Although Doonbeg Golf Club is a private club, visitors are welcome to both golf and accommodation when available. Whether or not you are a golfer, this is very good news because The Lodge offers accommodation which is not just very luxurious - but downright gorgeous.
Located on Doughmore Bay in West Clare, the contrast between the wild landscape, the brooding sea and the classy interiors of The Lodge lends a distinctly romantic tone to the resort, which is on first approach reminiscent of a baronial Scottish castle; however, as you draw closer, a cluster of more intimate buildings is revealed and, in acknowledgment of Irish tradition, all are slated-roofed and built in local stone.
With an emphasis on natural materials (they even had their own tartan designed, an understated choice in gentle country colours) and respect for the environment (de-salinated sea water is used for watering the links), the quiet elegance of The Lodge may come as a surprise.
It has an Irish 'great house' feel with an American opulence - and Front Office Manager Martina Casey ensures the atmosphere is always warm and service professional.
Accommodation is offered in both the main building (opulent suites with sea views and very luxurious bathrooms), the adjacent courtyard and nearby cottages; the standard is exceptionally high in all areas and the style is seriously classy.
Well-equipped kitchens and atmospheric dining areas are a feature throughout the development, giving the option of self-catering or serviced accommodation – and comfy furniture and fireplaces make this an appealing all-year destination.
And then there is the White Horses Spa, designed by the US-based Irish designer Clodagh: offering every possible kind of pampering, the design is inspired by the local environment (the walls of the fitness room, for example, feature a continuous image of the beach at Doonbeg) and non-golfers, especially, could pass many an agreeable hour here.
Rooms 76. Accommodation from about €160pps. Breakfast (if not included) €15 pp. Special breaks offered.Children welcome (play room, playground, kids club). Room service, 24 hr. Golf (18); Spa; golf shop.
Good food is a high priority at The Lodge, and there are three choices: Darby's is for everybody, a great spacious pub-like bar where you can have straightforward food like fish and chips, prawn salads, and steaks. Meals are also offered in the Members' Bar, where the ambience is elegant yet clubby, in the old-fashioned style - and fine dining is offered in The Long Room (see below), an intimate restaurant with its own bar, antique mirrors and a great bay window looking on to the ocean.
One of Ireland's leading chefs, Wade Murphy, took over as Executive Head Chef of the resort at the end of the 2010 season, and he has a gift for cooking memorable meals that are in no way over-elaborate or pretentious. As a member of Euro-Toques, his commitment to sourcing locally and supporting small food producers is stated on menus, where you will also find valued suppliers credited, including local cheese makers Bluebell Falls (Ennis) and St Tola (Inagh).
The style is modern classic and the cooking is very exact, with real finesse and a rare lightness of touch. Menus offered in The Long Room are not overlong, but they give a thoughtfully choice of very appealing dishes. These might include a beautiful and well balanced speciality starter of mustard & coriander cured organic salmon (produced off the west coast, in the deep waters inside Clare Island) with Liscannor crab, cucumber jelly and gazpacho dressing; fresh-looking and zinging with perfectly balanced flavours, it is an ideal starter. Likewise a spring salad of truffle marinated vegetables with a beignet of Bluebell Falls goat cheese; another very pretty dish, it is based on organic greens, dressed with champagne vinaigrette - and has a secret ingredient, hazelnut brittle, providing a wonderful contrast in texture and flavour.
Main courses will almost certainly include Burren lamb from Jack Kelly's butchers in Kilrush and West Clare beef from Ennis butcher Pat Montgomery, while the fish offered on an early summer menu could be a pan seared fillet of sustainable cod served with chilli & chervil crushed new season potatoes, charred asparagus and chive butter cream. It's fashionable to talk the talk about local seasonal foods these days, but this chef walks the walk and there's nothing more enjoyable than a dish showcasing early summer produce in its proper season.
Perfectly cooked side vegetables, prettily presented in a little copper pan, abide by the same principle, as do the equally imaginative and thoughtfully constructed vegetarian dishes.
Cheeses offered are, of course, the best of Irish and served in perfect condition - and desserts guaranteed to provide the best of grand finales. Even a humble-sounding apple & rhubarb crumble is anything but, and comes with "posh" custard and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, no less, while the perfectly balanced flavours and textures of a 'Free Trade' coffee crème brulée with milk foam and biscotti biscuits could linger in your mind for days.
Details (such as wonderful breads) are excellent, and attentive service and an impressive wine list are both a match for Wade Murphy's outstanding cooking - as is the dining room itself, which is handsomely set up for comfort and space - and to make the most of the ocean view. A lovely place to linger over that last glass of wine.