Norman imagined a landscape of unparalleled beauty, untouched by the influence of man. He desired a land of innocence to be molded by a vision. He willed to create a testimony to the game of golf and so the golf links of Doonbeg was born.
And now, Irelands newest gem is being hailed as the best in the countrys southwest region, and is sure to receive its fair share of international attention.
This is a course I want to be identified with, Norman said. One that I will be able to say with great pride, I did this one.
Nestled between Ballybunion and Lahinch, the Doonbeg Golf Club, which opened in July under the direction of the Kiawah Development Partners, encircles almost two miles of a beautiful crescent-shaped beach along the Atlantic Ocean.
In keeping with Normans laissez-faire principals and least disturbance philosophy, the bellow of the bulldozers was rarely heard in the tranquil setting. The result was a course with fairways that follow the natural lie of the land and a landscape defined by the ocean and given character by Mother Nature herself, witnessed first hand in the dozens of nearly 100 feet marram-grass dunes that are sprinkled throughout the 6,885 yard layout.
I'm not sure I've ever trespassed across a course that begins and ends with such memorable holes as those at Doonbeg, wrote Sports Illustrateds Alan Shipnuck of the opening test and the marvelous dogleg 18th.
Of course, a visit to southwest Ireland would not be complete with just a stop in at Doonbeg, regardless of its burgeoning reputation. The Cliffs of Moher to the north of Doonbeg rise some 700 feet above the Ocean and on a clear day, the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay as are the valleys and hills of Connemara.
These wonders of nature define the beauty and ruggedness of the landscape. While nature has created the raw materials, man has refined much of these to his liking. Indeed the historic Drumoland Castle exemplifies this. Dating back to the 16th century this castle-turned-five star hotel will exceed all expectations. Located in Co. Clare just 8 miles from Shannon Airport, Drumoland Castle offers the comforts of today draped in centuries old charm.
Even further south is the picturesque seaside town of Kinsale, home to the Old Head of Kinsale Golf course that opened to much acclaim in 1997. The course unfolds atop a 220-acre rocky promontory that juts out from the Irish coastline in to the insatiable jaws of the Atlantic.
While many are comparing the spectacular terrain of Old Head to that of Cypress Point and Pebble Beach, the landscape and views are if anything even more impressive. While as many as nine holes bring the 300 feet cliff faces into play, the entire performance is played out to the backdrop of a 19th century lighthouse.
Ireland is a country well versed in the vagaries of weather patterns and no where is this better represented than on the links of Old Head. As the promontory strikes a blow for opposing the natural forces of the ocean it is met with coarse Atlantic winds and rolling fog that add to the challenge and suspense for the golfer.
Picking a signature hole at the 6,650-yard par-72 is an exercise in futility, as each hole presents dramatic views and new challenges. However, the 17th, where history, nature and the elements fuse to excite and defy in equal measure, may rise above the rest.
The 628-yard par 5 appears to begin in the lighthouse and sends golfers through a magnetic fairway and ends with a downhill approach into a virtual black hole.
And the narrow track is as historic as it is magnificent. The hallowed spit of land is a registered national monument and an ancient royal site. The earliest settlers predate Christ and were known as the Eranian Celctic tribe.
While history continued to be played out in the area with Anglo-Norman invasion beginning in 1169, ushering in a long period of Norman occupation. Remnants of castles, stone circles, churches and dwellings built on this site by monks during medieval times are visible throughout the course.
The town of Kinsale, much like the golf course, is a happy melody of old world charm and contemporary comforts. Regarded as the gourmet capital of Ireland, Kinsale has many fine restaurants stocked with fresh seafood and other local creations.
Of course, no trip to Ireland would be considered a success without first stopping to enjoy a mug of Guinness, the countrys national treasure, at a local pub.
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