Friday, February 14, 2014

Is Doonbeg Coming Up Trumps?

View from the 9th green back to The Lodge.

There is only one thing that interests me in the whole media mêlée surrounding Donald Trump’s purchase of Doonbeg…

Is it good for Irish golf?

It’s good for Trump, no question. An estimated €15 million purchase must be the bargain of the year compared with the €110 million he spent constructing just the Scottish course in Aberdeen.

Everyone is falling over themselves to say how wonderful it is to have Trump saving Doonbeg, saving/creating jobs, investing millions, creating a world class resort, instigating world peace and saving mankind. Trump is saying pretty much the same thing: he’s not shy… or modest. But then you don’t get to be as powerful and rich as him without stepping on toes and charging around like a bull in a china shop.

Love Me, Hate Me But Don’t Ignore Me

Trump is a difficult man to ignore. He’s rich and he loves the game of golf. Thanks to his 15 (now 16) golf courses and his 10 (now 11) hotels, Trump is a major force in world golf.

Trump is a difficult man to like. After his antics in Scotland and a subsequent quote that appeared in the Irish Times this week: “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland, like Pan Am 103”, he comes across as brash, arrogant and insensitive.  But that’s Donald for you. [Dear Donald, Pan Am 103 killed 270 people.]

Back to my original question. Is Doonbeg falling into Trump’s hands good or not for Irish golf?

Let’s start with Doonbeg itself. Here is a luxury five star resort with a world-renowned golf course designed by Greg Norman. It has received numerous awards from organisations around the globe. It is aspirational, it is exclusive and it is very much aimed at the highest end of the golfing market. Green fees were in the order of €210 in the boom times (now €60 to €175) and the audience was heavily American. This is unlikely to change now that Trump is involved. If anything, it will become more exclusive. All of his resorts focus on the rich section of society and since the majority of his market is in the United States, that’s the audience he will be appealing to most. As an example, the green fee to play the newly revamped Doral Blue Monster course in Miami is $450.

In other words, the humble Irish golfer who found Doonbeg to be beyond their reach since it opened in 2001, will see the revitalised resort stretch even further beyond their grasp.

Is that good for Irish golf? No… but it’s no different to before. The resort will always have the tag ‘luxury’ stamped on it.

The lethal, short par three 14th 

Irish Golf – A Bigger Picture

The Lodge at Doonbeg was a major attraction for overseas golfers looking to play Ireland’s most famous courses. Stay at The Lodge and then visit Lahinch, Ballybunion, Adare and Waterville. Many would travel by helicopter (Doonbeg has its own Helipad) and go on to play Old Head of Kinsale or travel further to the north or east.

Trump intends to invest in the resort and make it even more luxurious. It will be interesting to see what his plans are. Will he extend the hotel, upgrade the lodges on site, build new lodges or something as extravagant as he planned in Aberdeen, introduce new amenities (pool, dedicated spa… Irish theme pub) or look for ways to build a second course? Donald doesn’t like hearing no for an answer so the resort will grow, whatever the planners/councils/politicians have to say.

Is that good for Irish golf? Possibly… it might mean there’s more accommodation for increased numbers of wealthy visitors, which would mean higher income for the local economy and other golf clubs on the bucket list… but it’s still not very different to before.

What’s in a Name?

Trump’s current empire and ‘modest’ approach to business will mean that Doonbeg – or Trump International Golf Links, Ireland as it will be called – will undoubtedly get massive attention in certain niches within the American golfing market. And not just America: Trump is a global brand.

The name. Will the Trump International Golf Links, Ireland name be a positive or a negative? The answer is both. It will be instantly recognisable and will mean a certain standard of luxury and quality. With his existing portfolio of golf courses and hotels, his business interests and his flamboyance, there will be a major push to promote this new addition to the family.

But Donald Trump is a divisive figure and his name will repel people, too.

Is that good for Irish golf? Only time will tell, but it’s likely to attract more people than it repels.

The 13th green sits above a nest of lethal bunkers.

Changing Doonbeg's Fairways

Greg Norman’s course will be updated. No question. Trump likes to fiddle and he’ll find things he doesn’t like about this course. He’s also in the position to do something about it. The question is, who will get the call to upgrade/redesign? Will it be Martin Hawtree, fresh from the Aberdeen project, or will he bring in an American who is less familiar with natural linksland? Waterville brought in Fazio – a move that delivered, despite initial scepticism.

Is that good for Irish golf? Broadly speaking, yes. It will employ people while the changes are being made, and it may well attract golfers who have already played it and wish to play the revised course/layout.

