With forty psi of pressure in the back tyres and the car scraping off the road, it was with great excitement we made the “four lads” journey to Doonbeg. I had only ever heard rumblings about this Greg Norman design (and its snail population) and was keen to make my own mind up on a course, which seems to have been shrouded in controversy since its creation.
On arrival, the first thing to hit you (besides the sea breeze) is the cracking atmosphere around the place. Though off the beaten track, it is alive with activity. Families busily mooching around, kids spinning on bikes and top Irish touring pro Gary Murphy knockin’ in and out of the immense clubhouse.
View On The 4th at Doonbeg
“This inland par five is a wonderfully natural links hole. Choose to drive short of the left bunker or over the dell, according to your talent. A drive over the dell will allow you to go for this green in two. Be sure to avoid the five sod-wall bunkers in the fairway. This elegant, asymetrical green sits just over an old rock-and-sod wall that has been there for years. Careful avoidance of this wall and pot bunker may yield a birdie.”
With rates at the upper end of the scale, Doonbeg don’t give you a green fee, they give you a “golfing experience”. To savour it fully book a tee time for noon, but arrive around ten. After tea and homemade scones head out to the putting greens (yes plural) to get a feel for the speed and undulations that lie in wait. Then get whisked off to the super range where the everlasting supply of balls make you feel like a pro. When you’re ready, the marshall collects you and speeds you, sudden death playoff style, to the first tee. Play against your mates for the price of a homemade burger to be consumed in the bustling bar whilst recalling your best shots of the day.
What They Say
Chosen for his “least disturbance philosophy,” The Doonbeg golf site was designed by two-time British Open Champion Greg Norman. Spanning 1.5 miles of crescent shaped beach and century-old sand dunes, the course offers views across the Atlantic from the green, the fairway, or tee of 16 of the 18 holes. Variations in wind speed and direction ensure the course plays differently each and every time. It is expected that an 18-hole round of golf at Doonbeg will take no more than 4 hours and 30 minutes.
The Par-72 layout features a single loop of nine holes out and nine back, playing 6,885 yards from the back tees. The most natural routing within the existing dunes resulted in an uncommon combination of five par 3s and five par 5s.
Wind direction and speed determines consistent variation in play – for example the average golfer will play from a sand wedge to a 5-iron on the 111 yard 14th. To allow for a range of conditions and abilities most holes feature five or more tee locations.
What We Say
With a combined fourball handicap of 15 and we attacked the front nine from the back sticks. Even though there wasn’t so much as a whisper of wind in the air, we rapidly learned some home truths. If you’re short or crooked with the driver your ball is history, because many holes require (a) an initial carry over cabbage or (b) an arrow straight drive to a narrow fairway flanked by cabbage. Either way, there’s a lot of cabbage involved. However if the “big dog” is working, the greens are soft and receptive and will yield birdies. The first and 18th holes are the pick of the par fours but my favourite was the tiny par three 14th , a 100 yard hole that requires anything from a sand wedge to a six iron to find the precipice green. Tight and fun with precision rewarded. A classic links hole and perfect summary of the course. All in all, Doonbeg is a surprisingly mature and testing links for its tender years.
The Terrificly Dangerous Par-3 14th at Doonbeg: No Chip and Runs Here
“This could be the most sensational short par three in Ireland, if not the world. The ocean view, extending all the way to the far peninsula, is unforgettable. Try if you can to ignore the view and hit the green. A birdie here will be in the memory bank forever”The You Tube Video
Greg Norman’s Surveys where the 18th Might Go in Doonbeg
Another “must do” in Doonbeg is to all chip in for a “four-caddy” to give lines and yardages. It costs €25 a man, but is really a must if you’re playing the course for the first time. Our man was Colin Patrick Christopher, a super fit air traffic controller from Toronto who got to practice his left and right arm signals as our balls soared heroically to their Valhalla.
If you are of an anally retentive disposition and looking to critique Doonbeg on technical excellence in every aspect of its layout, your notepad will most likely be dotted with little faults and foibles. Electric fencing to protect some rare species of snail, a little bit of crossing and a green with a bunker in the centre are probably in there. Having golfed every one of Ireland’s best courses however, I for one left as a convert to the “Doonbeg golfing experience” with Brian Shaw as its spiritual leader.
