TRUMP INTERNATIONAL - DOONBEG
Sometimes I build up a golf course so much in my mind that when I actually get to play it, it just doesn't quite hit the mark. But sometimes I turn up at a course with no expectation of anything special and leave with a great big grin on my face. Doonbeg is definitely in the latter camp.
I had read a few articles before arriving which talked about the compromises that Greg Norman had to make when designing the course (snails seemed to play a large part in the story) and how the course paled in comparison with its illustrious neighbours, Ballybunion and Lahinch. As a result, when we arrived at the clubhouse, my expectations were fairly low.
The setting is great and Doonbeg has some spectacular holes on the water which will stick in the mind for a long time. There is great variety in the holes, including short par 4s, par 3s ranging from short to long, mixed up with reachable par 5s and certain three shotters. This variety really keeps you entertained all the way round.
There has been a lot of work done on the course, including a redesign by Martin Hawtree following a storm which literally washed some of the course away. The course has a very natural look and feel to it with some great bunkering and creative greens. Some of the routing feels a bit awkward (you cross the 1st fairway to move from the 17th green to the 18th tee for example) but it doesn't really cause too much hassle.
The great thing about Doonbeg for me was how playable it was. This is resort golf and to make that work they need to be able to get players of varying quality around, in a reasonable time, without feeling ridiculously beaten up. That means that the course is pretty wide from most tees (even when it looks a little tight you will often find large bail-out areas hidden behind mounds) which means you won't spend too long looking for balls.
There are a couple of quibbles which probably hold it back from being one of the very best courses. Firstly, the greens were incredibly slow when we were there. You just couldn't get the ball to a hole. This apparently wasn't a one-off, the greens are all new in and they haven't got them rolling as they would like yet. I imagine they will one day, the owner doesn't seem the type to accept anything short of brilliance! The other thing is that some of the holes away from the dunes, by the fields, are a bit average. Having said that, a little average amongst such splendour isn't the end of the world.
The resort itself is great. There seems to be a little ambiguity about what it is called and the staff were a little vague about whether it was 'Doonbeg' or 'Trump International Ireland', but the service was of a high standard.
No folksy charm here, rather excellent food (maybe the best black cod I have had on a golf course...) and staff who will do whatever it takes to ensure you have a great day.
BOOKING THE COURSE
You can book directly through Trump International here. At the peak, in summer, tee times are 190 Euros but there are twilight deals and off-season offers. Compared to some of the Scottish courses - I'm thinking Kingsbarns in particular - this is reasonably priced. The only quibble we had was the green speeds and hopefully they will get those rolling before too long. It is also well worth keeping an eye on their Twitter feed as they have same great off-peak offers on there. 50 Euros for a round earlier this year would be hard to beat!
You can stay onsite at Doonbeg but for some that may be one Euro too many to pass on to the 'leader of the free world'. Instead, consider nearby Kilkee which is a classic Irish seaside town. We ate well in the Punjab restaurant and drank equally well at too many hostelries to mention. The welcome we got was warm wherever we went. If you get chatting to a local in the bar you can get into a conversation about the merits of golf course A over B very quickly - they love their golf in these parts!
There are many wonderful courses in Ireland bu,t compared to Scotland, you have to travel a little more. Doonbeg is only half an hour from Lahinch which was a truly excellent course and it would be criminal to come here and not play it.
Ballybunion is a couple of hours drive away and should be played once. It was a good track but tougher than the user-friendly experience you'll get at Doonbeg.
Whatever your politics, it would be hard to argue that President Trump doesn't know how to set up a golf course - he's done a great job here.
Trump International Ireland
Tel: +353 65 905 5600