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40 miles W of Shannon Airport
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The name Doonbeg is derived from 'Dun Beag', which roughly translated means small fort. So it's no surprise that this pretty seaside village grew up beside a castle, which was built in the 16th century for the Earl of Thomond. You'll find Doonbeg 40 minutes or so due west of Shannon airport. Just keep going until you reach the Atlantic. You can't miss the golf course _ just look out for the mountainous dunes and keep your eyes peeled and somewhere around these spectacular 100ft high sandhills, you might get a glimpse of the Great White Shark. Because this is the course that Greg Norman built - his one and only architectural ensemble in the whole of the British Isles.
Apparently Norman made 23 visits to this amazing piece of links-land, which curves and tumbles for a mile and a half around the crescent-shaped Doughmore Bay. "When I first looked at this site, I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world," Norman said. "If I spent the rest of my life building courses, I don't think I'd find a comparable site anywhere." Norman's design is totally in tune with nature - 14 greens and 12 fairways were simply mown - not much earth moved for Greg here at Doonbeg. The look and feel of the layout is old-fashioned and the routing follows an out-and-back style, synonymous with traditional links architecture. Not bad for a course which opened on July 9, 2002, marked by an exhibition match between Padraig Harrington and the Great White Shark. Norman won 2 & 1.
According to legend, officers of the Scottish Black Watch Regiment planned to turn these dunes into a golf course in the early 1890s, but they settled on Lahinch because it's located closer to the railway station. When Norman got his hands on this land a century or so later, he said: "I'm not going to Americanise this golf course - not one single foreign blade of grass". Norman remained true to his word, but the club is American-owned and their membership philosophy is that Doonbeg is the ultimate home club for the discriminating international golfer. Ah well, at least Doonbeg is open for green fees and it's also open for local residents.
The layout is unusual in that it has a combination of five par 3s and five par 5s - the par 72 course measures 6,885 yards from the back tees. The signature hole is probably the 14th, a par three and one of the most sensational short holes in Ireland, although there are many memorable holes on this remarkable course. The 14th measures a mere 111 yards, but hitting the green is easier said than done because there are numerous distractions... the Atlantic stretches out beyond the green and the wind will dictate your club selection. Expect to take anything from a sand wedge to a 3 iron and hope for the best.
The Doonbeg project is believed to be the largest single investment in this part of Ireland and this amazing golf course has a magnetic appeal for thousands of golfers. Doonbeg is a priceless jewel between Lahinch and Ballybunion and one that simply must be played.
In February 2014, US property tycoon Donald Trump bought the Doonbeg property in a deal said to be worth €15 million. The facility was renamed Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, Ireland and the course was redesigned over a two-year period under the architectural stewardship of Martin Hawtree at a reputed cost of €5 million.
I was once told by a golf colleague that his favorite courses in Ireland was Doonbeg (now Trump International Ireland). This was the same person who told me The White Witch in Jamaica was not to be missed. When I played The White Witch (albeit in a near hurricane), I was not very impressed. So when I eventually went to play Trump International Ireland, I went there with a fair amount of skepticism.
I went there for an afternoon round on July 11 after playing Lahinch Old in the morning. I paid my green fee and was paired with a couple who was staying onsite and were from Long Island, but actually knew some members at my home club in Philadelphia. They were okay players, but fun to be around. In talking with them, they told me that for slightly more than my single green fee, they had bought a golf package through the hotel entitling them to two rounds each, two nights lodging, two breakfasts and lunches, and had been upgraded to a two bedroom suite. I was happy for them and did not lament my fee since I had to drive later that day all the way to Dublin for my flight back to the USA the next morning. Although this is a review about the golf course, I think it is worth noting that good golf/lodging deals are available at Trump International Ireland because it is worth staying over and playing more than once, or stay there to play in combination with a round at Lahinch Old.
