(Sixth of an 11-part series)
ADARE, County Limerick, Ireland — Three years ago, the Adare Manor golf course, designed by renowned American architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., was considered the best parkland course in Ireland.
The adjacent 19th Century neo-Gothic Dunraven Castle, sitting regally behind the 18th green, was rated a five-star hotel and ranked as the best Ireland resort three years running.
All well and good, but to wealthy entrepreneur J.P. McManus, who purchased the entire 840-acre property in 2015, that just wasn’t quite good enough. If there was a number higher than No. 1, he was going to find it.
McManus, a former bookie who built a fortune in the Ireland/Great Britain horse-racing circuit, reportedly already has invested $100 million in this project. He wants his course to be the “Augusta of Ireland” and is targeting the 2026 Ryder Cup.
“The Ryder Cup is a very, very big ask, and like every other golf club in Ireland, we’d be delighted to host (the event). It’s one of (my) long-term dreams,” McManus told the Irish Independent.IE earlier this year.
The Trent Jones layout didn’t quite meet his expectations so McManus brought in another noted American designer, Tom Fazio, to redo – or undo. And he had a blank check to work with.
McManus also completely revamped the Dunraven castle, adding 42 more rooms and a magnificent ballroom addition behind it. He even had his workers tediously remove every bit of ancient ivy off the walls, bricks, stones and chimneys.
The result is jaw-dropping.
“We were ranked the top parkland course. We’re going to be better than that. It’s chalk and cheese better than what we had,” said course superintendent Alan MacDonald.
The numbers associated with the course and castle are numbing. Here’s a brief rundown of what we’re talking about:
500,000 – Cubic meters of material moved.
200,000 – Linear meters of drainage laid.
64,000 – Tons of sand laid beneath the rough.
35,000 – Tons of sand laid beneath the fairways.
3,000 – Tons of sand (from Scotland) to fill the 44 bunkers.
Eight – Inches of sand topping every green.
50,000 – Kilograms of seed added to the course.
2,700 – Square meters of increased size in the greens.
1,215 – Sprinklers.
19 – Bridges built over the River Maigue
195 – Acres of cut grass (110 football fields)
50 – Groundskeepers needed, nearly three per hole.
670 – Construction workers hired for the revival.
300 – Employees needed in full operation.
840 – Acres of the entire property
230 – Acres used for the 7,453-yard course.
340 – Euros ($403 U.S.) peak season green fees, plus 65 euros ($77 U.S.) mandatory caddy.
Every one – Number of greens installed with SubAir system, only one in Ireland.
1832 – Year in which the 2nd Earl of Dunraven rebuild castle into Tudor Revival style.
1987 – Year that Americans Tom and Judy Kane acquired the castle, converting it into a 62-room hotel and adding a high-rated golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Five star – Rating for the Dunraven, three times chosen Ireland’s leading hotel.
2015 – Year billionaire J.P. McManus purchased Dunraven, adding 42 more guest rooms and a ballroom and hiring Tom Fazio to revise the golf course.
48 million – Amount paid (U.S.) by McManus for the property.
60,000 – Estimated number of hotel guests annually, at least 70 percent Americans.
900 – Euros ($1,070 U.S.) for peak stay per night in the Dunraven State bedroom.
450 – Euros ($335 U.S.) for peak guest-room stays per night.
Every one – Number of windows replaced in the castle.
Hundreds of trees were hauled away during the revision and much of the low brush was removed. The fairways are enormously wide with limited rough – much like Augusta.
“Mr. McManus wants it very much playable and not out there for hours searching for golf balls,” said MacDonald, who has been the super for 12 years.
Adare Village, just outside the stone-wall perimeter, is a cozy, tourist-friendly town with authentic thatch-roof huts in the central business district. But this is an inland location, away from fescue and oceanfronts. It doesn’t sell itself as a links course, the lone exception to our Mystic Links series, but with the tight lies and tons of sand topping the course MacDonald said, “it’s has a links feel to it.
“Mr. Fazio, obviously, is very familiar with links courses and I suppose Ireland is associated with links, Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville,” MacDonald said. “They’re big money winners with the American golfer, but he (McManus) felt that we could piggyback on top of these by having this type of course.”
The only water is a 14-acre pond and the meandering Maigue River.
The course is virtually ready for play and an official opening was expected this fall. But an electrical fire a month ago burned the new clubhouse to the ground. The decision was then made to officially open the course next March.
“They’re trying to make it the Augusta of Europe,” said Brian O’Callaghan, head pro at Ballybunion, perhaps Ireland’s most famous course. “(McManus) has done everything. They’ve spared no expense. They could hold a Ryder Cup right now. All the wiring and structures are in place. I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”
It’s the kind of course that would appeal to the powers in charge of selecting future Ryder Cup courses. It is a natural. There’s a wide areas for spectators. The place is fixed with underground wiring for television. It’s just a 6 ½ hour flight from New York to Shannon International Airport and Shannon is just a 25-minute drive. Dublin Airport is a 2 1/2 hour drive.
Scorecards are not yet official but there are at least two compelling holes, one that might remind golfers of Augusta’s No. 12 at Amen Corner. Adare’s No. 16 is little more than 100 yards from the back tee, with a full carry over a lake. The green is extremely long, shallow, kidney-shaped and begins at the edge of the pond, with a small hill behind the green. Precision is paramount.
The other drama-potential hole is No. 18, a par-5, in the 550-yard range. Those brave enough to try to reach in two must clear a large pond that surrounds much of the green.
We’ll find out how it’s going to play beginning next spring. The course, worth a lot, should be worth the wait.
ADARE MANOR GOLF COURSE (Course not open until March 2018)
Location: Adare, County Limerick
Architects: Robert Trent Jones, Sr; Tom Fazio (revised 2018)
Length: Black (7,453)