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.
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.
The above aside, the development at the lodge is spectacular, and even though some consider its presence and eye-sore on the landscape, it is nonetheless an impressive structure. Doonbeg is the brainchild of the people at Kiawah developments (I am planning to visit the Ocean Course this winter, which I am very excited about!). They wanted to create a first class golf luxury golf destination on Ireland’s west coast, situated brilliantly right between the hallowed grounds of Lahinch and Ballybunion, and with Greg Norman’s incedible hands on approach to golf design, this place was sure to be a home run! (maybe I am becoming too americanized!) However one miniscule snail, made its best efforts to spoil the party.
Before visiting Doonbeg, I was assured by a number of people, that it was indeed a terrific golf course, that the snails hadn’t disrupted things as much as speculated and that it was anything to rival Lahinch, others told me not to waste the journey and head straight for the grand old lady! Upon reflection I fall somewhere in between. I must echo and wholeheartedly agree with my colleague Jim McCann’s comments below, where he states that every time you think you are about to delve right into the heart of the towering dunes that shape the landscape, you merely skirt around them. The view from the opening hole is tremendous, the back tee stands right on the doorstep of the lodge and overlooks the 18th hole with the waves crashing beyond, it is a very good, easy on the eye par 5, with an incredibly natural green-site, set in an amphitheatre styled location (ala the 12th at Enniscrone). From the second onwards the front nine meanders its way straight out away from the clubhouse, with only one hole playing back toward it. In my opinion, a mixed opening nine, with 4 good holes and 5 nondescript ones, the pick of the bunch being the par 5 first as mentioned along with the 4th and 5th (two very gamey short par 4’s, the former played out toward the beach, with the ocean as its backdrop, while the latter is a nice risk reward driveable par 4, running along the bay, with a viciously sloping green. The 9th is also a pretty par 3, again pitched along the strand, with a very narrow and well guarded green.
After you play the long par 5 tenth, you make the turn for home where the routing is old school straight back in towards the house. Again this nine contain a mix of some good holes and some less than memorable ones. The 12th sticks in my mind for its, Riviera styled, mid green bunker, a feature I actually quite like, having experienced the one at the Links at Fancourt (pre-removal) also the European Club’s par 5 13th, for it is something which to punish the golfer who becomes lazy on their approach. The 13th and 14 th are two great holes, definitely the two best on the course, a sweeping dogleg right uphill par 5, followed by the courses signature, Tiny Tim hole, played to a perilously dangerous greensite, with the waters of the Atlantic in full view for all to see. This hole is just the right length, it was a ¾ gap wedge for me on a day with no wind, playing about 110 yards, any longer and then it becomes slightly Disneyland like, especially if you throw the mandatory breeze into the equation. The courses finishes with a hole, that I am fully certain Mr Norman had plenty of great ideas for. The tee shot is what can best be described as unfit for a course of this nature, for a strat it is dangerously close to the first fairway, and is squeezed claustrophobically, into a small parcel of land with the sea wall to the left with the outcrop of a false dune some 100n yards in front. I am certain Mr Norman, had a much better site for this tee, located 50 yards back and towards the beach, but the powers that be would never have allowed this. After you get the tee shot away, the second half of the hole is actually quite good. The ocean means anything too far right is dead, while a large well guarded, sloping green can throw up some great hole locations.
At Doonbeg, I cannot but help feel sorry for all parties involved in its development. Leave my opening rant aside. I have great respect for people who have a vision and it is a great pity that legislation prevented without doubt the best holes on the property being constructed. The dunescape at the centre of the property that the holes skirt around, is phenomenal, falling short of Ballybunion but definitely in the category of the Glashedy course at Ballyliffin. O ne can only live in hope of the rulings being one day overturned and Norman returning to finish, what I believe would be his masterpiece. Oh and by the way there is no danger of the Species of Snail, dying out, since the course was built the number of them has grown TEN-FOLD! Nick