I really liked Trump International Ireland. I played about as I expected and the pace of play was decent. As referenced in other reviews, the greens were slow, but I was warned that they would be. Since Trump purchased the golf course, he has spent money to improve it, particularly the greens, and I think they are taking care to ensure the greens mature before they continually keep them in faster speeds. The first two holes I three-putted from approximately 25-30 feet but with the exception of one other hole, I felt like I had the green speeds figured out by the time I reached the third green. Since I had been warned, I do not think it took anything away from my experience, other than I think I would have scored in the mid 70’s. Overall I felt the green speeds were about 2/3rds of the speed one might expect.
In reading the other reviews, there is some disappointment expressed over the impact of the rare snails on the routing which prevented some of the larger dunes from being utilized. I did not have the same disappointment as I liked most of the routing other than that walk from the seventeenth green to the eighteenth tee. When one can see the Atlantic Ocean from sixteen of the eighteen holes, it is hard to find fault with the routing.
After the round as I made the drive from Trump International Ireland to my hotel near the Dublin airport, I had a lot of time to think about the golf course. I found myself comparing it to other courses that I had played on the trip: Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock, Royal County Down, Lahinch Old, County Louth, and The Island. I found that it compared quite favorably with all of them. It is certainly not at the level of Royal Country Down, Royal Portrush, or Lahinch Old, but I did find it compared favorably to all of the others and obviously ahead of Castlerock. I would also put it ahead of Tralee, Old Head and The European. I am more than fine if others disagree as there are some merits to those courses. For instance, I do not believe Trump International Ireland has a single world-class golf hole that exists for example, at The European. The waterfront holes are not as dramatic as at Old Head, but that is probably the case around the world other than Cypress Point. However, you might not play a better starting hole and finishing hole anywhere else in the UK/Ireland than at Trump International Ireland.
For those who might think the golf course is built too difficult, which I heard was one reason given for Martin Hawtree to do the “refreshing” instead of Greg Norman, my rebuttal is the six “short” holes on the course - three short par 4’s on the front side, and a short par 3, 4 and 5 on the back nine.
While the bunkering is good on most of the holes, I thought many of the holes could have added bunkers for more defense.
The combination of very long par 5’s and long par 3’s while having six short yardage holes brought to my mind that the course might play more difficult for better players because of the temptations of trying to drive the shorter holes and advance as far as one could on the longer holes. The course might play easier for average length hitters who do not take on the risk-reward and play their typical game with the six short holes offering good chances at birdie, but should be near-certain pars in the absence of a big wind.
The criticism I would have for the routing is the three short par 4’s in the span of four holes on the front nine, and then from the seventh to the eleventh it alternates par 3’s and par 5’s. I sort of wanted one of the short par 4’s to be somewhere in that stretch of holes around the turn. However, I do like very much the out-and-back nature of the course with the holes crossing over on the front nine to provide views of the beach and ocean while doing the same on the back nine.
I think the best holes are the par fives, with only the eighth being a slightly more difficult hole than the others as it offers length at 581/544 yards, four pot bunkers near the green, and the most undulating green on the course. It’s worth pointing out the length of the other par 5’s: 1-561/534, 4-659/599, 10-584/554 and 13-514/495 yards. I did not find the eighth to be as visually interesting as the other par 5’s as it does not have the amount of landscape and terrain variation to catch one’s eye as the other par 5’s.
The par 5 first hole has a very generous fairway as you play downhill with the fairway narrowing as you advance to the green which is situated at the bottom of large sand dunes. The first hole has a few undulations to it but one can find a flat lie on this par 5. The green has three large bunkers at the green and five smaller ones set back in front about 35 yards. It is not a difficult hole but it is visually very appealing.
The next par 5, the fourth feels like one will never finish playing it as it seems to go forever. From the elevated tee one decides to take on the large bunker fronting the fairway or drive over the dell to the right of that bunker. It is a dogleg to the right but due to the length it does not feel like a dogleg. It has 13 bunkers and made me wonder why so many par 5’s in Ireland seem to have 13 bunkers on them. This is a well defended hole ending in a contoured green. It is my favorite hole on the golf course.
