Seldom has overseas investment in an indigenous gem been met with such a collective frisson of excitement as with the confirmation yesterday that Donald Trump had waved his oversized chequebook in the direction of Doonbeg, Co Clare.
Whatever people may think of Trump’s occasional business excesses, he is the straw that stirs the global golf resort industry. When the Trump Organization sets it crosshairs on a golf course investment, ‘The Donald’ has never been tardy in resourcing it to the full.
Hence the skittish anticipation in west Clare yesterday when staff at the Lodge at Doonbeg, whose numbers rise to 260 in high season, learned of Trump’s purchase and plans for the resort.
“Doonbeg is an already terrific property that we will make even better — it will soon be an unparalleled resort destination with the highest standards of luxury,” Trump boldly declared.
Nobody who has seen the $250m (€183m) rework Trump has undertaken since purchasing the famed Blue Monster at Doral in Florida can be left in any doubt that he will turn his largesse towards reconfiguring Doonbeg into an exclusive resort that delivers those “highest standards of luxury”.
The beauty is, Trump won’t have to upset the environmentalists to do so, a point acknowledged last night by Donald Trump Jr, who flies into Shannon today to meet the management at Doonbeg.
“Sometimes you purchase an asset and turn it into a trophy, like in Aberdeen,” he said. “Other times you get an ‘eight’ and make it a ‘twelve’; and then on those rare occasions, you find a gem.”
Doonbeg is the 16th addition to Trump’s impressive portfolio of golf resorts around the world, and one on which the organisation had its eye from the time in 2011 when Trump Jr visited.
He explained how things moved quickly in the past week, allowing them close the deal on a purchase last weekend for a reputed $15m (€11m).
“We got involved with the process less than 10 days ago and we did well against some stiff competition to come out on top,” he said.
“We spent a lot of sleepless nights getting up to speed on information that others had been working on for many months. But it’s a special place and we’re really excited to add it to our portfolio.
“It was a natural fit and we’ve already spoken today to the management team there. They are very excited, as they’ve been in something of a limbo for the past few months. We obviously bring a solid pedigree which should provide a lot of comfort for the staff there.”
Trump Jr and his brother Eric will today begin the process of outlining the changes they believe will add to Doonbeg’s lustre. The golf course will certainly be targeted, as will the construction of a permanent building to cater for the 40 or so weddings Doonbeg hosts each year. At the moment, a temporary marquee close to the first fairway provides an inadequate home for such events.
The sale to Trump embraces the five-star Lodge hotel and golf course, plus seven unsold suites. Existing property owners will retain all rights under the terms of any sale agreement.
Ernst & Young was sufficiently confident last month to declare its intention to bring about a rapid sale. Management at the resort were also aware that monied investors were hovering.
“We bring a very strong balance sheet,” Trump Jr said, “so Ernst & Young would have realised that if we were going to announce our intention to bid, we were going to close if successful.
“This is our 16th golf course in an ever widening portfolio, and we have shown with our $250m refurbishment at Doral that there is no one investing in golf at the level we are — that is not so much the Trump Organization saying that as the industry itself.”
In Tubridy’s bar in the village last night, the toasts were loud and the endorsements unanimous.
“The golf club has made an awful difference to Doonbeg. The spin-off has been fantastic,” said owner Tommy Tubridy.
“There are a lot of locals working there. It’s very good for jobs and very good for the area because the resort is the biggest tourism employer in west Clare. There are Doonbeg footballers working at the club so it is great for local football and teams to keep them in the parish with this purchase.”
And if Doonbeg had continued under the cloud of receivership? “Devastating for the area,” Tubridy replied.
No such worries, according to Luke Charleton of Ernst & Young: “There was a tremendous level of interest from domestic and international investors in this property. It is particularly pleasing to have sold this prestigious property to the Trump Organization who have the vision and resources to take what is an internationally renowned tourism resort to its next stage.”
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