Doonbeg Golf Club, located in Ireland’s County Clare // © 2010 Doonbeg Golf Club
If you leaf through golf magazines, you will come across glossy photos of wild-looking, wind-swept golf courses set among rolling green dunes, with wide-open, gently sloping fairways edged by deep rough — where the course seems to have been carved out of the existing landscape by nothing more than a standard riding mower.
These photos call to golfers and make them travel to faraway locales, usually Scotland or Ireland, in order to play the game the way it was meant to be played in the beginning of the sport. It’s one of those experiences that all golfers, if they are very lucky, look forward to crossing off their golf bucket list.
On a recent trip to Ireland, I had the opportunity to play one of the best of these classic links-style courses — perhaps not as old as those in Scotland, but as dramatic as anything I could have imagined.
Supposedly, the location of Doonbeg Golf Club, located in Ireland’s County Clare, was identified as an ideal spot for a course as early as 1892 by the founding fathers of Ireland’s legendary Lahinch golf course. It took 100 years or so but, eventually, the Greg Norman-designed course and lodge was built among the rolling seaside dunes on the edge of the Atlantic.
It was cold and windy the day I played, with a rain that was sometimes a drizzle and sometimes a steady shower. Despite the conditions, with a set of rented TaylorMade clubs in hand, I tackled the 18-hole, 6,911-yard (from the blue tees) course on foot, the way most of the golfers there do (although carts are available).
I managed to calm the excitement of playing such a beautiful course and had a decent start to the round, but I couldn’t focus on my game for long and, instead, caught myself staring out at the wide-open beach and stormy gray sea, struck by the majesty of the setting.
Walking through the heather-lined dunes turned out to be exciting and just a little bit confusing. I played without a caddie and, once, I took a wrong turn and had to double back to find the correct tee box.
“Remember, lad, it’s a mile and a half out along the coast, turn around and come a mile and a half back,” a groundskeeper told me with a twinkle in his eyes.
Despite a few hills and some creative cart paths that actually cross across other fairways, the course was a delight. At the snack stand after the eighth hole, I bought a ham and cheese sandwich on homemade Irish soda bread and a cup of coffee and sat for a moment in one of the small, wooden weather shelters built into the dunes throughout the course. The sun came out briefly, and it felt like I was having a picnic in the Irish countryside, instead of doing something as silly as chasing a little white ball around.
After the round, I cleaned up in the well-equipped locker room before finding a spot next to the fire in the pub upstairs. With a Guinness and a bowl of fish chowder, I replayed my round in my head. Maybe not the best I have ever played, but that hardly seemed to matter.