Call Ireland from the USA
If you are in the USA and need to call Ireland use the following numbers.
mobile: 086- 2284179
Greg Norman Course Design Doonbeg Overview
Long before he drives into the welcoming courtyard of Doonbeg Golf Club in County Clare, the sight of a spectacular, stone-structure standing tall on the horizon will intrigue the expectant traveling golfer. With 47 inter-connected suites snugly nestled around it, the Doonbeg Lodge appears from a distance to be a self-contained village overlooking dramatic views of Doughmore Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
All the buildings are tastefully constructed in keeping with traditional Irish architecture. It is obvious no detail or expense has been spared in a total spend of €150 million, on and off the golf course, by the time the entire project is completed. Even the gardens and pathways are landscaped to reflect their location in westernmost Ireland by the renowned skills of the TV personality, Diarmuid Gavin. And we haven't yet mentioned the world-class Greg Norman-designed golf links.
Everything that Buddy Darby and his fellow Directors of Kiawah Development Partners conceive, is carried out with such superb taste and brilliant business acumen and planning that it comes as bit of a shock that they actually did get something badly wrong. It was nobody's fault, mind you, but the opening of the Doonbeg Links in 2002 could hardly have been worse timed.
In its short life, the Doonbeg project has had to cope with mountains of legal paperwork to overcome the most stringent of planning procedures, 9/11, Foot and Mouth Disease, the falling value of the US dollar and the Iraq War as well as the begrudging curse of St. Munchin which they could never have anticipated i.e. the spoiled Irish would be the most difficult of all to please.
Norman: "The sensitivity of this piece of property required a total hands-on approach. You do not get too many opportunities to work on a piece of land like this one."
Nor could the uproar and delays caused by the wish to save from extinction an estimated 10 million microscopic snails deflect Buddy Darby and Co. The snail, a member of the Vertigo Angustior family, has been jokingly renamed Angus locally due to the copious amounts of heifer dust that it helped generate.
As the crow flies, Doonbeg is strategically sandwiched equidistant between the long-established and world-famous Lahinch and Ballybunion courses. So, the owners knew from the beginning that they would have to compete in elite company.
As a frequent visitor to Doonbeg from its earliest days and as a member of both Ballybunion and Lahinch for eighty-three years combined, I regularly enjoy the different challenges of all three courses and therefore feel well-qualified to express an opinion on how they compare.
In my golfing travels I have always considered the 1st tee atmosphere at Lahinch to be second to none. You should see Doonbeg! The clubhouse at Ballybunion and its dramatic ocean views is pretty impressive. You should see Doonbeg! Off the back markers Lahinch and Ballybunion are formidable tests of ball control. You should see Doonbeg!
As you can gather, Doonbeg compares very well. Indeed, from my own experience I find it to be the most difficult of the three on which to produce a sub par score. Norman's intelligent design has achieved excellent variety by putting some greens above, some below and some on the same level as the approaching golfer without any of the back-breaking climbs that one has to endure at Lahinch, especially. On the other hand, Doonbeg is also probably the easiest of the three from the forward tees; so, tigers and rabbits are provided with challenges commensurate with their skills.
Doonbeg waited patiently for over 100 years begging to be turned into golfing ground. As long ago as 1891, this stretch of eye-catching dunes six miles north of Kilkee, screamed "golf course". Sir Alexander Shaw, a Scottish-born industrialist and enthusiastic golf promoter who was based in Limerick city, recognized its potential. He, and his friends, seriously considered locating what they termed "their summer course" here. The absence of an acceptable road system or more importantly, a railway line made accessibility rather too difficult. Instead, one of Ireland's most intrepid golf pioneers decided to go elsewhere. To be fair, Shaw found equally exciting terrain 20 miles up the coast where he became the founding father and first president of Lahinch Golf Club.
The choice of Greg Norman, as course architect was inspired. As a passionate lover of links golf, Greg understood his responsibilities. On one of 23 visits he made to the site, he said, "The sensitivity of this piece of property required a total hands-on approach. You do not get too many opportunities to work on a piece of land like this one. It is unique. I am going to make sure the end result is 100% but at the same time people must realize that great golf courses need time to evolve and Doonbeg should be regarded as a work-in-progress for sometime yet. This is a course I want to be identified with. One that I will be able to say with pride everywhere I go, 'I did this one!' It's Ireland. It's Irish golf. It's links golf; sand dunes like you'll never see again because golfing land like this is preciously finite. The ball is round and is designed to roll as well as fly. The golfer is required to make his ball do both at Doonbeg. The last thing I wanted to do was Americanize this golf course, I love links golf and Irish links golf is among the best. I wanted to keep it as natural as possible. As a golfing test Doonbeg will only get better."
