But for European legislation and a very rare species of Snail, Doonbeg may have been one of the great new links courses of the modern era. The drive through the Co Clare countryside, toward Doonbeg bay, is similar to many of the other journeys to seaside courses, filled with anticipation, waiting after every turn and bend to see that ever elusive glimpse of the sea. As you turn into the Complex, you are immediately overcome with a sense of American imposition upon Irish real estate. I don’t wish for this statement to be interpreted with any element of malice, but being an Irishman who lives in the US, one picks up on the stark contrast very quickly. All the hallmarks of the American Country club exist, impeccable service, spike friendly clubhouses, valet bag drop, the list goes on…… This is something that the cultured American golfer experiences regularly back in their home club, but I cant help wondering that those who visit Doonbeg, seem almost robbed of the traditional Irish, understated-pure golf experience. Maybe I am a tad late with this analogy, given that many of the south west courses in particular have gone out of their way to make our visitors from across the pond feel very welcome, but at Doonbeg it is taken to another level.
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
Date: July 01, 2011