Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All hail the Doonbeg snail

[Photo: a giant dune blocks the view to Doonbeg's 6th hole, one of the best on the course]

For one reason or another, there are a few courses in Ireland that have a chain of controversy hanging around their necks. Old Head is probably at the top of the list, Portmarnock gets its share of grief, RCD has some image problems and then there's Doonbeg. I remember when it was first mooted as a project and there were complaints from locals and environmental bodies. A dune system was going to be taken over and altered forever, a right of way (hotly disputed) to Doughmore beach was going to be cut-off and, worst of all, a minute snail (Vertigo Angustior) was going to be threatened in one of its last remaining habitats. There was a media outcry when a High Court Action in 2000 successfully sought the snail's conservation. Greg Norman, the course's designer, was required to revamp his designs and avoid the best run of dunes, forcing the course inland.

There were plenty who said that a 1.8mm snail stopping a new golf course was idiotic. I say they're ignorant, but that's another blog entirely. The course construction began and Doonbeg adapted to the new situation. At Dooks, in County Kerry, there were concerns about the Natterjack toad and how it would survive with the golf course running through its habitat. Rather than fight it, the club became the toad's biggest supporter and even adopted the creature as the club's logo. Somehow I don't think a snail was ever going to adorn Doonbeg's logo, but they have done an excellent job protecting the snail, and the extent of this success has now become apparent:

[Photo: the par three 9th green, at the far end of the course, looking back to the Lodge across Dough- more beach]

At the time of the course construction there were 10 million snails. There are now 60 million, making the conservation project one of the most successful anywhere and we salute Doonbeg Golf Club efforts...

... the problem is, our salutes may not be seen as we're standing on the other side of an eight foot wall that the club built without planning permission in 2004. It was built to block off the aforementioned and contentious right of way that cuts across the 4th and 14th holes - and is well used by surfer dudes. (Golfers and surfers are never going to see eye to eye, are they!)

Even though Clare County Council voted overwhelmingly to extinguish the right of way, by 22 votes to 3, in September 2009, and even though Doonbeg promised to create an alternative right of way and parking area for 70 cars (due in summer 2010), it doesn't get past the fact that the wall was built without planning permission and should be removed. The club is seeking retention of the wall, but this sort of thing gets my goat! Build it, wait for someone to notice that you don't have permission, then apply for retention and - more often than not - get that retention. It's plain wrong and it makes a mockery of the planning process.

[Photo: the toughest Index 18 par three you may ever play, at just 106 yards]

On my travels I'd pass a big, empty field with nothing in it but grass, and the only access to that field was a magnificent pair of gold and black gates, and pillars adorned with giant artichokes. What's the rationale? Well clearly a hopeful farmer/builder is going to apply for planning permission, and he reckons that someone from the local planning office will visit the site, see the gates, and say 'oh yes, obviously there's supposed to be a house behind those wonderful gates. I'll sign off on this immediately.' Whereas what he should be saying is 'you don't have planning permission for those gates, knock them down.'

I'd put money on Doonbeg getting their retention, but I doubt I'd get good odds.

Don't get me wrong, I think Doonbeg is a superb golf course with imagination and excitement on almost every hole. There are some great touches that you won't find elsewhere and, if you can justify the green fee, it is well worth a visit. But don't mention the wall. Until the retention comes through it might be a touchy subject, and the battle isn't over yet.

Now, don't get me started on the club's coastal erosion.

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