Proposed Bushmills Dunes Resort in Northern Ireland faces one more obstacle

By Brandon TuckerJuly 6, 2012, 9:05 pm

PORTRUSH, Co. Antrim -- The captain of Bushfoot Golf Club, Paul Pentland's eyes light up when showing me the future site of Bushmills Dunes, located just across a small river from his little nine-hole club on the northern coast of Antrim.

'It's the greatest thing that could happen to the area,' said Pentland. His feelings aren't alone. Residents and members at golf clubs throughout County Antrim are excited at the prospect of the proposed golf resort.

Located between the natural wonder of Giant's Causeway and the town of Portrush, Bushmills Dunes, developed by Northern Ireland-born businessman Alistair Hanna, will feature an 18-hole pure links course (the first new links to come to Ireland in over 100 years) a 125-room hotel, conference center and spa. The entire capacity of the 100 million-pound development will be 295-300 rooms and is expected to bring 360 direct jobs to the county.

Hanna and his team have spent 19 years on the project thus far without putting a shovel in the ground. That's the amount of time it's taken to both acquire the land and conduct numerous feasibility and environmental studies. Their due diligence widely appeased country officials, and in February, Northern Ireland's Environment Minister Alex Atwood gave the project the green light. But the support was not enough to satisfy the United Kingdom's National Trust, who in June, announced it's intentions to apply for judicial review of the development. Among the concerns expressed by the National Trust is the resort's environmental impact, as well as the suggestion that building the resort so close to Giant's Causeway could cause UNESCO to reconsider the natural wonder's status as a National Heritage Site.

The decision by the Trust to oppose Bushmills Dunes has most of Ireland's tourism industry in disbelief. Darren Clarke, who lives County Antrim and is a member at Bushfoot, expressed his displeasure with the Trust's holdup prior to last week's Irish Open.

'The National Trust has a huge backing from Northern Ireland,' he said. '9 million pounds, and they're using it to block the new course, which can only enhance the area.'

'Hopefully at some stage they will come to their senses and let the course be built.'

David McLay Kidd lands Bushmills Dunes design job

Hanna selected David McLay Kidd amongst the half dozen designers who visited the site. Hanna is just one of many golfers who adore Bandon Dunes Resort on the northwest coast of the United States and was especially impressed with the work done by Kidd. He wants a similar effort here: a pure links course with wide fairways and large greens that offer great playability to go with tremendous coastal scenery. Kidd's expertise with both natural and manmade links designs will come in handy. At Bushmills Dunes, fourteen holes will laid out in the dunes naturally, similar to his minimalist work at Machrihanish Dunes. The remaining four will be sculpted out of farmland, resemblant of the St. Andrews Castle Course.

Whether or not Bushmills Dunes can finally join Northern Ireland's roster of must-play golf courses as the country enjoys a spotlight in the game as homegrown stars Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Grame McDowell win tournaments all over the world, will be at the hands of the U.K.'s courts. 

But Hanna shrugs off the most recent obstacles: a teetering European economy and new opposition from the National Trust. After all, he conceived the idea 19 years ago at the height of 'The Troubles,' when Northern Ireland's tourism industry was virtually non-existent.

'I wasn't so confident [in the project] 19 years ago,' admitted Hanna. 'It was a big leap then.'

In all likelihood, it will be until at least November before the country's judicial review can take place. Until then, Hanna will watch the clock tick on his dream project towards year twenty.

Bushmills Dunes a needed addition to a Northern Ireland golf tour

Bushmills Hotel

The proposed hotel at Bushmills Dunes will be a low-lying, eco-friendy building with a green roof in order to blend in with the landscape. 

The only real knock on the northern coast of Antrim is the lack of any pure golf resort with first-rate accommodations. But there are some suitable options presently. Off the coast in Limavady, Roe Park Golf Resort offers comfortable, four-star accommodations and dining, plus a full, lighted practice range and golf school with a pleasant and affordable parkland course. Perhaps the country's best stay-and-play option is at the Slieve Donard Hotel, a historic hotel built over a century ago, located steps from Royal County Down. But the two properties are not affiliated, and the hotel can't guarantee tee times on this coveted links, rated by many as the finest in the world.

The addition of a new, luxury hotel and links would enhance the Causeway Coast's claim as one of the best golf tours in the isles. Currently, there are 36 holes at Royal Portrush, plus championship links at nearby Portstewart Golf Club and Castlerock Golf Club, each within a few miles of one another. Also, smaller seaside courses Ballycastle Golf Club and Bushfoot round out Ireland's most compact golf destination. 

Groups can also easily include Royal County Down and Ardglass Golf Club, located about two-hour drive to the southeast. In Belfast, enjoyable parkland golf is abundant, highlighted by Malone Golf Club and Belvoir Park Golf Club, as well as Ireland's oldest golf club, Royal Belfast. And to the southwest, 36-hole Lough Erne Resort is the best stay-and-play golf resort in the country.

View Northern Ireland tee times and golf packages at

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”