Little Women winning the battle of Portmarnock

Tim Glover finds three housewives fighting against a £15m golf course
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Three housewives, maintaining their right to walk out of their front doors and stroll down to the sea, are keeping at bay a multi-million pound golf course development. "It could only happen in Ireland," said an exasperated Gerry Buckley, one of the developers.

The women, Judy Bennett, secretary, Ann Kenny, chairperson, and Myra Mulligan, treasurer, are at the heart of the Portmarnock Action Committee. They are playing a hugely expensive three-ball against Buckley, Mark McCormack and Tony O'Reilly, and so far the expenditure is: housewives £5,000; owners £1m. That is simply the amount spent on the argument.

"I play golf myself," Mrs Bennett said. "So does my husband. I have no objection to the game." What she and her friends object to is that their access to the dunes and the beach is blocked by The Links Portmarnock, a new course designed, ostensibly, by Bernhard Langer.

Five years ago Buckley, a property developer from London, a resident of Dublin and a member of Portmarnock Golf Club, approached Ignatius Byrne, a farmer who was grazing cows on 160 acres of land with a view. Portmarnock GC, one of Europe's finest links courses, wanted Ignacius's acres but there were strings attached. Instead Buckley offered him a stringless £1m and Ignatius, in his carpet slippers, signed on the dotted line.

Buckley joined a consortium involving McCormack's International Management Group and O'Reilly and work on the course, which is adjacent to Portmarnock (between Dublin and the airport) began in 1992. It is an ideal stretch of land for links golf and work was completed last year. The Links Portmarnock, however, has not opened. The tees are there, the fairways are there, the greens are there. And so is the Portmarnock Action Committee.

The developers, given the green light by Dublin City Council, built the course at a cost of £5m, receiving a grant of £500,000 from the Irish Tourist Board. They also want to build a luxury hotel and a dormy house. The total cost would be £15m. Judy Bennett and her friends then paid £150 to lodge an objection.

On the left of the first tee are the dunes and the sea and on the right is a little graveyard where John Jameson, the original owner of the land who made his fortune out of Irish whiskey, is buried. "That was publicly owned property," Mrs Bennett said. "Ever since Mr Jameson's days people had a customary right of way. Now instead of an unhindered access we have to go through a waterlogged bog."

Employing an architect and a botanist, citing the area as being of special environmental interest, the "friends of the dunes", as they have been called, have taken the matter to Bord Pleanala, Ireland's planning authority, and the European Commission.

In response, the Big Three against the Little Women commissioned, at a cost of £125,000, an environmental impact study. "We have done everything by the book," Buckley said. "We want to create a tourist enterprise of the highest quality and in the process employ 200 people in an area of high unemployment. They say they want to picnic on the dunes but all they've got to do is walk an extra 200 yards."

Colin Maclaine, a former captain of the Royal and Ancient and chairman of IMG (Portmarnock) Ltd, said: "If we don't get final approval we've got a disaster on our hands. There'll be a big hole in the pockets of McCormack and O'Reilly. I don't think either of them were interested in building just another golf course. We're trying to establish something that would compete with Turnberry."

If and when The Links Portmarnock opens - a decision is expected on May 25 - it will be a pay-as-you-play course. No members but a green fee of £35. As public courses go this is expensive but some people can't wait to play The Links. A society from Sweden has booked 150 golfers to play the course in December. "We were always led to believe that a new course here would be great for the area," Buckley said.

The friends of the dunes disagree. "If planning permission is given we will go to court," Judy Bennett said.

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