On the third day of his Irish sojourn, Doak, along with Bianchi and Placek, met with representatives of a Dublin firm called Environmental Resource Management. ERM's business is guiding developers like Bianchi through the regulatory thicket. Its presentation was almost as sobering as the hearse had been.
"The natterjack toad will be the 'magnet species' for controversy once the plans for the course become public," said Peter Marsden, the leader of the ERM group. The toad breeds in seasonal wetlands like the ones that formed underneath some of the Kilshannig Cross dunes, in areas called "dune slack." Doak's design would have to leave such areas alone and, in general, be very circumspect.
The implications of this became more evident when Doak took the ERM team for a walk on the property. On the shore of Tralee Bay, he pointed to an area where he wanted a low tee for a par three, tentatively number seventeen. The hole would require a long iron shot to skirt the edge of a rocky beach and reach a green atop a low escarpment. It would be the rousing, penultimate crescendo to a round at Kilshannig.
Kirsten Williams of ERM looked pained. "There's a hiking trail that comes along this beach," she said.
"How many hikers do they get a year?" Doak asked.
"A few hundred," she replied. Doak thought that they could put up a sign advising such a small number of hikers to stay clear of the golf hole.
Williams pointed along the rocky beach that adjoined one of the trailer parks. "In the summer, there are some rental trailers that set up here, and sometimes they spill over onto the golf course property."
Doak's jaw set: "They shouldn't be there." But his shoulders drooped.
We walked up from the beach, back into the dunes. I had brought along some clubs that day, and for a few moments, we had some fun. Doak stuck a tee in the ground, set up a golf ball, and smacked it downwind. It was approximately the tee shot planned for the second hole. This must be an essential pleasure of golf architecture, I thought, taking the first shots over land that would be shaped by your imagination.
In a few weeks, Doak would send me, from his office in Michigan, a new draft of the Kilshannig Cross routing. He had moved the clubhouse into the northeast corner of the property, far from the road. This changed the order of the holes but avoided the possibility of complaints about damaged vistas. The new routing retained roughly half the holes he'd had on the original red routing. He had the mix of short and long par fours he wanted, as well as an unusual punch-bowl site for the fifteenth green. And he had inserted some impressive new greens and tees high in the dunes.
He would tell me that he liked the new routing, liked it so much that he had to hold his feelings about it in check, for fear that he would be disappointed if the environmentalists forced him to abandon pet ideas. "Now we'll see what Kirsten & Co. come up with," he wrote.
He had, of course, no assurance that his vision would ever be built or that it would have the greatness that Henry Longhurst had imagined. Golf course architecture, like golf itself, teaches patience. But certainly in the moment Doak stood atop that dune on the Dingle Peninsula watching his ball soar toward the briny horizon, the world's best golf course had seemed within his reach—just a rainbow's length away.
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