The Atlantic is thrashing about in the blackness, and I’m winding through Doonbeg Golf Course with my high beams on, trying to figure out which of the pearly orange lights are my home for the night, and which are mischievous jack-o-lanterns, intent on seducing me onto the windswept fairways.
I’m smiling, though. I’m smiling because nights like these make the cosiness and the end of the road all the more appealing. Pulling under an archway strewn with fairy-lights, I drive through the temporary chalets of a Christmas village, and pull up outside a stone lodge. A turf fire beckons behind glass doors. It feels like the beginning of a short story.
I’m probably not the first to marvel at the fact that the Lodge at Doonbeg is just six years old. The place has the air of a restored country manor, its courtyard suites could have been stables in a former life, there are French limestone floors and framed antique maps, and the wainscoting looks like it could have been reclaimed from Grace O’Malley’s galleon.
Of course, mock-heritage runs a terrible risk of being cheesy. But the attention to detail shown by Doonbeg’s American owners pays off handsomely. It may not ooze atmosphere like Mount Falcon or Ballynahinch Castle, and I wouldn’t personally choose to display branded polo shirts and Aran sweaters in a cabinet owned by Napoleon, but it all feels classy, and complete.
The menu at Darby’s Bar is reassuringly heavy on local suppliers. My starter, for example, blends lovely, waxy strips of Burren Smoked Salmon with mixed leaves and a surprisingly good combination of tart capers, a gooey poached egg and cream cheese.
The bar is polished without being naff. A vaulted ceiling, thick wooden beams, antique golf clubs and a stonking view over the links make for quite the 19th hole — so much so that Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish recently sang here for three nights running.
Rucker is just one of the celebs associated with the place. Andrea Corr got married here, Terry Wogan, George Mitchell and Dan Marino sit on the advisory board, and Jodie Kidd recently described the course as “tough but beautiful”. Since when did golf get sexy?
Speaking of golf, Doonbeg’s links course needs little introduction. Threaded along 1.5 miles of beach, sand dunes and native grasses on the west coast, it has a huge profile overseas. In the clubhouse, a framed photo features Greg Norman gazing out over the untamed wilderness in jeans and a red baseball cap. He designed the course, which opened before the Lodge in 2002.
Having an illustrious golf course on your doorstep, of course, can be both a blessing and a curse. Doonbeg’s marketing team is eager to get the message across that there’s much more to the place than a luxury links — non-golfers like me can enjoy a fully-equipped spa, fly-fishing in stocked lakes, and there are several kids’ playgrounds.
Even in winter, there’s no shortage of things to do in west Clare. The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher are the big hits, but surfing can also be arranged in the peelers at Doonbeg beach, and there are courtesy shuttles to the village if you fancy a night in the pub. Elsewhere, the freshly-battered fish and handcut chips at Naughton’s are worth the drive to Kilkee, there’s surprisingly good shopping in Ennis, and the Aran Islands make for a wild winter day trip from Doolin.
Post-Christmas breaks, bundling two nights’ B&B and one dinner in Darby’s Bar are on offer from December 26 to 29 from €189pp. Contact 065-9055602; doonbeglodge.com.
205 rooms are hidden away within 47 suites and a couple of dozen one-, two- and three-bed cottages at Doonbeg. The suites range from three-beds overlooking the Atlantic to courtyard suites with farmland views, and the self-catering sits further out on the links course.
I stay in Suite 13, a two-bed ocean-view spilling over with reclaimed woods, antiques, fashionably distressed modern pieces, brass light switches, coffee table books and a fireplace that — were it not for the gas pilot light — you could imagine airlifted from Wuthering Heights. The spec is outstanding, like the pages of a luxe interiors magazine come to life.
After a night snuggled up under a fat goose-down quilt, I wake to views of the frothy Atlantic surf. In the bathroom, a set of specially-made Burren Perfumery soaps and lotions is laid out on the dresser. A walk-in rainshower throws out enough water to top up a lake.
I’m sceptical of splash-out resorts built in the nasty noughties. Many are testament not to the good and gracious side of Irish hospitality, but to our embarrassing tendency to gorge when the going is good, prioritising quick profits over thoughtful pedigree.
The Lodge at Doonbeg gets it right, however. Yes, it’s a Celtic Tiger creation. But the mix of creature comforts (plasma TVs, leak-proof windows etc) and simulated heritage has enough panache not to feel bogus, and you don’t have to hit a golf ball to enjoy it.