The routing cut through a series of conical dunes adjacent to a crescent shaped shoreline lives up to its rave billing but the original design that was set out by Norman has not been declared sacrosanct. Head Pro, Brian Shaw and Head Greens Superintendent, Jim McKenna, have an understanding with The Shark, based on intelligent and practical feedback from the Doonbeg members that certain refinements will be executed on the golf course from time to time. Quite a number of them were successfully undertaken last winter. Those alterations plus natural evolution has seen the course mature more rapidly than could have been envisaged.
When I say that the course is infinitely better than when it first opened in 2002, do not forget that revered Ballybunion was classed as a "rabbit warren" once upon a time and Lahinch underwent its own extensive "Mackensieisation" refurbishment recently. Every time I go to Doonbeg, I fully expect to see subtle additions and improvements because Norman, McKenna and Shaw do not sit on their laurels.
The Shark has always played the game with enviable panache and this laudable approach is suitably reflected in all aspects of the Doonbeg facility. After being taken care of in the clubhouse, the high altarlike 1st tee and one of the most attention-grabbing puck-offs in all of golf is at one's doorstep.
With the sound of Atlantic waves ringing in one's ears as they crash onto the beach a mere wedge shot away and the nervy feeling brought on by many pairs of eyes watching you from behind the bar windows, there is no getting away from the fact that from the first to last swing, the boisterous elements of the west of Ireland will be your primary adversary. Variations in wind speed and direction guarantee that the course plays differently every day.
TV viewers in the USA will get at insiders look at the course when the Weather Channel debuts a series of 32, one-minute golf tips filmed at Doonbeg.
Just over 500 yards from the 1st tee; 50 yards from the front edge of the green; a tiny pot bunker catches one's attention. That trap, no more than six feet wide, has powerful magnetic properties way out of proportion to its size. Every golfer has to get past it somehow without doing serious injury to the scorecard. Behind the green a semi-circle of enormous, cone-shaped dunes is an eye-catching backdrop.
On the front nine my favorite stretch is Nos. 6 through 8. The raised, back tee at the 6th (373 yards, par 4) overlooks the beach and the fairway runs from a deep, hidden bowl between unruly dunes through an ascending valley parallel to the shoreline. The slightest of pulls ill end up on the beach; any miss to the right will result in a ungainly recovery, if you are lucky. From the back tee it could be the most intimidating shot on the golf course. The highest part of the green is the front edge and everything from that point meanders downwards in erratic steps for 120 feet. Believe it or not, I have managed to drive this green downwind which demonstrates the strength of the wind on particular days.
The 7th tee is located in the heart of the golf course. A glance at the scorecard reveals a formidable par 3 measuring 227 yards. Because the tee is elevated only a hint of prevailing breeze ensures that the hold plays nowhere near that length. The entrance to the green is open and flat as Norman sportingly provides an opportunity for weaker players to run their golf balls onto the putting surface.
The 8th hole (582 yards, par 5) has as wide a fairway as you will ever see but the hole can be brutal. No matter the wind direction, perplexing multiple-choice questions arise at various stages to test your course-management skills. Along the right is clearly the safest if longer route but if you are brave and want to force the issue you will have to risk much trouble on the left.
On the back nine, the 10th hole (580 yards, par 5) is a thinking man's golf hole that plays downwind more often than not. There are so many hazards, conundrums and food for thought strewn about that I never know whether to attack or back-off.
The short 11th (148 yards, par 3) has striking similarities with the same numbered hole at St. Andrew's in Scotland, the most obvious being the intimidating "Strath-like" bunker facing the player.
Norman claims that the 405 yards, par 4, 15th was the first hole he saw in his mind's eye when he made his inaugural visit to stake out the land. Nor is there a letdown on any of the finishing holes. If you can survive intact until the 18th, you will enter the Clubhouse fully entitled to your well-earned refreshments.
Templemore's Joe Russell has been the genial General Manager in charge of operational affairs at Doonbeg for almost three years. Joe is big into the detail of the many small things that can so easily be taken for granted. He sets high standards but is delighted and excited by the progress he sees all around him. Working on a project as big as this has given him a unique insight into "who delivers and who keeps his word," he says knowingly. The level of bookings already placed long before the Lodge accommodation is finished surprises Russell. He is particularly proud of his carefully chosen, keen to please staff of almost 150 that will transform the local economy and social scene.
