Inishmore bucks trend with plans for world-class links
MADNESS ... or genius? I'm talking about the idea of building a golf course in Ireland in the infamous 'current economic climate'.
And not just any golf course. A links course.
Sure haven't we plenty of golf courses, most of them struggling to make money, and haven't we some of the prime links courses in the world?
Well, back up there partner. Apparently there's room for one more 18-hole links course, and, of all places, the site in question is on Inishmore island, the biggest of the internationally renowned Aran Islands.
This is where designer Mel Flanagan and his son Melvyn want to build their 'field of dreams', and the local community on Inishmore are firmly behind the project.
Flanagan doesn't spare the adjectives when talking about the land on which he wants to bring the 'Aran Links' into existence.
"It's a world-class site, it's beautiful, breathtaking. It will rank inside the world's top 15, it's that good," he enthused.
I admire Mel's enthusiasm, but before his views are dismissed as a designer talking up his own project, consider the comments of local businessman Michael Mullen, a native of Inishmore.
Michael and well-known fellow Aran islander Mairtin Coilin Tom are keen supporters of the notion of the golf development.
"We have a fabulous site on Inishmore. It's right out on the Gregory Sound, part of it is looking over the Atlantic and the rest of it is looking over Galway Bay. It's beautiful, a fabulous place," said Michael.
"I know golf is slowing down all over the country, but in a unique place like Inishmore it would be fantastic. It's an absolutely fabulous place."
The genesis of the links project lies in an appearance by Mairtin Coilin Tom on a TG4 programme about 18 months ago.
Mel Flanagan recalls: "I was sitting at home watching TG4 at 12.0 on the day and Mairtin came on the television.
"He was talking in Irish, and it was subtitled in English and he was saying they wanted to do a golf course on the island.
"I thought this was a bit of a mad idea in the present climate, but I rang Mairtin and decided to visit him and see the island.
"When I got there I was amazed to find a fabulous links site, truly fantastic.
"And it's 99pc finished, in the sense that the land lends itself to a completely natural golf course.
"We will have to do no heavy bulldozing or earth-moving.
"The cost of development will be very low. There'll be nothing done except the greens and flat areas for the tees.
"It's a classic, natural site and really fits in with the notion of 'created by God, polished by man'."
The whole idea is to give visitors to Inishmore a reason to stay overnight.
As it stands, the island attracts over 2,000 visitors a day in the peak summer period, but most of them are day-trippers.
They come to sample the unique quality of the island and also to visit famous prehistoric sites, including the world-famous Dun Aonghasa, which dates back to the pre-christian era.
Michael Mullen said: "We have a lot of day-trippers coming to the island every year, but we feel if there was a golf course there'd be a lot of people staying overnight, which is way more beneficial to the island.
"People come out and day trip and they spend a certain amount of money, but there would be double that and triple that if they came out to play golf."
Investment by business people on the island would be part of the funding, and grant aid would also be sought.
Discussions are ongoing with the relevant authorities and if all goes well with plans and permissions, the course will open in 2013.
The islanders have a great advantage in Inishmore's worldwide fame and the huge numbers of visitors it attracts.
If they're bringing in over 14,000 people a week by ferry and air, you'd have to reckon there's a fair few golfers in that cohort who would love to try the unique island links experience.