Appeared in March 2003 LINKS
An hour west of Shannon, where County Clare meets the Atlantic Ocean, there is a sweep of Irish duneland that follows the graceful arc of Doughmore Bay. Here, the waves spend themselves on dusky sand, the wind wraps itself around the dunes and the sun streams through speeding clouds. It is a provocative landscape, fulfilling in its beauty and purely Irish. There is magic here and it has a simple name: Doonbeg.
From the first morning Buddy Darby walked this land, he knew there was greatness in it.
From the first day Greg Norman roamed these sand hills, he knew that greatness could be fulfilled.
For Darby Doonbeg Golf Club was a business proposition that became a personal quest. For Norman it was a design opportunity that became a life adventure. For the golfer, it is a mind-etching walk through the truest of linksland.
The dunes contain some of the most spectacular holes in golf. The 1st hole is a glorious opener, one that tells you virtually all you need to know about Doonbeg. It’s a par-5 with the tee high on a mound overlooking the Atlantic to the west and the sod ditches and farmsteads of County Clare to the east.
Norman says 14 of the green sites at Doonbeg are natural, including the putting surface at No. 1. This green sits in a pocket in the dunes, an amphitheater where Scene One of the Doonbeg drama plays out. From there the course shifts onto some farmland hugging the dune perimeter before ducking back into the sand hills for the par-4 5th, with its green perched above the beach. The 6th is a short par-4 wholly walled within the dunes.
There are many other interesting touches along the way, like the farm wall on the right side of the 3rd hole, another wall that encroaches on the 4th green and a third down the left side of No. 10. The par-3 11th is guarded by a 15-foot-deep sod wall bunker, cavernous enough to swallow a day’s worth of foursomes. The back tee for the 4th hole plays over the third green. The back tee at the 6th plays over the 13th. There is something completely natural, even lyrical about it all.
It is at No. 13, though, where the course begins a remarkable run. This shortish par 5 opens with a blind tee shot over a crest. The long and narrow green sits atop a ridge with a minefield of exposed sand bunkers and nearly impenetrable marram grass. The 14th is surely one of the best short par 3s in the world. It measures little more than 100 yards from the back tee, though Norman once hit a 5-iron to it in a gale. The green is a shelf hanging off a dune with the ocean as backdrop. It’s very much an island green in the sense that a shot missing it will end up in gnarly grasses well below the putting surface and may be unplayable—even unfindable.
You could stand and admire the 15th hole all day. This long par 4 plays from a tee high in the dunes to a green crouched in a dune pocket. It is another natural green site with considerable undulation. Although the fairway is wide, the cleanest approach is from the left side—but don't stray too far or you'll find the tall grasses once again.
It’s a sporty, ring-the-cowbell kind of routing. To reach the 15th tee, a player must walk across the 5th fairway. Likewise, the stroll from the 17th green to the 18th tee takes you across the 1st fairway and up to the final, daunting tee shot. The par-4 18th requires a blind drive over a dune and clear of the beach, which runs along the entire right side of the hole. The approach shot here has to avoid deep bunkers to the left and the beach to the right, and find a suitable spot on a crowned green that will exact its share of three- and four-putts.