One of the most notable of the new employees is Mary Kelly, the Golf Shop Manager. Mary grew up in nearby Mullagh but had to leave her beloved County Clare to earn a living as a retailer with Benetton. She has come back to her roots with a husband and two children and loves the challenge of working in this unimagined atmosphere of international proportions.
Doonbeg Golf Club does not intend to rely solely on golfers to keep its wheels turning. The ultimate aim is to have a total golf destination with add-ons like the superb practice facilities and spa that will be coordinated with the golf coaching staff's desire to implement an integrated biomechanical approach to fitness and wellbeing. The superb, casual and gourmet dining facilities and surrounding regional attractions and scenery should also draw less energetic, non-golf customers.
150 million TV viewers in the USA will see it all for themselves shortly when Doonbeg's Head Pro, Brian Shaw, makes a series of 32, one-minute inserts of golf tips for the Weather Channel. Doonbeg was the location selected for several reasons, Brian's friendly personality and expertise, the vagaries of the Irish weather, the beautiful background scenery. If only a tiny percentage of viewers are enticed to come to Ireland what a marketing coup that will be!
As we were going to press it was announced that Doonbeg was deservedly chosen to be the recipient of the prestigious Irish Golf Tour Operator's Award for 2005. Every Director of Golf should spend a day at Doonbeg to see how high they have raised the standards bar in Irish golf, including what services really means and how to take care of people.
Note: It is estimated that since the golf course opened at Doonbeg, the snail population has doubled. Proving yet again that golf is good for the ecological environment.
Etiquette & Rates At Doonbeg
Doonbeg Golf Club follows PGA rules with the exceptions as noted below.
Out Of Bounds (Rule 33-2a)
a) All places outside course boundaries, stated or identified by white stakes or stone walls.
b) Car parks, connected roadway, and clubhouse enclosure.
c) Beyond the snow fence and white markers at seaside of holes 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 & 18.
Water Hazards (Rule 26-1)
a) Areas defined by red or yellow stakes.
Ground Under Repair (Rule 25)
a) Areas defined by white lines or GUR signs.
b) Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated by fencing, stakes, and signs adjacent to holes 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 15 & 16
Movable Obstructions (Rule 24-1)
a) Stones in bunkers are deemed movable obstructions.
Immovable Obstructions (Rule 24-2)
a) All fixed sprinkler heads are immovable obstructions and relief from interference by them may be obtained under Rule 24-2. In addition, if such an obstruction within two club-lengths of the putting green intervenes on the line of play between the ball and the hole, and the ball is not in a hazard, the player may obtain relief without penalty as follows: the ball may be lifted, cleaned, and dropped at the nearest point to where the ball had lain that (a) is not closer to the hole, (b) avoids such intervention, and (c) is not in a hazard or on the putting green.
Integral Parts of the Course
a) All roads and pathways within the boundary of the course are integral parts of the course.
Ball Drop - Hole No. 14
To protect the course conditions for future golfers, please proceed to the ball drop adjacent to hole No. 15 tee under Rule 28.
Special Warning: Holes 4, 5, 6, 13, 14 & 15
The proprietors of Doonbeg wish to inform all players and spectators that they will NOT accept liability for accidents at the crossing of holes 4, 5, 6, 13, 14 & 15. It is the responsibility of each golfer to ensure there is no one crossing before he/she plays the holes. Players should only proceed to play these holes when other players are not close by.
Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Past the fences bordering holes 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 15 & 16 are candidate Special Area of Conservation under the European Union of Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. This land is protected for the conservation of the priority habitat of grey dunes. Golfers are not allowed in this area. Please play this as Ground Under Repair and drop in accordance with Rule 25-1b.
Pick-up points are located at the 3rd tee, the restrooms by the 8th tee, and the Healy House at the 4th fairway.
Doonbeg is a soft spikes only environment. Metal spikes are not permitted. Spike changing facilities are available in the Clubhouse. (Please allow extra time.)
Appropriate golfing attire is required. Blue jeans or dungarees are not permitted. Golfers in improper attire will be asked to change prior to play.
We are currently accepting tee time reservations. 10% deposit is required when booking. Balance due 45 days in advance of play date.
Cancellation must be received in writing, fax, or email 45 days in advance of play date. Changes or cancellations 30 days or less no refund, deposit fortified.
For rate information:
or call in Ireland: 065-9055602 or 065-9055603
or call from US: 011-353-65-905-5602, or 011-353-65-905-5603
Doonbeg Special Offers
Below is a link to the Doonbeg special offers webpage
To experience Doonbeg for yourself, call the pro shop on 065-9055602 or check out www.doonbeggolfclub.com.
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