In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris writes about the importance of golf tourism to Ireland.
Golf tourism is a premium, niche business. Irish golf is a world-renowned brand. Golf is an excellent way to showcase our country.
Just because golf may be perceived to have gone slightly out of fashion does not mean that its continuing value to the economy should be overlooked. Too many visitors say Ireland is an amazing country to visit and an amazing place to play golf for it to be undervalued.
It’s about time that those who thrive on negativity were made aware that the so-called, endangered snails at Doonbeg have increased tenfold since golf arrived in Doughmore Bay and the same snails have ‘survived’ at Lahinch where golf has been going on for well over 100-years.
There has also been a certain amount of rubbish published in Ireland’s national newspapers. The Examiner, for one, has misrepresented the true situation, stating that Clare County Council and Trump International are at loggerheads over how to deal with storm damage to its links at Doonbeg when, in fact, they are trying to reach an agreed and amicable course of action.
The Clare Council is fully aware of what would have happened if Ballybunion Golf Club had not invested heavily to save its links from erosion in the late 1970s.
Irreplaceable dunes would have collapsed into the sea; livelihoods (not to mind golf holes) would have been lost and many less golf tourists would have come to Ireland.
Enormous damage was done to the Doonbeg links in January and February. Naturally, Trump moved quickly to protect his newly acquired property. He immediately brought in stone similar to what was used at Ballybunion.
The Council intervened and asked him not to use the stones because in their opinion “it might not be the correct way to tackle the problem IN THE LONG RUN.”
Trump agreed to take the long view and did not proceed with this method of protecting his coastal boundary - for the moment. Since then, Trump and the Council have been working together to reach a solution. Both parties know there is a lot at stake if the inevitable Atlantic storms are not kept at bay.
Clare County Council is acutely aware it does not have the money to deal with the problem and neither does national government. It is also ‘under orders’ to bend over backwards to facilitate the creation and retention of jobs.
Consequently, Clare Council is making every effort to help. Trump is not a fool. He is willing to wait before spending a large chunk of his own money. When people behave sensibly and are not at each other’s throats there is no story.
If Trump International is allowed to build proper defenses why should the environmentalists complain? It would save the precious dunes, not to mention the snails, from being obliterated as well as protecting badly needed jobs for Clare people in the process.
It’s an understatement to say that Greg Norman was thwarted by the self-proclaimed, protectors of a microscopic snail that has lived among the sand dunes along the west coast for thousands of years.
We are not talking about an endangered species. This particular snail is hardly at risk at all because it is found elsewhere. And yet, Norman was prevented from building a golf course that would have protected both the dunes and snails.
Environmentalists stubbornly refused to recognize that a golf course spread over 120-acres, requires only 35-acres for its greens, fairways, rough and tees. The birds, bees, insects and snails are ‘allowed’ to have the rest.
Trump International has shown its long-term commitment by appointing the R & A’s course designer, Martin Hawtree, to do a study on the current routing with a view to advising on how best to enhance the existing holes or redesign them as a completely new links?
Hawtree was also the man that nearby Lahinch Golf Club selected when they embarked on their major course re-do in 1999.
Reluctance to put his own money where his mouth is - isn’t one of Donald Trump’s perceived faults; nor is any lack of imagination and vision. Imagination and vision exploited profitably are qualities that Ireland badly needs.
In spite of our economic woes, golf tourism is doing okay. It is one area where the first green shoots of recovery were seen in our devastated economy.
Ireland needs to re-launch a goal-focused, dedicated strategy for increasing the value of golf tourism because it is a feasible and lucrative target, especially as green fees and accommodation costs will remain favorable for some time to come. Donald Trump has the potential to become one of the most effective super-salesmen Ireland ever had. He knows how to press buttons and get things done.
Ireland and the Midwest could gain hugely if he is given his head and allowed to spend his millions protecting and developing Doonbeg in a manner that the previous owners were denied.