The tenth is already the fourth par 5 on the golf course and it is another long one. Unlike the other par 5’s this one has a burn that twice comes into play as it snakes across the fairway and continues down the left. A mound partially blocks the view of part of the green.
The final par 5 is the thirteenth hole which plays from a blind tee shot uphill to an elevated green tucked right into the mounds. The green is one of the steepest on the course sloped back to front. You see the ocean again from the green. It is a scenic hole with good challenges but I prefer the fourth as my favorite par 5 on the course.
The five par 3’s are above average but I did not find any to be exceptional.
The seventh is long at 241/204 and is well surrounded by bunkers. This was the other really slow green on the course the day I played it.
I did not care much for the ninth, a mid-length par 3 that has three bunkers and a big fall off to the left towards the beach. The green is flat despite a slight rise at its front. It is visually attractive but not as interesting to play it.
The eleventh, a par 3 that plays either long or short at 191/152 has a two-tiered green with two fronting bunkers. I thought it to be the best par 3 on the golf course.
The fourteenth, which replaced the previous hole lost to erosion, is attractive visually due to the water view but disappointing from a playing perspective. It is a weak golf hole.
The final par 3 is the sixteenth, another long one at 214/196 but plays downhill to a large rumpled green with two bunkers left. I liked the visual look of the golf hole, but did not find it unique.
A few of the par 4’s are weaker holes in that there is no decision-making for the average length player, yet I found myself enjoying them even if I felt they were not special. It is slightly disappointing that the three short par 4’s are so close together for holes 3, 5 and 6. Adding one of the world’s longest par 5’s in between does not make up for these short par 4’s being so close together.
I did like the blind tee shot on the second hole from an elevated tee to what turns out to be a generous fairway on the other side. The green has a nice spine in the middle in effect creating two smaller greens.
The third hole is the shortest on the golf course, very much a driveable par 4 at 338/310 but uses bunkers to good effect on the elevated green. Somewhat strange on this hole is that all six bunkers are on the left.
Five is the second shortest par 4 on the golf course playing uphill driving as a blind shot between hills on either side. There is a huge valley filled with tall grass fronting the green sitting between dunes but open behind it to give an infinity look. Laying up in front of the valley leaves about a 90-100 yard shot (my estimation). There are no bunkers on the hole. I think the fifth is the worst hole on the golf course given the risk-reward feature is tilted too much towards risk and therefore it plays as a pretty easy par.
You cross over closer to the beach which is now on your left to play the sixth as a driveable short par 4. It can play much longer than its yardage of 355/302 depending on the wind as you are exposed here. From the tee one sees the three large bunkers on the hole with the one on the right of the fairway to be avoided as it is deep. The green is raised and is tricky and cannot be missed to the left due to the falloff and tall grass waiting. It is a fine risk-reward hole for the better/longer players but for average length players it is an average hole. It does have an outstanding view from the tee.
The twelfth has a pretty wide fairway for a par 4. I did not play this hole when it had a bunker in the middle of the green but agree that it would have been silly to do so.
The fifteenth is my second favorite hole on the golf course, a mid-length par 4 playing between dunes with the higher dune ridge to the right side of the fairway. You work your way uphill on this hole. The green is partially hidden with a nice slope from back right to front left.
Seventeen is a nice dogleg right par 4 playing alongside the entrance road which serves as out-of-bounds. If one tries to play too carefully down the right side there is a collection of bunkers on the right. The hole is well defended off the tee. It has another nice large green at the end.
The eighteenth is the gem of the par 4’s bending to the right in concert with the coastline with the crescent shaped Dullymore beach below ending on a raised green with a fall off to the left. I liked the somewhat blind nature of the tee shot and the rumpled, hump, mounded fairway. The bunkers are put in the appropriate spots on the left side of the fairway to capture tee shots being played too carefully away from the bend in the beach side of the hole. It has a very lovely rolling large green with a good fall off to the left side to once again capture balls hit with too little courage that do not want to bring the right side/beach into play. It is a visually very attractive hole and a really good finish to the golf course. You will remember this hole as you walk back to the clubhouse to either drive away or have a drink inside.
