Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Doonbeg - A New Beginning

Tee shot off the 1st at Doonbeg
“Are you OK? Have you fallen into a bunker?”

It was a Direct Message I received on Twitter, around 1pm last Thursday. It took a moment to understand the reason for the question but it dawned on me soon enough. I was playing Trump Doonbeg and I’d decided to photograph every hole on my
iPhone and then post the pictures to Twitter. It was a hole-by-hole endeavour and I had tweeted each of the first 14 holes. And there it had ended.

I hadn’t fallen into a bunker, I had simply got caught up playing golf and was behind schedule. I was tweeting photos of the 15th as I walked off the 18th green when my phone died. It had taken video, over 100 photos and had been used for dozens of Tweets. It didn’t have the energy to carry on.

But thanks for the concern.
The thrilling par five 1st hole at Trump Doonbeg
As with Lahinch Golf Club, I hadn’t been back in years and I slowed down on the long drive in to admire the small patch of tarmac where I had parked the camper van in 2008… and enjoyed a boozy evening with two surfers who had parked alongside. Good memories.
A panorama of the 6th and 13th
Sadly, my memories of the course design were less clear. The recent work undertaken by Martin Hawtree – following on from his work for Trump in Aberdeen – has been heralded a success. Ivan Morris wrote about it in glowing terms in the Irish Golfer Magazine weekly ‘Digital+’ [the June 15th edition] but I chose not to read it – nor to revisit my photos from 2008 – until after I’d played the course. Why interfere with first impressions?

But when it comes to those first impressions there are, however, two things you need to do when you come to play this course: it’s best just to forget the divisive Mr Trump (I'm no fan), whose name adorns the resort; and do not ponder over the wall that will – if built – stretch the 2.5 km length of the beach below the golf course.
The par five 13th is definitely reachable in two (if the wind is at your
back)... this is the approach shot. Mind the bunkers.
There’s a third thorny issue, too, but this one you need to remember because it combines the preservation of the now infamous snail with the restricted but excellent routing of Greg Norman. Yes, golfers may look at some of the inland holes (4, 12 and 17 lie close to the resort’s driveway) and say they are the tamest on the course but, given the vulnerable 1.8mm snail’s habitat, there is still an artistry to Norman’s work… and Hawtree has left well enough alone.

I played on my own and was half way down the 1st fairway when Brian Shaw, the Head Pro, pulled alongside in a buggy for a chat. The greens are slow, I was told. He wasn’t the first to tell me… and he wasn’t the last. As these are brand new greens it’s going to take time for them to bed in… it’s going to take love and devotion, too. And that’s something being applied by the Golf Course Superintendent, Scott Marr, who I met on the 3rd green.
Doonbeg's par four 6th from the back tee.
As for the slow greens… I loved them. It suits my game perfectly as I’m always a wimp on fast greens. A slow green means there’s little to fear (re putting off a green into a bunker – something I achieved at Lahinch the day before).
Bunker shot on the 13th - flag flapping just at the top of the dune

Hawtree's Doonbeg Revisions

So what about Trump Doonbeg and the course changes? Yes, there were things I noticed but, apart from the new 3rd green (moved to the left), the brand new par three 14th and some additional mounding to block out a building or three and help separate holes, the myriad of changes are all about subtlety. Some new tee boxes have helped to re-angle holes to play better with the prevailing winds but the most important changes are to greens. These were of great interest to me as I very much liked Norman’s greens. They had a natural feel to them and were, as a result, often quirky and dramatic. Some of that may have gone but the new greens are still intricate, still beautiful and still a joy to putt on. The surroundings for greens have changed too, with steeper, more sinuous fall offs and hollows where balls will gather. I found myself in many of these and discovered that the putter should be the club of choice.
The par three 11th, showing the strong shapes around the green.
The highlights on my previous visit were the long straight and devastatingly attractive 1st hole, the 5th to 9th – with the 6th being a glorious par four above the beach – the par three 11th, the brilliant par five 13th (where I did indeed find myself rather lost in a bunker) and the iconic par three 14th. 

The view of the new 14th at Doonbeg, from the black tees.
The storms of February 2014 washed the iconic green away and a completely new hole had to be created. Rather than hitting straight out to sea the new hole hits parallel to the beach… and it’s a beauty. There are three tees in very different positions, but they all hit down from a dune to a green where there are no bunkers and you can see the swings on and around the green from the tee box. It also has a stunning backdrop of the beach and the hotel. No, it may not be iconic like the old hole, but boy is it a fun replacement.

Mix Your Tees

If you choose to play Doonbeg (there’s a current ad campaign promoting twilight rates after 3pm for €95) I have one piece of advice – look at the different tee boxes and mix and match. Some are more enjoyable from the back Black tees – the 5th, 14th and 16th spring to mind – and the 6th if you dare (see photo above) – but you will definitely want to play from the forward tees on holes like the par five 4th (659 yards from the back tees… 580 from the whites) and par three 11th. But decide for yourself when you get here.
From here, on the back black tees, Doonbeg's 4th hole measures 659 yards
In the meantime, I’ve posted over 100 photos on my Flickr page, so you can get the full flavour of what's on offer. Just click HERE.

If you don’t already know, you can grab a handful of tees, markers and pitch repairers when you get to the 1st tee. It’s all complimentary… so I grabbed some as I walked by and now I’m giving them away. If you want to win these Doonbeg goodies, just leave your name in the Comment box below and I’ll pick a winner at the end of the week.
 Thanks for reading.


  1. Thanks for the photos. Shame to have lost the great par 3 14th. I guess they didn't want to reconstruct the hole in fear of it being washed away in another storm. Trump's clock is also a bit of an eyesore. It's OK for Doral but not a links

  2. I might get there some day! Thanks for the photos. Stunning as always.