Kevin Markham looks at some of the recent investments made by progressive Irish golf clubs.
There are legitimate concerns around the Irish golf industry as Brexit approaches but the UK is only one of Ireland’s key markets. Irish golf clubs are, therefore, wary but not taking up defensive positions quite yet.
Investment continues in many shapes and forms, be it new infrastructure, upgrades to clubhouses, new holes or re-bunkering programmes. Some clubs, like The Island, never seem to stop making improvements — big and small. And sanding and seeding are part and parcel of keeping courses in the best shape possible.
And then there are the 65 clubs who received €1.96m in Sports Capital Funding confirmed at the end of 2017, most of which will have been invested in the many projects identified as being so important for those clubs’ development.
Castle Golf Club was one of many courses working on bunkers during the year, and the club completed a redevelopment programme of all 70 bunkers. Irish company, DAR Construction, partnered with many clubs around Ireland during the year and Castle was one of them.
Castlemartyr has been embracing its inland-links tag with the introduction of revetted bunkering. This will continue in 2019, and new sand has also been introduced to improve the bunkers’ playability.
St Anne’s, on Bull Island in Dublin, is a pure links and bunkers are being re-revetted, only this time they are using Ecobunker technology. This helps bunkers to last longer and they require less maintenance. Seventeen bunkers were completed in 2018 and a further six will be completed this winter. Other clubs that have used this technology successfully include Rosslare and Arklow. St Anne’s also introduced new green and tee construction.
Dublin’s revered Hermitage Golf Club has a comprehensive re-bunkering programme ongoing, using DAR Golf, as all of the bunkers will be upgraded. Thirty on the front nine were completed in 2018.
Ken Kearney, the Irish golf course architect, had a busy year as he continued the major upgrades at Ardglass (including a daunting new tee on the par three 12th that hits over the sea), a new hole and brand new green complex at Ardee, as well as considerable works at Foxrock and Dundalk.
Many of his projects see him combining with DAR Golf. At Belvoir Park, outside Belfast, he is involved in a long term Course Improvement Plan due to his Harry Colt-specialist credentials.
Kearney is also involved at Dundrum House, where a major resort overhaul kicked off in 2018, under new owners. New drainage has been introduced across the course and there is also a new practice area.
Practice makes perfect
Practice facilities are also being improved and the Capital Programme has benefitted clubs considerably in this regard.
New short-game areas have been completed at Douglas and Mullingar Golf Clubs, and also at Delgany, where the 1st tee has been moved to accommodate new practice greens.
The new six-hole par three course at Tralee, opened for members, following the earlier opening of the new covered driving range and practice facilities.
A new driving range was launched at Luttrellstown Castle, where 30 indoor and outdoor driving bays, and three academy holes were opened. The facility includes the latest game-improvement technology and software. There are a further 50 outdoor grass bays.
Enniscrone celebrated 100 years in 2018, and as well as upgrading the clubhouse the club introduced a more formal driving range not far from the 1st tee.
Ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Lahinch opened its new driving range beside the Castle course. This complements the stunning new short game area which was designed by Martin Hawtree, and opened in 2016.
And Shannon Golf Club is another course where new driving bays have enhanced the practice facilities.
Adare re-opened in the spring of 2018, to a chorus of gushing worldwide reviews.
The JP McManus Pro-Am is already scheduled and the possibility of hosting the Ryder Cup in 2026 is something Paddy Power is probably not even offering odds on anymore.
The project began in 2016 and the course was completely redesigned by Tom Fazio. The financial figures are staggering but here are a few other statistics to help you appreciate just what was involved: 200,000 tonnes of sand were used on the course… of which 64,000 tonnes went beneath the rough. Under every fairway is nine inches of sand. Under every green that increases to 12 inches. 72,000 linear metres of drainage installed 50,000 kilograms of seed on the greens, tees, fairways and rough.
Also — 12,500m2 of Pure Distinction creeping bent seed sod, 2,700m2 of increased size in the greens, 1,215 sprinklers, 840 acres make up the Adare Manor Resort 85 yards wide… that’s the width of the 9th fairway 82 brand new tees (all hand-mown) 79 hectares of cut grass 56 green keepers 44 bunkers constructed with the latest Capillary Concrete liner drainage technology, containing 3,000 tonnes of bunker sand… which was chosen by none other than Padraig Harrington!
Nineteen new bridges over the River Maigue. Continuing the five-star theme, the plush Dromoland Castle continues to enhance its golf product. The cart paths were completely upgraded and a new fleet of 15 buggies, fitted with the Visage GPS system, were introduced in 2018.
A new Starter’s Hut and course furniture add to the setting. This has all been part of an overall €20m refurbishment programme.
Machinery is one of the most common and popular investments, and that’s no surprise given the importance of a course’s conditioning.
Athlone Golf Club purchased a new rough mower and two fairway mowers, as well as new machinery to help with bunker maintenance.
A fleet of eight new Toro machines arrived at Rosslare in February 2018, ensuring this smart but unheralded links boost its conditioning in the years ahead.
At Killeen Castle, the Jack Nicklaus ‘Signature’ course invested in a state of the art fleet of John Deere machinery to the tune of €500,000.
In all, 15 new machines were acquired in the autumn of 2018.
Grange Golf Club also enhanced their machinery fleet, and there were many more clubs doing the same around the country.
Portmarnock Golf Club has been doing preparatory work ahead of the 2019 Amateur Championship, which will be held here in June.
This is the most prestigious tournament in the amateur calendar so getting the course into the best shape possible is essential for the club.
The project began in late 2017, and sees seven new championship tees, 12 new fairway bunkers and some greenside bunkering creeping ever closer to the putting surfaces. Mounding has been added on the left-hand side of the 2nd and also behind the green to separate it from the 6th tee. Further gentle mounding, measuring some 80 yards x 40 yards, will separate the 9th and 10th fairways.
Another of Ireland’s mighty links, Ballybunion, opened their new 18th hole in 2018.
This followed the huge investment in new greens over the previous two years. The 18th was one of those love/hate holes but the green is now more visible and approachable from the fairway.
Castlerock received a major upgrade from Martin Hawtree. New greens and green complexes were introduced on five holes while the entire 2nd hole was re-imagined and shortened. Such changes will help boost the course’s profile considerably… although the Open Championship, at nearby Royal Portrush, will be doing that for many courses on the island of Ireland, for 2019 and beyond.
Royal Portrush was recently elevated to the No 1 spot in the Irish Golfer Top 100 Ranking, following its own set of upgrades and the introduction of two stunning new holes.
On The Web
Websites are being improved all the time but as the window to a golf course’s offering it is vital that they remain fresh and up-to-date.
Athy Golf Club launched its new website in February, making it easy for visitors to view the course and book tee times. Corrstown, Westport, Strandhill, and Bray were others to bring new websites online.
Corrstown has also been busy around its entire course, on the outskirts of Dublin City. A seven-year plan will see the redevelopment of the bunkering across all 27 holes. €200,000 has been invested in new machinery, drainage has taken place in the lakes and the clubhouse has been refurbished. The new website is accompanied by a new club mobile app.
Probably the largest enforced project is at Castlebar Golf Club where a new road has slashed a corner off the course. Adjacent land was purchased and Jeff Howes was brought in to create six new holes, three modified holes, and a new range and short game area. Divided into two phases, the first phase teed off in April 2018, with the construction of five new holes. These were seeded in July. The second phase is due to start in April this year.
Brexit may be inevitable but so too is the progress of Irish golf clubs and their development. Long may it continue.