Much like The European Club or Ballybunion Old, I can see where many players would have Trump International Ireland as one of the best courses in the UK/Ireland, which therefore qualifies it as one of the best in the world. More importantly, I can see where many players would rate it is as one of their favorites from an experience standpoint due to the views, the wonderful change in terrain, very nice green complexes, and the challenges put in front of you.
I played here three days in a row,after playing Old head and K Club. I loved the experience of being amongst massive sand dunes. The tee boxes feel like your own little world most of the time. Tee boxes are often raised to make use of the spectacular views, as spectacular as Turnberry and you really feel the connection with the ocean here.
13th is great par 5 that you can reach in two, but the green is raised by about 50 foot with trouble all around. Then onto the short par 3 14th, which is like the short one at Pebble, ocean behind and and the green drops down below the tee considerably.
Played it in three different winds, 18th is great finishing hole, I hit three wood in the wind on the first day, 5 iron second day and 7 iron on the last. The tee shot has the ocean on the right, so will scare any slicers of the ball.
The greens weren't as slick as I'd like. They are amazing green complexes, with lots of slope, so maybe the green keeper was keeping them fairly slow and true to help the resort experience. Don't want too many 4 putts otherwise people won't come back.
Well worth the mission to Doonbeg, there is a nice restaurant in the local town too and loads of diddly dee pubs to keep you entertained.
The original course at Doonbeg opened on July 9, 2002 and was designed by Greg Norman. It was lauded initially as the best new international golf course of the year, but increasingly garnered criticism from the playing public for being too difficult for the regular golfer.
Apparently there was some 'falling out' between the American owners and Norman regarding the 'softening' of the course, and no substantial changes were ade until ownership changed in 2014 when Donald Trump bought the property and appointed Martin Hawtree to remodel the course.
Norman was intent on using the natural terrain and designed a rugged natural links- remarkably good given the constraints forced on him, with a significant portion of the oceanside dunes declared off limits to protect a tiny endangered snail.
The resulting course ventures outside the main dunescape a number of times, but the integrity of the layout remains intact. However the course can play long and hard, even when the winds are mild.
Hawtree eliminated the main sore points with the Norman course, the bunker in the middle of the 12th green, and the spectacular but sometimes unplayable short par 3 fourteenth hole which was relocated. Hawtree produced a completely new hole (which I don’t really think matches the rest of the course but is a nice hole nevertheless).
Importantly Hawtree made the course a little more playable. The result now is a world-class championship course in a spectacular setting in sand dunes by the ocean. It is extremely challenging, but not unfair.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Frankly, I didn't know what to expect from Greg Norman's "Doonbeg," now Donald Trump's "International Ireland." Both are such polarizing figures to so many. I remember reading early reviews of Doonbeg, with many critics complaining that Norman had made the course too difficult, wasted good links land, etc. As for Trump, his critics may have contributed to my wife and I nearly missing our tee-time -- as vandals apparently stole some of the road signs leading to the golf course -- so we struggled to find the correct off roads and entrance to make it on time.
Once there, through the pro shop (surprisingly, a bit small and under stocked ... it was not "yuge" by any means) and to the first tee (wonderfully sincere and accommodating staff, btw) -- we were rewarded by one of the most magnificent opening par 5s in the world. Slightly downwind, with perfect links land, bringing every penal design element into play -- I knew this was going to be a special course and a special round.
The weather made it that much more "special" -- sunshine to rain to breeze to gale force gusts to sunshine again (rinse and repeat) -- actually exhausting us more than the golf. But the diversity in routing, with dunes allowing many of the holes to exist in their own isolation -- created a keen sense of excitement and anticipation moving from hole to hole. I especially liked that there were five par 5s and five par 3s. In fact, while the par 3s seem to get all the praise, I actually found the collection of par 5s more compelling (my favorite being the 10th). And the par 4 18th, slightly uphill, the property's wonderful buildings to the left of the green, ocean and sunset to the right of the green, bookended the round with a magnificent finishing hole, as well.
