Close to the village of Doonbeg, out on the water’s edge, in the scenic county of Clare, sits one of Europe’s most distinguished five-star golf and resort destinations – with an added attraction since November, as it’s owned by the now president of the United States Donald Trump.
Trump International Golf Links Ireland offers travelers unique accommodations, fine amenities and a chance to play a world renowned championship links golf course. Visitors to Trump Doonbeg will enjoy luxury accommodations set against a magnificent backdrop of rugged landscape, rolling waves and sand dunes with thousands of years of stories buried within them.
On a blustery day in August, I was thrilled to play Trump Doonbeg’s par 72, redesigned course with longtime resident head golf professional Brian Shaw, who hails from Dublin. My thanks must first be given to him for his patience with my vastly inferior golf and for his very enjoyable company around this beautiful, challenging course.
The opening par five affords a stunning view from the tee box to the green which has the appearance of a natural amphitheater with the massive, five story high sand dunes behind it. To the left of the fairway is the Atlantic Ocean where the prevailing winds were thankfully helping us that day.
That set the tone for the remainder of the round where every hole had some spectacular element to it. This truly is a very unique golf location that includes four holes along the shore, one of which includes the redesigned, spectacular signature 14th, par three.
During our round and in between getting Shaw’s advice on navigating the hazards, we discussed the history of the course and the recent design changes.
Originally designed by two-time British Open champion Greg Norman, the golf course spans 1.5 miles of crescent shaped beach and century old sand dunes along Doughmore Bay. The course was officially opened in 2002 and immediately earned the prestigious title of Golf Digest’s Best New International Course.
In February 2014 the course was purchased by Donald Trump and renamed Trump International Golf Links Ireland. Since then the course has been transformed by architect Dr. Martin Hawtree to one of the “must play” golf courses on the international circuit. He has allowed the character and soul of the land to flourish while enhancing the playability tenfold.
I also spoke with course superintendent Scott Marr, a Scotsman who previously worked at another Trump course in Aberdeen, Scotland as well as an impressive list of other famous golf courses worldwide.
Trump Doonbeg was damaged by bad winter storms in 2014, and some of the redesign was done to minimize further storm damage in the future. We discussed the improvements made to the course and the overall positive feedback from players and the press.
All 18 greens have been reshaped, allowing numerous pin positions. The surfaces now have a mix of fescue and bent grasses which give a much smoother putting experience. Four holes along the shore had significant changes, including moving the fifth green further inland to protect it from the elements.
“All the tee boxes have been rebuilt and placed in a manner that suits the playability of the hole,” Marr says.
Several tees have been added to increase the overall yardage of the course. Some of the new tees have the added advantage of magnificent views across the Atlantic and the coastline of Clare.
The gravel pathways have been eliminated and replaced by rye grass. The routing of these new paths has been altered to provide a better flow and a much easier walk. Rye is a tougher strand of grass which will withstand heavier traffic and give a thicker base.
An extensive mounding program was undertaken during the redesign period to define and individualize the holes. It was also needed to shape and “turn” the holes in the correct direction.
An important part of Hawtree’s brief was to eliminate the crossings and blind shots where possible. The hills restricting the view on holes two and 13 were carved out to open up the fairway and give the golfers an understanding of what is before them. The new pathways have abolished most of the crossings to provide a safe passage for all.
The driving range has been completely resurfaced and new target greens have been built. A wonderful new pitching and putting area was also created. Marr and his team have undertaken an agronomy program that rivals the best in the world.
The nursery behind the 11th tee is currently being grown in with the various grasses needed to patch worn or tired areas and keep the course looking pristine. The overall yardage has increased from 6,911 to 7,052 from the back tees.
With the constant Atlantic winds buffering the course, this added length will test all levels of golfers. Some of the restoration work is dramatic, but the majority is subtle and fair.
After our round, it was time to retire to the beautiful and imposing clubhouse with two oceanfront dining rooms, each offering equally stunning vistas across the wild Atlantic Ocean. Whether you visit the informal Trump’s Bar & Restaurant or the Ocean View restaurant, the food is top class.
Later on, we availed of the resort shuttle bus to visit a local pub in the town of Doonbeg a short distance away and were glad at the end of the night to be able to call Trump Doonbeg our home, at least for one night.
The standard of accommodation at Trump Doonbeg offers a distinct departure from traditional hotel offerings. Choose between an ocean view suite or a self-catering cottage.
All of the accommodations -- each different from the next – are meticulously designed with hand-selected antiques and reclaimed wooden beams. Every room and suite enjoys its own individual personality and style, each tailored to fit modern demands for comfort in an understated yet luxurious manner.
Countless attractions are only slightly further afield, from the ancient villages dotted along the coastline to the epic Cliffs of Moher and the vast beauty of the Burren. Trump Doonbeg can organize for guests guided tours of the area.
The next morning, after a spectacular breakfast in the dining room, we soaked in the Atlantic Ocean vistas for one last time. As we drove out under the main arch and with the resort disappearing in our rear view mirror, we resolved to come back here again soon and grab another slice of golf heaven.