Saturday, December 23, 2017

Doonbeg's Sea Defences Approved - the Good, Bad and Ugly

The new 14th, looking across White Strand
beach to the resort.
On Thursday 21st December, Clare County Council granted planning permission for Trump Doonbeg to build coastal defences to protect its links golf course. It is little surprise that this permission is going to be discussed on this blog... as it has been in the past.

So let's consider it under three headings: the good, the bad and the ugly.

But before we get started there's one thing I'd like you to consider and it is this: for the
sake of the points being made below try to ignore that Donald Trump owns the resort. Instead, pretend it is owned by Michael D Higgins. And no, I'm not joking. Pretend it is owned by the Irish people and see how that swings your thought process and opinions.

There appears to be a fairly simple divide: most golfers say this is great news; anyone concerned with the environment is less sure. I fall between the two. I ran a poll on Twitter asking whether the application's approval was a good thing or a bad thing. From 180 responses, 82% said it was good.
The famous opening par five at Doonbeg

Doonbeg's Defences: The Good 

1. A valuable resource will be protected from the ravages of nature. The Doonbeg resort is a big employer and income generator. Not only does it boost the immediate local economy but it has helped to embellish the Kerry/Clare run of links courses. The hotel with its five star pedigree attracts big spenders to the region and, with the Cliffs of Moher nearby, not just for golf.

2. A world class golf course will be protected. As much as 20 metres of dunes has, according to the resort, been eroded since 2002, and between my first visit in 2008 and my visit last year, not only has the original 14th green disappeared but the drive on the 18th now has to cross an edge of the beach that wasn't even visible in 2008. 
The drive on Doonbeg's 18th
Consider this: Lahinch Golf Club is 125 years old this year (2017) and Doonbeg's dunes, along White Strand, were first considered for the golf course before the current location was chosen (due to the train stopping there). Coastal defences would have been added long ago (as exist on so many other Irish links) and it is doubtful anyone would be complaining about them today.

3. The defences are a considerably scaled down version of the original proposal. What was going to involve 200,000 tonnes of rock, be 13 feet high and 65 feet wide, and stretch for 1.7 miles - is it any wonder it was called a wall - is now far smaller and more focused. The approved new version will comprise a 38,000 tonne defence which will be precisely placed to protect core parts of the course (holes 1, 9 and 18 specifically). Its construction format also means it will be 'hidden' from those enjoying the charms of White Strand... this wasn't the case with the early design. Metal sheet piles will be driven into the ground, surrounded by limestone boulders and covered in sand. This will be be placed on the beach, some 12-15 metres from the dunes.
The farthest point of the course - the par three 9th green - looking
back at the resort
4. The dune system will be "protected"... I use quotation marks because environmental bodies such as Friends of the Irish Environment, and An Taisce would disagree with that statement.

Doonbeg's Defences: The Bad

1. You only have to read comments on Social Media to see that a common opinion is that Clare County Council has kowtowed to the Trump organisation. First, take Trump out of the equation, and second, consider what Doonbeg contributes to the Clare region. I get that people want to stick it to Trump but economics/employment play an essential part in the equation... especially in an area this remote.

2. Following on from point 1 above, however, economic benefits should not always ride roughshod over environmental concerns as has become commonplace. The size of the defences has been reduced substantially but there is a natural rhythm to our environment and trying to 'manhandle' it can lead to unforeseen circumstances. This is one of the key concerns of Friends of the Irish Environment, which says that such defences can destroy the beaches in front of them. Simply put, one side of the divide is never going to be happy with the outcome of such decisions. 
The par four 6th - another of the holes to be protected

Doonbeg's Defences: The Ugly

1. Appeals will follow. There is a four week window in which to appeal and the Green Party has indicated it will do so. This is not over yet.

2. The Wall. I hold my hand up and plead guilty to the charge of using the term 'wall' on Twitter when the permission was first announced. Considering the man who owns it the media have only been too happy to spear Trump's Irish wall. That's the media for you. The folks at Doonbeg are none too pleased (I received stern rebukes on my Twitter poll) but there was an inevitability about it. The construction of the approved defences will comprise two sea barriers of 260 and 630 metres in length and the objective is to make these barriers blend in to the beach/dune setting. However, it is easy to see why the word 'wall' is convenient so don't expect to see media outlets changing their tune.
The par five 15th - one of the most imposing approach shots of the day.
3. We have to go back to Donald for a moment because there's another stick that the media are gleefully poking Trump with. The original application submitted by the Trump organization highlighted global warming and rising seas as key criteria for constructing defences. Donald famously doesn't believe in global warming so, on the surface, it appears to be a hypocritical stance. In my opinion his knowledge of climate change makes him a very ignorant man but it would be daft to assume that every person who works for him holds the same views... and somehow I doubt Donald crafted the proposal himself.  

So... assuming you managed to take Trump out of the equation (especially that last point) how do you feel about Doonbeg's defences now?


  1. Compliments of the season Kevin and welcome back, you were away too long at times in 2017.
    Three comments on the Doonbeg article - 1. sorry, I do NOT consider it a world-class golf course, too tight and cramped and not always genuine links turf, NOT on of Greg Norman's best design days
    2. I would be suspicious of anything, as a matter of policy, that comes from this dangerous buffoon or his connections - for that reason alone, I would instinctively oppose the plan as, I have no doubt, An Taisce and other parties will vigourously do
    3. I hail from a remote rural backwater also, where employment and wealth generation are mostly foreign concepts, so I am totally with the local population on preserving and generating new income. However, in the NATIONAL interest, this must be sustainable - we ALL have an interest in ensuring that this moron does not visit permanent or semi-permanent visual excrescences on our cherished coastal environment. Long after he is gone (hopefully, soon) these defences will remain. So if we are to have any protective construction, it must be minimal, non-invasive and ultimately informed and controlled by the needs of this coastal region and its dunelands, NOT by the local economy or the preening self-regard of one distasteful and avaricious conglomerate.

    1. Hi Colm,
      Thanks for the feedback - and yes I let the blog lag for a while. I think Doonbeg is good enough to be considered world-class. It doesn't make my top ten but there are some interesting elements and the recent Hawtree work has improved the course's rhythm... even if some of Greg's vision has been eradicated. Sadly, I never got to play the original greens which lasted only a year.
      I'm with you on the national interest thing. I understand how important the resort is to the economy/locality but nature and the environment are, ultimately, what sustain us and they should not be sacrificed willy-nilly. Coastal defences, such as this rock armour, can be effective... but it's not guaranteed and no one can say what the rock armour will bring. Time will tell.