If Donald Ross said good golf course design should make bogey easy and par very difficult -- Norman has created a course where the bogey golfer (i.e. me), standing on the tee, feels like par can and should be made nearly every hole -- and is puzzled why there are so many bogeys and so few pars on the scorecard at the end of the round. Fascinating. And Trump has maintained and grown a wonderful property dedicated to excellence and the love of the game. To his credit. Overall, in this case, I will say their critics and detractors are smug, if not intolerant (and wrong) -- Doonbeg is the kind of course you just can't wait to return to -- not only for the love of course's majestic golf holes, scenery and surroundings -- but to get another crack at it to try and score better. If you ever get to Ireland to play, this masterpiece should be at the top of your list. Don D
While I agree entirely that Doonbeg is now up with the very best of Irish golf courses it should be pointed out that this cannot be attributed in any way to Greg Norman as Don D seems to think.
Martin Hawtree and Brian Shaw (the head professional) oversaw the revamp of the entire course after a 2014 storm saw the loss (there is a god) of the old signature 14th hole. Greg Normans routing, itself not what he had originally planned because of planning issues, remains intact but very few of the Norman greens do. Some changes forced, some changes very necessary.
Ironically, as the reviewer notes, one of the very best opening holes in Ireland - only #1 at Portstewart can really compete - is one of the holes that is largely unaltered.
After that though -- silly shaped green at #2 (also #16 and a few more) replaced with a normal green, encroachment of cottage onto tee-shot on #3 now removed, #6 now fully uses the spectacular shore side setting, bunker removed from 12th green, #14 now a decent par-3 instead of the mickey mouse pitch and hope, however spectacular, that Storm2014 did the right thing to.
The final hole is so intimidating from the tee - it would be great to see any Jason or Justin or Jordan face that tee-shot with a one stroke lead in the Irish Open. Again Hawtree/Shaw have made the previously ridiculous green (think buried elephants) far more sensible and it is indeed one of the finest finishing holes around (despite of, in my view, the buildings to the left that are as Irish as Santa Claus).
As a golf tour operator, Doonbeg was a course that was useful to start a trip on arrival day -- you really don't want to play Lahinch off a trans-Atlantic plane -- or as a filler at weekends to avoid weekend restrictions at Lahinch, Tralee and Ballybunion.
Now, however, Doonbeg is right up there with all its neighbours and given that serious consideration was given to Lahinch being sited at Doonbeg in 1892 (the fact that Doonbeg had no rail connection swung the decision), today's Doonbeg will probably move up my list of 31 premier links courses in Ireland from near the bottom to somewhere below Lahinch but above Tralee and probably above Ballybunion. Cripes, choosing between Lahinch and Doonbeg now becomes a difficult decision with Lahinch probably relying on an element of nostalgia and goodwill.
Doonbeg certainly seems to split people's opinions and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. I have played it twice, before and after the latest renovations by Hawtree et al. but I am if anything less impressed by it now. There is no doubt this is a good course, but it's competing at the very top bit of the Irish golf menu and I think if I had a choice I would much rather play a second round at Lahinch or Ballybunion rather than Doonbeg.
As has been mentioned by others the greens were s-h-o-c-k-i-n-g-l-y bad this summer, I can't really give any justification to the state of them in middle of June - they were the worst I played all year.
Apart from the poor greens, the course is also very tough once you are off the fairways, violating MacKenzie;s principle that "There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls". Our group spent a lot of time looking for lost balls, and this was in stark contrast to Lahinch the following day when at least you could find your ball and make a reasonable slash at it.
The 14th hole which was one of the most spectacular holes I have seen was lost in the storms and its replacement is good but not on same level.
There are a few very exciting holes here, but its difficult to remember them as vividly as at Lahinch or Ballybunion. The review may seem negative but it's more to justify the 5-ball rating, as this is a very good course, but nowhere near top 100 in world.
I offer a huge congratulations to SOL Golf, Martin Hawtree and Brian Shaw (head pro for 17 years) for renovating this original Greg Norman course into a truly sensational 18-hole layout.