The Environment

Trump hasn’t a clue what the environment is. For starters, he is a climate change denier. He also proudly boasted that at his Aberdeen resort he had anchored a major dune system… which just happened to be one of the last moving, shape-shifting, natural networks of sand dunes in Europe. And he thought this was a good thing.

What will he do/change at Doonbeg? The tiny snails (Vertigo Angustior) that caused such controversy in the early years and were subsequently protected should be safe… should! So should the right-of-way across the course.

But now that there’s a million Euros-worth of storm damage to the coastline, he has an opportunity to make changes repairs that might not otherwise have been possible. The local council, the Department of the Environment and the EU will be hard-pressed to stop him if he sets his mind on a particular change repair.

Is that good for Irish golf? No. The environment should never be jeopardised for the sake of a golf course.

The 18th, right beside the beach, hits back to The Lodge.

Doonbeg’s Saviour

Has he ‘saved’ Doonbeg? No, of course not. He saw a bargain to add to his empire and he snatched it up. Who wouldn’t at that price? And that’s the point – Doonbeg would have been purchased regardless. The receivers said they had 12 interested parties. A world class resort would have remained a world class resort with or without Trump, so jobs would have been saved, the local economy would have ticked over and visiting golfers would continue to be pampered.

Is that good for Irish golf? On the basis that he brings more money and a big golf brand to the table, yes, it should be good for Irish golf. But he’s no saviour.

An Irish Open

Could he, should he, would he hold an Irish Open given the chance? Of course he would. If Ballybunion can host it, why not Doonbeg?

Is that good for Irish golf? Yes. Any Irish Open held at a premier resort, and a links course at that, is a good thing. And with Trump’s access to media channels, not only would it get wider coverage in the USA, and attract potential sponsors, it would also appeal more to American professional golfers.

Cashing in with a Casino

The fact that the Trumps have already mentioned ‘casino’ a number of times in these early days is worrying… depending on whether you’re pro or anti casinos. I’d hate to see casinos in Ireland. It’s not as if the Irish don’t like to gamble enough already (which is why we’re still in the mess we’re in right now), so giving them the Las Vegas buzz will only make matters worse... assuming they can afford the extravagance of the resort in the first place.

Is that good for Irish golf? It would bring additional visitors to Ireland, but it would cheapen our image.


There is one final question which takes Ireland out of the equation. Is Trump’s purchase of Doonbeg good for golf in general? And the answer to that depends on your view of golf. To many, golf is an elitist, expensive sport. Trump’s model does nothing to dissuade people of this view. On the flip side, there are always wealthy people/golfers who want the luxury experience and will pay for it. If Trump wasn’t doing it, somebody else would.

Is that good for golf? Decide for yourself. Ireland offers golf courses at very different levels, appealing to a wide variety of golfers. That can only be a good thing, for Ireland and for golf, but I hope that Trump appreciates what local/national golfers can bring to his new Trump resort, and gives them an opportunity to play this wonderful golf course.

It will be interesting to revisit this in a year’s time to see what Trump is doing, what spats he has become embroiled in and whether the positive vibes currently doing the rounds remain. It is fantastic news that Doonbeg will survive and that it should flourish. Yes, it’s unfortunate about the name (calling it Trump-anything makes it more about the man than the resort) but it makes sense for the Trump brand. I wish everyone working at the resort the best of luck.


  1. Kevin, I agree with your thinking here, I agree that it is exclusive and will remain exclusive, which is a crying shame to the average Irish golfer,we'll hardly see many Americans in the middle of February in Doonbeg or anywhere else for that matter. I remember caddying in Portmarnock in my youth (when Harry Bradshaw was there, that's how old I am) and we young fella's in the caddy shack would fight for the American "BAG" in June and run like scalded cat's on a cold Febuary Saturday morning when the Doc appeared with his LEATHER bag and hickory clubs. I find the Trump business model highly dubious and will be watching this with interest just to see how he cock's this one up. Good luck to the people in Doonbeg cause I think they might need it. Also will all 18 green's get a comb over now.......

  2. All well reasoned Kevin but I am glad that there will be employment, some enterprise and some wealth generation created and maintained in this very remote part of the western seaboard. One problem I have is the course - not a great design, in my opinion, and not true links throughout, with some soft parkland type fairways and too little acreage in which to create really memorable holes. As is often said, all the great links land has already been used - not strictly true, instance the European. But I don't think it's a memorable round of golf. Maybe Trump, for all the legitimate criticism, can improve that.