Tuesday, February 25

Is Trump's Doonbeg Acquisition Good for Irish Golf?

By Kevin Markham

Copyright © Kevin Markham. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The 9th green at Doonbeg. (Kevin Markham)
THERE IS ONLY ONE THING that interests me in the whole media mêlée surrounding Donald Trump's purchase of Doonbeg:

Is it good for Irish golf?

It's good for Trump, no question. An estimated €15 million purchase must be the bargain of the year compared with the €110 million he spent constructing just the Scottish course in Aberdeen.

Everyone is falling over themselves to say how wonderful it is to have Trump saving Doonbeg, saving/creating jobs, investing millions, creating a world class resort, instigating world peace and saving mankind. Trump is saying pretty much the same thing; he's not shy or modest. But then you don't get to be as powerful and rich as him without stepping on toes and charging around like a bull in a china shop.

Love Me, Hate Me But Don't Ignore Me

Trump is a difficult man to ignore. He's rich and he loves the game of golf. Thanks to his 15 (now 16) golf courses and his 10 (now 11) hotels, Trump is a major force in world golf.

Trump is a difficult man to like. After his antics in Scotland and a subsequent quote that recently appeared in the Irish Times: ("Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland, like Pan Am 103"), he comes across as brash, arrogant and insensitive. But that's Donald for you. (Dear Donald, Pan Am 103 killed 270 people.)

Back to my original question. Is Doonbeg falling into Trump's hands good or not for Irish golf?

Let's start with Doonbeg itself.

Here is a luxury five star resort with a world-renowned golf course designed by Greg Norman. It has received numerous awards from organisations around the globe. It is aspirational, it is exclusive and it is very much aimed at the highest end of the golfing market.

Green fees were in the order of €210 in the boom times (now €60 to €175) and the audience was heavily American. This is unlikely to change now that Trump is involved. If anything, it will become more exclusive. All of his resorts focus on the rich section of society and since the majority of his market is in the United States, that's the audience he will be appealing to most. As an example, the green fee to play the newly revamped Doral Blue Monster course in Miami is $450.

In other words, the humble Irish golfer who found Doonbeg to be beyond his or her reach since it opened in 2001 will see the revitalised resort stretch even further beyond their grasp.

Is that good for Irish golf?

No, but it's no different to before. The resort will always have the tag 'luxury' stamped on it.

Irish Golf: A Bigger Picture

The 18th heads to the lodge.
(Kevin Markham)
The Lodge at Doonbeg was a major attraction for overseas golfers looking to play Ireland's most famous courses. Stay at The Lodge and then visit Lahinch, Ballybunion, Adare and Waterville. Many would travel by helicopter (Doonbeg has its own helipad) and go on to play Old Head of Kinsale or travel further to the north or east.

Trump intends to invest in the resort and make it even more luxurious. It will be interesting to see what his plans are. Will he extend the hotel, upgrade the lodges on site, build new lodges or something as extravagant as he planned in Aberdeen, introduce new amenities (pool, dedicated spa, Irish theme pub) or look for ways to build a second course?

Donald doesn't like hearing no for an answer so the resort will grow, whatever the planners/councils/politicians have to say.

Is that good for Irish golf?

Possibly. It might mean there's more accommodation for increased numbers of wealthy visitors, which would mean higher income for the local economy and other golf clubs on the bucket list. But it's still not very different to before.

What's in a Name?

Trump's current empire and 'modest' approach to business will mean that Doonbeg—or Trump International Golf Links, Ireland as it will be called—will undoubtedly get massive attention in certain niches within the American golfing market. And not just America: Trump is a global brand.

The name. Will the Trump International Golf Links, Ireland name be a positive or a negative?

The answer is both.

It will be instantly recognisable and will mean a certain standard of luxury and quality. With his existing portfolio of golf courses and hotels, his business interests and his flamboyance, there will be a major push to promote this new addition to the family. But Donald Trump is a divisive figure and his name will repel people, too.

Is that good for Irish golf?

Only time will tell, but it's likely to attract more people than it repels.


Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland and writes about Irish golf courses and related topics at his blog.

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