Greens were moved, holes were completely changed and the routing was significantly improved. Taking a step back, with the exception of a handful of notable examples, world-class golf course development in Ireland has not been something to cheer about over the past 50+ years which is a great shame. While walking around, I rejoiced that such an investment was being made on Irish soil to celebrate our beautiful country and elevate the profile of a fabulous Irish links.
The construction team made wonderful use of the sizeable sand dunes, to bring golfers on an easy flowing journey from the green to tee – with one exception which I’ll describe later. As is consistent with all other Trump properties, the conditioning was meticulous – rendering my Dad to declare that he could “walk around here in my slippers”.
On the front-side, I especially enjoyed holes 5 and 6, which are two short par 4s which are hugely enjoyable to play. The Gods of Course Management can be heard screaming “Leave the driver in the bag!!” The 5th plays uphill to a really clever infinity green with high dunes on both sides - and the 6th rolls along the coast with the Atlantic Ocean on full display to your left. There are plenty of elevated tee boxes showing off the Irish coastline and surrounding waters. The sand dunes are never far away as they influence almost every shot. I particularly enjoyed the green-sites that were carved out of the dunes and provide an amphitheatre feeling while on the putting surface. There is a majestic sense of flow as you make your way around and frequently marvel at the green locations.
Highlights on the back nine include the short downhill par 3 14th which plays around 115 yards. This green along with the 18th green need to be carefully maintained as the spray from the ocean can ruin the putting surface at a moment’s notice. My one little knock with the layout is the distance from the 17th green to the 18th tee, which is at least 350 yards and requires players to cross over the active 1st fairway. I understand that it’s the only reasonable way to reach the 18th tee and bring you back to the coastline for a dramatic finish, but the long walk comes out of the blue giving a very different feeling to everything that comes before it and you lose that sense of connection to the previous hole.
Overall, I wholeheartedly encourage everybody to visit Trump Doonbeg, and even to take advantage of the very accommodating twilight green-fee rates that begin at 3pm (The Art of the Deal!). The playing conditions, the fun and the beauty are all a sight to behold. Doonbeg is once again ready for the world to arrive.
Doonbeg Trump: Well the expectation was unavoidably well hyped and with a US president as owner we had to dampen our anticipation in case we lost the run of ourselves altogether and could end up bitterly disappointed in light of past reviews which have (like the Irish weather) varied enormously. Greg Norman designed this course with five par threes, five par fives and some derivable par fours although original comments we heard were that only ‘The Shark’ could enjoy this unforgiving beast whilst a good design should allow each player to enjoy their day out at their level of skill. Be assured the Martin Hawtree revamp has actually achieved this objective. The bunker in the ‘middle-of-the-green-caper’ is gone.
The variety of shot selection from any of the choice of five tee boxes is unmatched in Ireland >> I know that is saying something considered. We played this course on a nice summer’s day with an off shore wind and had a wonderful golfing experience. The views were stunning from so many holes. The design and layout is good and winds the golfer through and around protected dunes cleverly swapping the inland holes which are plain enough with the ocean views comprising of traditional links nine out and nine back. You will enjoy the derivable par fours and the five par threes particularly the short 126 yarder 14th from on high.
The opening hole is a stunning par five into a theater of dunes 534 yards away and ‘all’ your shots can be viewed from the clubhouse patio and first tee -- from there outwards it gets better. We used a lot of superlatives to describe to our friends how good this course is.
Very deserving of the ranking of # 15 in Ireland and I will be amazed if it does not creep into the top ten links in Ireland if they sort out the slow greens. Possibly could get into the top five if they improve on their current high standards....
Definitely worth the trip and the green fee>> now on replay list - - 8½ out of 10. Lost 1½ points for dreadfully slow greens which need sorting.
3 May 2017 pd
Simply stunning Irish links kept in immaculate condition. Starter couldn't have been more helpful, coastal holes are more superior to the inland holes baring the par 5 1st which will get your heart pounding standing on the tee box.