Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bushmills Dunes - The Dream Is Over

The dream for the £100m Bushmills Dunes resort has died. That became official earlier this week with confirmation that Dr Peter Fitzgerald has new plans for Runkerry. It comes as no surprise: the writing was already on the wall when Dr Alistair Hanna, the man behind the Bushmills Dunes development, died last year.

Dr Fitzgerald's plans envisage no golf course and no hotel, although in true fingers-crossed-behind-your-back fashion the plans are 'currently being assessed'. Fitzgerald is more interested in the corporate hospitality end of things.

An aerial view over Bushfoot Golf Club, a nine hole golf course next door
Pic courtesy of 
Tom Cotter, a golf tourism consultant in Northern Ireland, and CEO of the Cotter Collection, sees the decision as being a blow to golf tourism in the region.

"It's incredibly disappointing and it could put the Open hosting in difficulties."

With The Open Championship pencilled in for 2019, there are a number of infrastructural challenges that need to be addressed. One of these is accommodation.

"There's an urgent need for 70+ room, four star hotels on the North coast" Cotter points out.

The Bushmills Inn, Roe Park Resort and Galgorm Resort are the biggest names in the area, along with Best Western Plus, but considering the 100,000+ who will descend on Royal Portrush and the surrounding towns, then every room will be needed.

Bushmills Dunes

Bushmills Dunes only got the go ahead in 2013, after a considerable legal battle with conservationist groups (the National Trust most notably, wishing to protect the Giant's Causeway). The 365 acres is part of the Machaghten estate, with Runkerry House at its heart. The development was to include the 18-hole course (to be designed by Parsinen and Hanse), a luxury hotel and holiday accommodation. Jobs would have been created and the northern coastline would have boasted yet another links golf course...

... but do we actually need another golf course?
Another view of the dunes which would have been home to the course.
Pic courtesy of
Ireland is full of them. 340 18-hole courses to be precise. In the last four years we've lost over a dozen and more would have gone to the wall if it wasn't for NAMA propping them up. Bushmills Dunes might have been brilliant - world-class even - and it would undoubtedly have been a riveting addition to the Causeway Coast golfing route... but in an age of over-supply the golf course wasn't necessary.

Would it have attracted more golfers to Ireland? I'd have to be convinced of that because Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are massive draws, so why would Bushmills Dunes make the area any more attractive. And when you throw in the Valley course at Portrush, alongside the courses at Castlerock and Portstewart you have one of the best golf destinations in the world.

The opening par four at Castlerock.
Then there's the Giant's Causeway. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site it attracts close to a million tourists a year. If - genuinely - there was a risk to the site that a golf course might interfere then the UNESCO site must win out. That said, I haven't visited the Giant's Causeway in several years and I've been told that there were no such issues.

So, yes, I'd love to have had a new Irish course to play... but Bushmills Dunes would have been a nice-to-have, but no more than that.


  1. I remember being excited by this when I heard about it: another true links course in Ireland must a good thing, right? Like fine art, it should just exist for its own sake.
    But I suppose that's easy for me to say, since I'm not the one paying for the land, construction, and maintenance.

  2. Darn...Trump will be disappointed to hear that!
    I don't think that it would have drawn many more tourists by itself but as you say, the area already has a captive trade for the other courses there.
    However, I believe that Tom Cotter's remarks are important with reference to the Open Championship and accommodation issues.