Golf tourism on rise in Ireland
The American love of golf has created a new form of Irish business
The course was originally divided by a road but in 1927 six extra holes were added on the beach side to bring the entire course by the sea. Some 36 years later the club developed land on the other side of the roadway to make up a second course, the Castle Course, for which green fees of 50 euro are less than half the fee to play the Old Course.
Of course the newly-built courses can't compete in terms of history and tradition. To win immediate profile and prestige the current trend is to hire an international golfing figure to design the course. Many of the new courses in Ireland have a famous stamp on them, such as Jack Nicklaus' design at Mount Juliet, Arnold Palmer's at the K-Club or Bernhardt Langer's design of the newer links course at Portmarnock.
In fact, links golf seaside courses is one of the biggest draws in the Irish game. You don't get true links courses in America, reasons Martin Shorter, himself a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. The difference is the wind, and the firmness of the turf is something American golfers are not accustomed to. Americans are used to hitting the ball in the air, landing it on the green where it stops. Here, you have to allow for the bounce. It's the shot you roll and the shot you have to chase. And it's about patience. If you come to Ireland to play matchplay golf you'll have a great time. If you come to medal play you'll be a beaten and broken man!
There are about 151 links courses in the world and one third of them are in Ireland. Not surprisingly, there was huge interest when Australian champion Greg Norman was invited to design the course on coastal farmland at Doonbeg, Co. Clare. The opportunities for building new links courses are obviously diminishing Doonbeg runs for a sprawling 385 acres but Norman was overwhelmed by the potential of the site.
When I first looked at this site I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world, enthused the man known as the Great White Shark. It's spectacular land made by God, one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the course I want to be identified with.
Designers are known to complete their work after a few visits to a course but Norman's involvement at Doonbeg, saw him visit the site on an unprecedented 23 occasions. Under strict conservation guidelines to protect the 100-foot dunes in Doonbeg he sought to work around existing features on a minimum disturbance' philosophy. The Great White Shark also came up against a most unlikely foe. The site turned out to be a habitat of a rare species of snail, the Vertigo Angustior, so additional directives were issued to protect it.
After resolving various difficulties including access to the beach for locals the $25 million development is now in business. Plans include a 90-room hotel on site as well as holiday chalets in what Brendan Lynch of Shannon Development Tourism described as the most significant project to be developed in the West of Ireland over the last 25 years.
We knew going in there's always give-and-take, explains Shorter. If you don't plan with the environment in mind you won't be successful. We knew we had to work around the configuration of dunes but basically Greg routed the course around the 15th hole. When he saw the land there he thought it would be one of the greatest golfing holes in the world and wanted to work around that.