Cork is a great place to live if you enjoy visiting great golf courses.
Within 20 miles of Cork City we have Little Island (Cork Golf Club) where I play, Fota Island (the venue for The Irish Open this year) and the world famous and spectacular Old Head of Kinsale.
Within a two and a half hour drive situated in Kerry, are Killarney, Waterville and Ballybunion and in Clare Lahinch (the St Andrews of Ireland) and the more recent addition to links golf Doonbeg.
The other good thing about Cork and the South of Ireland is that we have an all year around golfing climate. We rarely get snow and being close to the sea, frosty conditions are unusual. So if it is not raining too hard or if we don’t have a storm moving through then it is possible to play golf every day of the year. This is particularly true on the well draining sandy grass land created by blowing sand off our wonderful sand beaches.
Last week a good friend of mine PJ Queally who is a member at Doonbeg and runs a very successful Supervalu in nearby Kilrush inviting me to play there with him and I accepted his invitation with alacrity.
It was a good golfing day and as I drove in the gates of Doonbeg my first thoughts were that thankfully the sentry who used to be in attendance is long gone and so I could relax and take in the wonderful peace and beautiful tranquillity that the 400 acre site enjoys. As you drive from the road to the clubhouse and hotel, a drive of close to a mile it gives you the chance to relax and to realise that you are in a special place. It is probably the most wonderful piece of links land of any site in Ireland. In fact Doonbeg is unique because it is situated so far away from any town or village. It is magnificent in its isolation.
We played 15 holes as 3 holes were badly damaged in the January storm that caused so much coastal destruction along the west coast of Ireland. A strip of up to 25 yards of land of the golf course literally disappeared overnight and the green at the little short signature hole totally vanished into the sea. Two other holes including the short 9th at the end of the beach were also badly damaged.
P.J surveys damage to 9th hole!
There are big dangers in building golf courses above beautiful exposed Atlantic beaches and at Doonbeg they had never got around to building protection in the form of large piles of rocks or indeed like they did 20 years ago in Ballybunion putting large stones in Gabion baskets. In Ballybunion at that time they were spending £100,000 Irish pounds a year to save their golf course. This year it looked like it was money well spent.
At Doonbeg the work of protection has already begun and even though Donal Trump only bought the golf complex 2 months ago there were last week piles of rocks being broken up to be put into baskets to protect the course into the future.
I had always been a little critical of the quality of the golf holes at Doonbeg but I also understood that the original developers and the golf architect Greg Norman had to endure serious grief from environmentalists who were protecting an endangered species of a minute snail which was so small that it was hard to see. I understand that it was subsequently discovered that this particular snail can in fact be found all over the world.
As a result of the snails issue almost 150 acres of the most wonderful sand dune golf land along the coast, east of the 9th hole was preserved and therefore not available to Greg Norman.
There are perhaps three outstanding holes on the original layout in my book. The opening hole is surely one of the most memorable opening holes of any golf course anywhere. A generous tee shot with your approach shot to this par 5 hole into a green overlooked by magnificent towering sand dunes. Not too difficult, as an opening hole should be but memorable in every way.
Two par threes the 7th and the 16th are also outstanding holes but after that a lot of ordinary golf holes.
Talk about problems creating opportunities; if it is now possible to get planning to use that 150 acres of prime golfing land of currently preserved land, then the architect who I understand to be Martin Hawtree, has the most incredible opportunity to bring Doonbeg to its full potential. Greg Norman the original architect was quoted recently as saying that it would be unusual if another golf architect was brought in to oversee the remedial work on his course. Looks however like Norman has been “trumped”, as Hawtree has already been spotted a few times on the golf course.
Interestingly the work of a golf architect particularly when making changes does not always get universal approval. In recent times at Cork Golf Club (originally designed by Dr Alister Mc Kenzie), Hawtree was employed to make a few changes. Some were found to be first class, particularly the removal of trees to improve the views of the river and the limestone quarries. He also did great work in improving the quality of the tees.
Other work he did in relation to creating artificial mounds around bunkers and the creating of some very deep and difficult fairway bunkers was generally not welcomed and an the AGM at the club in 2012 a proposal to have them all removed was only defeated I understand, by the narrowest if margins.
Everybody at Doonbeg seems very excited about what is about to happen there and I hope that in time it is transformed into another of Ireland’s golfing gems and that when that happens I hope PJ will not forget his old friend and will invite me back to Doonbeg for what I feel sure will be a truly wonderful golfing experience.
Ted Dwyer Family Business