It has become a predictable pastime to gratuitously attribute luck to the Irish.
However, divine fortune has precious little to do with the spectacular rejuvenation of Adare Manor in Limerick. JP McManus’s fortune, yes. Divine fortune, not so much.
The recent history of the resort in the south west of Ireland reads like a variation of the old Solomon Grundy nursery rhyme, rewritten and retold through a golfing prism.
Bought in 2014.
Closed in 2015.
Renovated in 2016.
More of the same in 2017.
Re-opened in 2018.
The fairytale ending that has yet to be written, of course, is the expected reward of the Ryder Cup in 2026. Nobody will officially say so but the resort wants the biennial contest and, based on what I’ve seen and heard, there’s an exceptionally good chance it’ll get it (perhaps even as soon as 2022 if Italy – rumoured to be struggling to get Marco Simone Golf Club ready in time – defaults on staging the match that year).
It would do a fantastic job, too. Adare Manor is primed to stage golf tournaments of the highest calibre. You could drive the trucks in tomorrow and it would be good to go in double-quick time. From the five-star hotel, to the spectacular Tom Fazio-designed golf course, to the surrounding infrastructure and more, it has all of the requisite ingredients that modern golf tournaments demand.
Much of that is thanks to the deep pockets of its benefactor and owner McManus. As affable and unassuming a billionaire as you will ever meet, he has reportedly spent tens of millions of Euros transforming the resort – and not one cent has been wasted.
Originally opened in 1995, Adare Manor was never a bad course. It was in fact good enough to host two editions of the Irish Open, first in 2007 and again the following year when Richard Finch famously went for an unscheduled swim in the River Maigue en route to winning the second of his two European Tour titles.
Even so, it was an afterthought in discussions about great Irish golf courses, a discussion that has typically been dominated by links layouts.
“Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Ballyliffin, Ballybunion, Portstewart, Lahinch… oh and Adare Manor’s quite good, too.”
Still, it had potential.
McManus, a proud Limerick man himself, recognised that and, shortly after buying the resort, he commissioned Tom Fazio to rework it. The brains behind the likes of Firestone, Conway Farms and Lake Nona, Fazio has also worked with Augusta National since 2002 on tweaking (as sympathetically as possible) the host venue for The Masters. So, he brought considerable pedigree to the development.
Work started in March 2016 and, over the next 24 months, Fazio oversaw a wholescale renovation of the layout.
The end product is a course that is visually stimulating - yet arguably the most significant changes are those that can’t be seen.
Over 220,000 tonnes of sand were unloaded on the course to ensure that every inch has the drainage required to withstand even the toughest of Irish winters. Meanwhile, all 18 greens - the first in Europe to feature super fine bentgrass - benefit from a SubAir Aeration System, which removes moisture through vacuum pumps and guarantees firm play each day. Adare Manor is one of only three courses in the UK and Ireland to have invested this technology.
There’s no rough to speak of but rather 170 acres of low-cut, sand-capped grass. More than 120 trees have also been planted, whilst there are 41 bunkers to negotiate as well as lots of water, which comes into play on 14 holes. All of this, combined with pristine white sand in the hazards and yellow flags on the greens, brings to mind a particularly famous course that starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘ugusta National’.
The comparisons are inevitable and dulled none by the par-3 16th, above, a hole that bears more than a passing resemblance to the 12th at Augusta: a mid-iron shot entirely across water; a long narrow green that slopes from back to front and extends more than 60 metres from left to right; devilish bunkers guarding it short and wide.
Throw in some pines and azaleas and you’ve got yourself an Irish ‘Golden Bell’.
Whilst I don’t especially like the expression, this is a ‘second-shot golf course’. With no rough and wide, generous fairways, you can hit it pretty much anywhere off the tee. However, the greens are protected by devilish swales and run-offs. Missing them in the wrong place is as good as a one-shot penalty for those without a 10/10 short game.
For me, the back nine is the superior nine. That’s no slight on the front. It’s just that the back is less ‘open’, which I like, with more memorable holes.
Of those, the 15th is a clear stand-out. A driveable par-4, it is dominated by the River Maigue, which runs the length of the right-hand side.
It's classic ‘risk and reward’ stuff. It should be an easy birdie; it could just as easily yield a double. It’s hard not to imagine the havoc it could wreak in the Ryder Cup.
This might not be a popular take but I don’t much like the 18th.
Again, the River Maigue is in play throughout but, unlike the 15th, where it runs parallel to the hole, it bisects the 18th in a way that I found hard to enjoy.
The percentage play is to take on the hole all the way up the right-hand side, effectively taking the water out of play, before knocking your third over the river and onto a green that has severe slopes running away from it.
I found it a slightly underwhelming finish. It just didn’t suit my eye but that’s probably just a matter of personal preference.
The facilities at Adare Manor are second-to-none. The five-star castle hotel has been restored and expanded in a way that honours the building’s Neo-Gothic heritage. The biggest compliment I can pay the team is that it’s hard to know where the old parts end and the new parts begin, the new parts including a 42-bedroom wing that has almost doubled the number of guest rooms.
There are now 104 rooms (starting from approximately €325 per room, per night), as well as a spectacular ballroom that can host up to 350 guests (hello, official Ryder Cup functions).
There are also beautiful walled gardens and walking trails and an extensive array of other pursuits and amenities: falconry, archery, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, a state-of-the-art La Mer spa and a cinema that shows movies up to three times daily.
The new Carriage House clubhouse is equally spectacular, whilst the practice facilities are, as you’d expect, first-rate.
Situated in the heart of Adare Village, Adare Manor is just a 25-minute drive from Shannon Airport, one-and-a-half hours from Cork Airport and a two-and-a-half hour transfer from Dublin Airport. Getting in and out is seamless and, with vast on-site parking, it’s a spectator’s dream.
Adare Manor is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when desire and vision are commensurate to investment. JP McManus has taken a resort that was good and made it truly great.
It is an absolute triumph and proof that there is so much more to golf in Ireland than links courses. It is destined to become the benchmark for modern upscale golf course developments.
A future Ryder Cup host venue? Unquestionably.
Find out more
For more information on Adare Manor, log-on to adaremanor.com