This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS.
DOONBEG has some of the most impressive dunes you’ve ever seen, making for natural green sites, so that’s really where it all began. With No. 1, I started with a setting at the base of a massive dune and worked my way backwards. I knew where the clubhouse was going to be. It was just the perfect length par five. It’s as simple as that.
The fairway is exactly how Mother Nature put it there: just about every hump, every hollow, every roll. We just mowed down the marram grass, same with the green, although we did contour it for water runoff. About the only design element I created was the little pot bunker about 45 yards from the green, but all the other bunkers are sheep and cattle blowouts. The interesting thing about that pot bunker is that it gathers a ball about 20 to 25 yards away. It looks tiny but I created a magnet effect with the ground contours, so you’ve got to be very careful on your layup. I also had to rebuild the dune a couple hundreds yards from the green on the left. It was a dumpsite full of old tractor carcasses, trash, and railway ties, so we went in there with the environmentalist and cleared out all the junk and then we restored that dune for about 80 to 100 yards and built it back to the exact most natural way it was.
With the prevailing wind off the ocean at 9 o’clock, the strategy on the tee shot is to shape it from right to left into the wider area just beyond a pot bunker and grassy mounds, which are about a 275-yard carry from the back tee. You can chase it down there and hit a low drawing shot and the ball will run forever. The other option is to lay up short of the bunker. What I love about this hole is that you can do whatever you want to do off the tee for the first shot of the day.
If you go for the green in two, you’ve got to avoid the pot bunker and have a pretty good scooter going because the green is a little elevated. The key is to keep the approach a little right to avoid all the bunkers on the left and because the ball will kick pretty good to the left.
I did about 28 routings on this course, but this green site never changed in any of them. Mother Nature built that hole; we just identified it.
The two-time British Open champ didn’t have to do much to the 567-yard 1st at Doonbeg, which is just how he likes it