To whet your appetite for the resumption of golf on May 18th and beyond, we decided we would publish a story to inspire - the story of Dunfanaghy's Course Record.
The course record is held by Damian Mooney, PGA Professional. Damian is a Belfast native, long now based in Inishowen. Damian very kindly took the time to relay his memories and Dunfanaghy Golf Club would like to thank him for his generosity. Damian tells the story....
In these very strange circumstances, we find ourselves living through, I feel very privileged to have been asked to tell the story of setting the course record at Dunfanaghy during the Pro-Am in 2007.
When I played in the Pro-Am, I was not a stranger to the area. My first memories of Dunfanaghy go back to the late 70s/early 80s, when my family used to go on holiday to the Shandon Hotel. When we went to the village and down to the beach, we had to drive through the course.
The Shandon had a pitch and putt course, and it was there I first swung a golf club. My older brothers were more capable than I was, so were deemed fit to accompany my father, who was a keen society golfer, to play the links at Dunfanaghy.
In those days, my biggest worry was getting my first tee shot over the stream that crosses the fairway - not all that far from the tee. The greens were surrounded by fences, to keep the cattle off them, and I remember being more interested in finding golf balls than playing the game. As my father fell ill and passed away in 1985, the holidays stopped. That was the last time I was in Dunfanaghy, before playing in the Pro-Am in 2006.
As a child Dunfanaghy always seemed to be so far away from Belfast where I played my amateur golf and where I am an honorary member of Dunmurry Golf Club. The lowest handicap I managed to achieve was 4 before turning professional to work in the Dunmurry Pro Shop in 1987.
In 2006, when the Pro-Am became part of the PGA calendar, I looked forward to the event and all the memories of the area that came with it.
I got there a day early for a practice round and found the course in great condition. The welcome was open and friendly. There was excitement and interest in having the professionals at Dunfanaghy. The fences were gone from around the greens and the course demanded control and accuracy, not only for approach shots, but also off the tee. The par 3s were a great test.
As I was playing well and leading the Europro Tour Order of Merit at the time, I wanted to get a win at Dunfanaghy, especially as it holds such a special place in my soul. But anyone who knows golf, understands that having a dream is not enough. I remember enjoying being there and playing well, but the course’s good defences ensured that I would have to wait until 2007 to realise my dream.
I was introduced to my amateur team of Alan Wray, Paul Burton and Raymond Kelly in advance of our morning tee time and we headed off, full of hope. During that round, I had twelve 3s and six 4s, and narrowly missed a putt on the 18th for the magical 59. The next day I had a 61 to back up the first day’s 60 (My only bogey of the two days was at 17). My previous lowest score in a competition was 61.
I started the round well, with a birdie 3 at the 1st and a couple of settling pars to follow. The secret to a score for me is " Par the 3s. Birdie the 5s. The 4s will determine how good the score ends up". I birdied the 4th to go -2 before playing the next 3 dangerous holes in par. The green at 5 is tricky and 6 is the longest par 4, which, that weekend, was playing into a breeze. It is also the most demanding hole on the course, with OB the length of the right side, and a tight approach into a green, which is slower paced than the others on the course. The 7th is the longest par 3 and missing the green presents all sorts of difficulties. As I am not a fan of blind shots, I always play the tee shot off the 8th with respect for the dangers that lie in wait left of the fairway and around the green. I made birdie 3 at the 8th, after a good approach shot, and I will always settle for a par at the 9th, as the shape of the green demands a good touch with the putter. The front nine was completed in a tidy 30, with six 3s and three 4s.
I could see that the score was beginning to take shape and I can remember that this was where and when I began to think about it.
The back 9 begins with two short par 4s and a birdie at each would give a real chance of a low score, with a par 5 still to come. I have always been great with a 3 wood and if memory serves me correctly, I drove the green at 10 using that. At 11, I hit driver just short and pitched stiff. The two par 3s on this 9 are no push over, and after negotiating the 12th with no excitement, I noticed that the team was starting to get a little edgy on my behalf. Standing on the 13th tee, we had eight 3s on the card.
The stream short of the front of this innocent looking par 3 makes the hole appear shorter. The green is protected on either side by bunkers and undulating ground. I settled for a par and walked off the green with nine 3s on the card. I was full of confidence on the 14th tee and had no hesitation in using my driver to breeze over the stream. My ball finished in the hollow, front right of the green, 330 metres away from the tee. With four holes to go, we had ten 3s and four 4s. Word had got out that I was potentially on for a good score, so a few people were hanging about the back of the tee box and nearby putting green.
In my mind the only real obstacle was the par 3 17th. I made par 4 down 15, against the wind, and turned to 16 downwind. I knew reaching the green would not be a problem, as long as I kept my tee shot in play. A birdie was a real possibility and would allow me to go to -7, with two to play. I stayed focused and brought my attention back to the next shot, which, with heavy rough both sides of the fairway, is not easy. With a few interested people now following, I managed to launch my driver up to the edge of the road, leaving me an approach with an 8 iron. It landed close and I made the putt for eagle.
It all sounds so simple now. The blood was moving nicely as I stood on 17th tee. The wind was off the left, which left no room for error. Left is dead with the bunker and sloping green, while the OB and fence on the right has no future at all, even if it is very picturesque at low tide! I recall hitting a 5 iron out into the wind and thankfully it came back onto the green, making another 3 – twelve in total.
My memory of the 17th and 18th remains hazy. I knew I was -8 after 16 and playing to get the best score I could. Standing in the middle of the 18th fairway, waiting to play, I could see interested onlookers along the hedge, at the side of the clubhouse, down near the road and at the 18th green. It was nice to see there was interest and feel the buzz it created. A reasonable approach onto the green left me a 15-20 feet putt for birdie. While I knew I had a chance of -9 under, I had not registered that it would be a final score of 59.
As the story goes, and the record shows, I missed the putt for the magical 59, but I had a flawless round. My team was gutted for me, though delighted with my twelve 3s and six 4s.
The next day I would again stand on the 17th tee, -8 for 16 holes, helped this time by an eagle on 11. (I drove the green and holed a putt for 2). I had my only bogey of the two rounds at 17, before again parring 18.
Two very special days on a tough, testing lay out. From memory, second place was at least 9 shots behind me. I won the event again in 2018 by 3 shots and had a 62 in the final round.
Over the course of my golfing career I have had 13 holes in one, (the most recent one at the Irish Open in 2013) and several course records. I have played 10 holes in competition in 11 under par (Ulster PGA Championship 2006), but those two days in Dunfanaghy rank very highly in my golfing treasures.
Dunfanaghy holds very special memories for me and the Pro-Am has been my favourite event for many years, in large part to the friendliness and support of the members.