Ireland's Doonbeg: Top-tier links golf at its best

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June 11, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.

For many taking a golf trip Across the Pond, it's the historic, century-old golf courses that receive all their attention and appear on the wish lists of "must play" tracks. When it comes to Ireland, it's well worth also taking a look at some of the newer layouts. There has been an astounding amount of Irish golf development over the past decade and as sacrilegious as it may sound, some of these younger upstarts are every bit as good, and in a few cases even better than those more familiar names.

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Doonbeg Links reveals Greg Norman's passion for the game with this truly inspirational layout.
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Massive sand dunes and undulating greens are a part of Doonbegs ever changing challenges.
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The ever-present sea brings blustering winds to add a little more excitement.
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Doonbegs serious rough is to be avoided at all costs.
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Plateaued greens made more intimidating by the surrounding rough can be difficult to hold.
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The Lodge at Doonbeg might be the ultimate luxury golf hotel.
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Greg Norman's inspired links layout at Doonbeg, which only opened in 2002, is an outstanding example of a brilliant new course that manages to outshine many of the seniors among Ireland's impressive collection of seaside layouts.

It's ironic that the site where Doonbeg stands today is the same piece of real estate considered back in 1890, by what is now Lahinch Golf Club for their golf course. The officers of the Scottish Black Watch Regiment were searching the Irish coastline for a suitable site to practice the sport of their homeland, but it had to be accessible from their barracks in Limerick. They turned Doonbeg down because it was too far from the railroad, opting instead for land in Lahinch. The two courses are separated by a scant 18 miles of coastal road, so play them both and make your own judgment as to who was right -- The Scottish military or the Great White Shark from Australia?

Doonbeg is Greg Norman's first design effort in The British Isles and by his own admission, he was handed the most desirable piece of linksland to work with. A spectacularly beautiful, one and a half mile stretch of County Clare shoreline that swoops, curves and tumbles around crescent shaped, Doughmore Bay. Filled with dramatic sand dunes, some reaching more than 100 feet above sea level, this is literally, land intended by Mother Nature to be nothing else but a spectacular links course.

To his credit, Norman has shown total sensitivity for the heaven sent qualities of the terrain and its natural suitability to a links layout. Temptations to move massive amounts of earth have been resisted with an intelligent design, carefully thought out to preserve the environment and show-off every natural feature and quality in its best light. The end result is a layout that bobs and weaves its way, over around and often through a landscape that at times seems almost lunaresque, on other occasions, reminiscent of a traditional 19th century links and always, unabashedly handsome. There may be no better looking course in all Ireland than this dazzler called Doonbeg.

Doonbeg's incredible challenge becomes immediately apparent on the first hole, a 567-yard par-5. The scenery will be the first distraction -- get used to it, there are another 17 holes to play with each better looking than the previous. Stay focused on your game or you will lose the ball to the dunes or an unsympathetic pot-bunker on the second shot. Reaching the green safely on the third shot will be no mean accomplishment, as it's jealously guarded on three sides by a frightening monster of a sand dune. Only 8 years old and already people are saying this is the best opening hole on the Emerald Isle, bar none - and it's only a warm up for all the excitement ahead!

The signature hole is the short par-3 fourteenth. Measuring a seemingly innocuous 111 yards from the back tee, it's a hole totally underestimated by all first-time players and one of the most difficult to judge. With the Atlantic Ocean sitting directly behind the flag and a wind best classified as reliably unpredictable, club selection can range all the way from a sand wedge to a 3-iron and you must still have lady luck on your side to first make and then hold the green. It's hard to imagine a tiddler of a short hole like this could make a grown man cry, but that's just what the fourteenth will do.

After the good looks and the tough challenge, another of the appeals of Doonbeg is that it's a succession of excellent holes and a few that literally will blow you away, but there isn't a single hole that can fairly be called anything less than absolutely top drawer. Shortly after the course opened, some were saying that it was unfair and perhaps a little too, tricked up and it's true there were a few holes that seemed less than perfect. But as Ireland has learned, Mr. Norman is a perfectionist; he listened to the criticism and made innumerable return visits to tweak and fine tune his Irish baby into the immaculate layout you will find today.

There are still some who think the undulations in the greens are too exaggerated, but even these critics all agree, Doonbeg is a spectacular links layout, brimming over with personality and character and like any links that exists, there must be a few oddities along the way for that extra little spice that makes links golf so special. There's no doubt Greg Norman's Doonbeg is very special and a priceless jewel, more than worthy of a place high atop Ireland's golfing crown -- Don't miss it!

If the opportunity to play neighboring Doonbeg and Lahinch, with Ballybunion only an hour away, isn't temptation enough to coax you up to this part of County Clare, then the opportunity to stay at the plush, Lodge at Doonbeg Golf Club, will take care of any further convincing that may be needed -- and then some!

Little did any of us who were around when the Doonbeg links and resort hotel project was first announced, realize what an important and dramatic addition this would be to Irish golf. We were all very impressed when the course opened, but when the hotel followed a few years later, everyone was totally astounded -- One of Europe's best, 5 star luxury hotels had been born.

It's a glorious, country mansion-house of a hotel offering the ultimate in luxurious suite accommodations, complete with a friendly, pampering staff, who really know how to spoil their guests. This is the ideal place to settle into an ocean view suite for a few days as the grand finale to a wonderful Irish experience. Even for those who may not normally stay in such grand style, I highly recommend you splurge - treat yourself and partner to a stay at this slice of heaven, and you'll be fondly remembering this trip for many year's to come.

For a few suggestions on how you can include magnificent Doonbeg and other top ranked Irish courses on a very special golf trip, call the Ireland experts at Golf International, toll-free at 1 800 833-1389, or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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