There is something special about Baltray. Just ask Michael Sinclair, who won his first East of Ireland title at the newly lengthened County Link over the June Bank Holiday weekend.

But it's not just the golf course that's special. From the moment you leave Drogheda and take that winding road along the estuary where sea birds swoop and dive, you feel detached from hustle and bustle of 'real life'.

Then, as you turn that sharp bend, where the evergreens that guard the fourth tee hove into view, you start to think about the 'East'.

Does it look windy up there? Is that big cloud going to unleash something nasty that could turn a reporter's notebook into mush?

Who will win? With the 2002 champion Noel Fox on duty for the Walker Cup selectors at Troon for the British Amateur championship with Colm Moriarty, Gareth Maybin and Justin Kehoe, we were looking for possible winners.

The list of pretenders to the title - Irish Independent sponsored East of Ireland Amateur Open championship - was very long indeed. It's a testament to the depth of young talent in the amateur game here these days.

Young guns such as Mark and David Ryan from Grange, Brian McElhinney of North West or David Rawluck and Cian McNamara were there.

The older brigade was there too - Barry Reddan, Tom Cleary, Mick Morris, John "Junior" Morris and Declan Brannigan.

Bu there was no Noel Fox, the three-time champion who had given the course a hammering in 2002 when he finished 14 under and five shots clear of Darren Crowe. B

But secretary manager Mick Delaney was adamant that this is not the reason for the changes that have been carried out on the advice of architect Donald Steel.

Six new tees were built, lengthening the course by 153 yards. The par-five 11th was reduced by a few yards and declared to be a par four of 470 yards, reducing par to a very strict 72.

There is some muttering in the ranks about the difficulty at the 11th and the new tiger tee at the 16th, which was too low for the taste of some.

On day one Mullingar's John Morris took advantage of benign early conditions to shoot a five under par 67 and lead the field.

The Cork-born doctor, a consultant radiologist at Mullingar General Hospital, showed why he has been such a consistent performer in the major amateur events over the past 20 years.

Starting on the back nine with only a light breeze and some early fog to trouble his progress, he reached the turn in one under before coming home in 33 thanks to two birdies and an eagle three at the 531 yard sixth.

His round gave him a one shot lead over another Leesider, 20-year-old Niall Turner from Muskerry as 22 players broke par on a perfect day for golf.

Had it not been for the fact that preferred lies were permitted on 18th where a new fairway hugs the out of bounds fence, Morris's round would have stood as a new course record following major changes to the classic Baltray layout over the winter months.

Starting on the back nine, the plus one handicapper reached the turn in one under par with birdies at 13th and par three 17th more than compensating for a dropped shot at the short 15th.

Further birdies at the par five second and third holes got him to three under for his round before he made an eagle three at the 531 yard sixth to take the outright lead.

Eddie McCormack (Slieve Russell), McElhinney Sinclair and Crowe all shots 69s to announce their candidature with Mark Campbell of Stackstown as shot further back on 70.

On a rain lashed Sunday, Campbell produced another two under par 70 to grab a one shot lead over Sinclair with Derek McNamara of Connemara, Eddie McCormack and Morris a shot further back on two-under par.

Brian McElhinney, 20, of North West hit a 74 to finish on one under par, with Declan Moran (73) of the Island and North West's Garrett Mallon (72) on level par.

The cut fell at 150 - six over - with eight players missing out on that mark, including Turner, who was second starting the day.

But on the final day it was the experienced Sinclair who came through to win with relative ease in the end.

Campbell had a mishit on the first (a shank, allegedly) and ended up with an 87 that dropped him out of the title race. And youngster McNamara saw his hopes evaporate when he dropped seven shots from the 14th for a horrendous third round 80.

Sinclair, though, kept grinding it out and carded a 72 and was matched by the sweet-striking Morris, whose 72 left him just one stroke adrift of the Knock golfer with a round to play.

Out of the pack, big Andrew McCormick got in the mix with a wonderful third round 69 and entered the final round just two behind Sinclair on one under.

However, a couple of early bogeys in he final round meant that he never put enough pressure on his fellow Ulsterman. Sinclair had won the North of Ireland title in 1997 and perhaps it was that experience that stood to him over the final 18 holes when Baltray was playing at its most difficult.

After a steady front nine, Morris was just two adrift of Sinclair coming down the stretch but lost his momentum in the testing conditions and made seven bogeys in a row before signing for an 81.

Sinclair hit a lot of three woods off the tee and when he saw that Morris was haemorrhaging shots over the closing holes in the group in front, he could almost taste victory. Almost.

"I really had to grind it out," he said. "I hit a lot of fairways and made very few mistakes which was the key. When I saw that John was dropping shots it made it easier and I could relax a bit."

McCormick eventually shot a 76 to lead in the clubhouse on three over par. Sinclair was one under and four shots clear of the man from Scrabo with three to play.

He three-putted the 16th for a bogey but then rifled a five iron to 15 feet at the par three 17th and holed for a birdie that restored his cushion. A closing par gave him a one under par total of 287 and an emotional four-shot win.

It turned out afterwards that Sinclair had considered skipping the championship after the recent death of a close friend.

He said: "My friend William Gibson lost his wife Estelle to cancer at the age of just 29, 10 days ago. I wasn't going to play here but I'm glad I did now and I dedicate this to title to Estelle. It puts everything in perspective."