On the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic, work is under way on what is being described as probably the last ever natural links course to be developed in the world. Doonbeg Golf Club, in County Clare, is the creation of a consortium of two major American-based leisure developers – Kiawah Development Partners Inc. and Landmark National.
Their previous partnership produced the famed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup. Two-times Open Champion Greg Norman rounds off the team as Doonbeg’s course architect. In addition to the golf club, the consortium plans to start construction next year of a hotel and even a little village in the remote area.
Every part of the 18-hole championship course complements its natural, and very wild, surroundings. There has been very little digging or excavation; every green follows the natural lie of the undulating land, and just a precision cut of the long grass has created the fairways. It is an environmentally sensitive area and some parts of the property – particularly those within the permanently protected dunes – have been identified as the natural habitat of a minuscule and very rare snail which lives in the top three inches of soil. This means no excavation, pesticides or chemicals in these areas.
When work on Doonbeg started in May 2000, ex-Wentworth deputy head greenkeeper Jim McKenna was taken on as course superintendent. He had the task of choosing the turf maintenance equipment and Toro won a £250,000 exclusive supplier contract for Doonbeg’s mowing and aeration equipment.
Although he is a seasoned Toro user – and Landmark National is a major account holder with Toro in the States – Jim said that the selection process was tough.
“We approached three manufacturers and carried out a thorough evaluation of each fleet over a two-month period,” he said. “Specifically we were looking for quality of cut, versatility and ability to cope with the bumpy, hilly terrain. Toro performed best overall.
“What particularly impressed me were the Greensmaster 1000 and 1600 pedestrian mowers. Because our greens are so undulating we can only cut them with pedestrians, and these mowers coped well and produced excellent results. At Wentworth we really put these machines through their paces during tournaments and they always lasted the course.
“What really decided me on Toro was the Sidewinder,” he continued. “Its shifting cutting units are ideal for trimming safely round the course bunkers and dunes. There really is nothing else like it on the market.”
The deal has involved close co-operation between Toro’s European sales team, distributors Lely Ireland and Lely UK, plus local Toro dealer Adare Machinery, which supplies the equipment as well as back-up and service.
“I am delighted to be using Toro at Doonbeg,” Jim said. “I believe they have the best turf machinery available and the standard of support and service from Toro and its local dealers has always been excellent.”
The course is scheduled for completion in 2001, when it will be available for limited play in August and September. The official opening is planned for 2002.