Although some of Trump International Golf Links Ireland is now in the sea, such as the original 14th, due to storms that ravaged this coast over the winter of 2013/14, it is also back on the map following a sticky period from which it is has now recovered with the benefit of Donald Trump’s dollars and Martin Hawtree’s architectural craft. The artist formerly known as Doonbeg was in its finery in 2008, and reduced to its birthday suit by the spring of 2014 when those storms had wreaked havoc.
The course has since been ‘renovated’ however by the Robin to Trump’s Batman, Martin Hawtree. He is the man everyone’s favourite American trusted to create Trump Aberdeen and who has had his ear ever since, and whilst Hawtree was in charge of renovating, the original Greg Norman routing is broadly maintained.
The changes are, in the main, subtle and in many cases hard to put your finger on, even for the studiously observant. That is all to Hawtree’s credit who has improved an already good layout by increasing the fun (short 4s aplenty) improving the views (a scalp here/a removed dune there) and removing the gimmicks (bunkers in the middle of greens – no thanks, Greg).
Expect to be under no doubt as to where you are. No one does branding better than Trump (all golf chain owners take note). Everything from the embossed gold bars in the pro shop, to the course furniture to, well, everything is a gentle, or not so gentle, reminder of whose property you are on. I think it is a good thing, it is telling me someone cares and reminding me I am somewhere special.
The golf experience is not dissimilar to Kingsbarns – it is a spectacular, fun layout, on an amazing piece of land. It gives a lot of chances, it flatters and it makes sure you have a good day. Risk-and-reward par 4s abound on the front nine.
We played from the Gold tees and at least three of the par 4s were drivable on a half which also offers three 5s and a pair of 3s – so even for the weak of mind or muscle only one hole leaves you fishing for anything more than a short iron for your approach. And that is a good thing. You are here for a good time, to enjoy the golf course, not be beaten up by it, and ideally to start planning your trip back as soon as possible.
The back half is much the same with only two of the par 4s over 400 yards, a couple of scoreable par 5s, and three short holes (two of which play downhill). The routing is very similar to that of Lahinch, its near neighbour. You broadly play out along the coastline, play an exceptional par 5 at the far end, and then head back largely on the inland side of the dune.
Doonbeg deals with this through clever angles and intelligent shaping. Your eye is drawn towards the dune system and away from the unspectacular farm land that flanks the course. The one failure is the 17th which takes you away from the dunes altogether and causes an odd route to the 18th tee as you are forced to track back across the 1st fairway.
Quietly, it is not quite the same as the other Irish dune-scape monsters. It is somehow subtler. The greens shed to friendly little hollows not inescapable pot bunkers, the dunes provide a backdrop and are not really part of the challenge, and the tees of the day give everyone a chance of a round that is under four hours and under handicap. Hear, hear to that.
People say the 1st hole and the 1st tee shot are as good as it gets. People are, for once, correct. A huge dune forms the backdrop to the green and provides a sense of theatre to this grandest of openers. The fairway is wide and a good tee shot and favourable wind mean many will have a chance to reach in two. In many ways it sums up Trump Ireland – it looks amazing, it appears impossible, but played well it will yield good scores and make you want to return.
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