By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
Scotland may have invented golf and Florida may have refined the golf community, but Ireland has defined the game.
About an hour’s drive from Shannon International Airport, through the famously green fields of the Emerald Isle, sitting on the Atlantic shores of County Claire, sits one of the arguably most beautiful golf resorts in the world. The Five Star Doonbeg Golf Resort stands out as you come across the narrow, supposedly two-lane road rambling past remnants of homes long since abandoned.
Much like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, Doonbeg is at once awe inspiring and awesome, its architecture giving it the appearance of an old Irish estate. But there is nothing “old” about this resort and no attention to any detail, no matter how miniscule, that has been overlooked. Rooms in the resort of all bright and cheery. Comfort is a given, but is accomplished by the meticulous concern of the entire staff.
Opened in 2002 it was almost immediately dubbed “The Best New International Course” by Golf Digest magazine, one of the game’s bibles. And last year it was cited as the European Golf Resort of the Year. There’s little doubt that the accolades will keep on coming. The links course rambles through the dunes and native grass of the sandy surface that reaches gently into the Atlantic Ocean; and what a water hazard that can be.
Designed by two-time British Open champ, Greg Norman, it has paid homage to nature by routing the course to the exiting terrain and has been called a “course designed by nature.” Of its greens, 14 required no change from the natural lay of the land. The same held true for 12 of the fairways. A par 72 with a single loop of nine holes out and nine back over 6,885 yards, every hole is different every day. In fact, it could change from minute to minute as the wind blowing in off the Atlantic causes variations in play.
Playing Doonbeg is somewhat akin to walking through dunes and sawgrass along the shoreline. This makes for an interesting game as you attempt to dope out the elevation of the area between yourself and the next hole. But as complicated as it may have been, no one came off the course complaining, no matter the score. And walking the course the care taken in its design is immediately apparent. Where some courses are flattened out and then rebuilt, Doonbeg pays true homage to nature taking into consideration every nuance of the natural lay of the land.
In fact, playing golf could easily become a step-child to walking and admiring the natural beauty of Doonbeg and the sounds of the ocean lapping the edge of the nearby beach. Food served at the clubhouse is world class and the view from the dining room windows is nothing short of spectacular. It even led to a game of sorts for a group of guests one night.
Someone commented that if you look hard enough as the sun dips below the horizon, there is a momentary flash of green when it disappears. While most others scoffed, another said he had not only heard that, but had tried to watch for it several times and failed to see the flash. The entire party sat, eyes glued to the horizon watching the setting sun. If you think that’s easy, try it some time.
The sun sank lower and lower, the upper edge just kissing the horizon and then, as it sank from sight, there was a distinct flash of green that lasted barely a heartbeat. But, no question, almost everyone saw it and proved the legend to be true. Ironically, what we failed to see back home, the green light was most certainly there on the Emerald Isle.
Golf and pampering are not the only activities available at Doonbeg. A short hop away is the Danganelly Riding School. Much like the Green Light, if you’ve ever gone riding back in the states, this is a new experience. Climbing onto an English saddle is like planting your butt on a flat piece of leather. Cars have sissy bars, Western saddles have a pommel (saddle horn) for the squeamish to grab on to. The English saddle has no such comfort. There is also no rise on the back to settle against. Remember, it’s simply a flat piece of leather strapped around a horse. Then they insist that you wear an equine crash helmet looking somewhat like a suede covered pot with no handle; not even the dignity of a cowboy hat.
But the ride makes up for it. Ireland’s countryside is arguably amongst the most beautiful in the world. The trek takes you through open land, past quaint farm houses, over peat bogs and onto very rural dirt roads. It is a ride to remember.
Not far from Doonbeg are the famed and spectacular Cliffs of Moher. A short distance further on is the ferry slip taking visitors to the beautiful Aran Islands. Our boat, The Happy Hooker, took us on a slow and relaxing voyage to Inis Mor (Innishmor), a piece of Ireland that time has truly forgotten. Visitors and residents alike traverse the island by horse drawn buggies that are out of an old John Wayne movie.
Fields have been divided by families over the generations by creating stone wall dividers; animals wander freely and the island is protected by the ghostly remnants of an old fort peering down on passersby from an island high point.
And among all this quaintness comes a blast of modern day. One of the drovers piloting a buggy passes by wearing a baseball cap with a New York Yankees emblem. Could have been worse. He might have had a Red Sox cap.
No visit to Ireland would be complete without visiting its famed pubs. Anyone who walks through the door of any of these establishments immediately becomes family. The friendliness of the Irish people is on display in how they interact flawlessly with guests, making no distinction between regulars and transients. Walk down the street and the music wafting from the pubs, the people singing and the overall feeling of warmth and hospitality are a signal that you must return…and do so soon.