North West Golf Club was one of nine founder members of the Golf Union of Ireland in 1891 (under the name of Buncrana) when it became the first club association in the world. The club was formed the same year when the professional at Royal Portrush, Charles Thompson, laid out a course at Fahan, just south of Buncrana in Donegal.
The holes are routed on relatively flat links land on the shores of Lough Swilly and the club has fought a constant battle against coastal erosion over the years, resulting in huge rocks now being placed along hundreds of yards of shoreline in an attempt to keep the mighty Atlantic at bay.
The course measures 6,334 yards and has only two par fives, both at the end of each nine on the 9th and the 18th holes. Fairways criss-cross on this old-fashioned layout at the 4th and 17th holes – in fact the 17th also crosses the fairway of the last hole too!
A feature hole at North West is the shortest par four on the card, the 345-yard 4th, called “Kinnegar.” It doglegs sharply to the right and has a lateral water hazard running from the dogleg along the fairway to the right of the putting surface. The golfer is tempted to cut the corner off the tee but a potential birdie can so easily become a bogey or worse if the fairway is not found.
North West are so proud of having Brian McElhinney (2005 Amateur Open Champion) as a member that they have a picture of him and the famous old trophy on the front of their scorecard. There is absolutely no doubt that playing on such a fine links like North West stood Brian in good stead and helped him overcome all the opposition when he won at Royal Birkdale that year.
As a boy in the 1960s, I used to holiday in Lisfannon on the shores of Lough Swilly, beside the North West golf course. I was intrigued by the nearest hole to our wee cottage, the very short par three 16th, called “Fairy.” My fascination was all to do with how golfers could swing at a golf ball on a tee and reasonably expect it to end up near the flag with a hundred yards of carry to a semi blind green surrounded by a stream, sand bunkers and thick, thick rough – often into a stiff cross wind coming off the lough.
I suppose that was the start of my love affair with links golf and forty years later, I’m still as smitten as way back then.
North West is not the best links you will ever play but it is a little charmer, with the feel that not an awful lot has changed to the course itself over the past a hundred odd years. It retains a very old-fashioned aura with no modern day trickery or tomfoolery – what you see is what you get on an uncomplicated links layout that will transport you back to an era when golf really was fun to play.