club and its facilities are as good as you’ll find at any small members’ club that’s had to rely on lots of locals down the years to help it grow and evolve into the modern golf facility it’s now become – and reading the club’s excellent centenary publication, you’ll gain an insight into the effort it’s taken to achieve the wonderful community-based sporting amenity that now exists.
The five opening holes play away from the clubhouse and they’re laid out on flat, rather uninteresting land which is well drained by several long, deep ditches. The green of the par four 5th is a fantastic specimen, with two long “channels” running the length of the putting surface to confuse and confound even the best of putters. That’s just the start of a lovely little sequence of holes that are played around the turn here.
The tee shot for the downhill par three 7th hole is struck from the highest point on the course, followed by a really tricky short par four that doglegs left and uphill to the green. The 124-metre 9th (“The Beast”) is Dunfanaghy’s signature hole, played across a sandy cove to a large, but sneaky green that falls away at the back.
Holes 10 to 13 are all solid links holes, set out on the same flatter landscape as the opening holes, before the next three fairways run in parallel up and down hillier terrain, culminating in the par five 16th rising up and right to a green that overlooks the unspoilt sands of Killahoey Beach. Interestingly, the 18th used to be the original 1st, so a round presumably used to finish with a par three, which is now the 17th.
Dunfanaghy’s a no-frills links that extends to 5313 metres from the white tees, with a par of 68 (33 out and 35 in) and only one par five at the aforementioned 16th. Don’t expect to play championship-standard golf here but do be prepared to have a lot of fun on an old-fashioned layout that’s a very enjoyable walk.