Kevin Markham: Clubs keep moving with the times

“Time and tide wait for no man…” wrote Robert Frost, the American poet, “… but time always stands still for a woman of 30.”

For several years after the Celtic Tiger ended, Ireland’s golf courses were caught in a never-ending storm. Membership numbers declined, green fee income fell, societies reduced their playing rotas… an air of doom and gloom descended.

Today’s situation is different: for every club still trying to right the ship, there is another already steering for calmer waters.

And many of the clubs in those calmer waters know that time does not stand still for golf courses. There has been a wave of investment across the country as clubs and resorts look to ensure that their courses are in the best condition possible.

Be it new course ‘furniture’ (benches, tee box markers, signs etc), upgraded greens, new green-keeping equipment or new holes and layouts, every step is an important one. And where some lead it can only be hoped that others will follow.

There are dozens of courses making constant improvements, always looking at ways to enhance aesthetics, drainage and the customer experience.

The Island Golf Club in Dublin is a case in point: follow @festucaman on Twitter and you’ll see what head greenkeeper Dave Edmondson and his team are doing, week after week.

Others have obligations to meet: both Royal Portrush and Portstewart are preparing for future tournaments, with the former making considerable changes ahead of the 2019 Open Championship. Smaller clubs, such as Kenmare, have simple policies to help them maintain their course: one green-keeping machine is upgraded every year.

Then there are clubs making enormous investments and redesigning their courses. The majority of these are under new ownership: Adare, Hog’s Head (formerly Skellig Bay) and Doonbeg have or still are receiving facelifts.

Ballybunion’s Old course enjoyed a different type of facelift as all of their greens (plus a new 7th green) were lifted and relaid so that indigenous marram grasses could be introduced to maintain traditional links characteristics. The cost? In the region of €1.5m, but such changes will enhance the course’s reputation for decades to come.

Other courses around the country are also investing in different ways, so stick some of these on your list to play next year:

Killarney Golf & Fishing Club is implementing a long-term schedule of upgrades (greens, tee boxes) to Mahony’s Point, under the guidance of designer Ken Kearney. The Killeen course has already received investment, particularly on the 1st and 8th hole.

Tulfarris, in Co Wicklow, has invested €175,000 on a comprehensive bunkering project as well as upgrading paths and the resort entrance. The number of greenkeepers has been increased and more investment is to follow.

Naas has constructed a new indoor golf studio and €500,000 has been invested in course developments with a focus on the newer nine holes (1992), where new greens and a lake are being added.

Lough Erne has purchased an extensive range of new John Deere turf machines, which will only enhance the definition of this glorious 600-acre lakeside resort.

Castlemartyr is thriving under new ownership and €150,000 has been spent on new John Deere machinery. A True–Turf Iron has greatly assisted in seeing the greens return to their lustrous best. Elsewhere, new buggies and high-quality golf club (Titleist AP2 irons) rental sets provide important extras. Further investments in the course and the hotel can be expected.

Cork Golf Club’s investment in an entire re-bunkering project may be four years old at this stage but it shows a club embracing both its heritage (designed by Alister MacKenzie) and its future. Drainage and lack of visibility were the main concerns with the old bunkers but the new Alister MacKenzie-style bunkers certainly overcome those issues.

Mount Juliet was acquired by Tetrarch in 2014, and the new owners immediately set about investing in the golf course, which is undoubtedly the centrepiece of this five-star resort. New equipment (machinery and a new fleet of golf buggies) to the value of €1.1m was purchased, the pro, Kevin Phelan, was brought on board, a brand new clubhouse was built, and a Paul McGinley Golf Academy will open in 2017.

Portmarnock Links is another of the €1m-investment courses. A new short game area, new natural grass paths between greens and tees, and the refurbishment of many of the revetted bunkers have all enhanced what the golfer experiences at this Bernard Langer-designed links.

Nine new machines have been acquired and the 23-year-old irrigation system has been overhauled. The hotel is also receiving a major renovation.

Waterford Castle invested €250,000 in new machinery and a fleet of buggies. There’s a dedicated new Golf Performance Centre on site, giving the professional, Ryan Madigan, the space and technology to give lessons and conduct custom fitting.

Doonbeg has received the Trump treatment over the past two years. No expense was spared in revitalising a supposedly flawed Greg Norman design. Martin Hawtree made strong and positive changes — the greens specifically — and the course re-opened this summer to wide acclaim.

St Anne’s, on Bull Island in Dublin, has invested over €100,000 in new machinery. This has ensured that the improvements to the links carried out over the past three years continue. The Barton Shield was held at the links this summer and the course condition and definition was widely praised by the 26 competing clubs and the GUI.

Strandhill, the rather brilliant and quirky links near Sligo town, has revitalised some of its bunkering under the eye of designer Ally McIntosh, improving line-of-sight and natural feel of the course, as well as enhancing the golfer experience.

Bunclody will also be acquiring new machinery and considerable course investment was made in the second half of 2016. Even the famous lift (to the 18th tee) has received a make-over.

John Deere machinery has been doing a good trade in the Irish golf industry, with Blainroe another of the clubs choosing the renowned US company when upgrading its equipment. €400,000 is being invested over four years, which also includes a bunker refurbishment project.

Waterford continues to focus on improving the course and its facilities. Machines have been upgraded and the club has ear-marked €100,000 to be spent on the course and machinery over the next four years. The first of the new machines arrives in early 2017.

Glasson has invested some €400,000 in a new golf academy and driving range, but that’s not all: 2017 will also see a new short game area and putting green opened near the 1st tee. It’s one of the most dedicated golf hotels in the country and the added facilities will only make it more attractive.

County Louth is making significant changes… not so much to the course but to a new short game facility and parking area around the clubhouse. There will be three new greens with bunkers, all to the highest spec and matching what already exists on this famous links. It’s also worth noting that the links celebrates 125 years in 2017.

Craddockstown, a water-laced parkland in Co. Kildare, has invested in two new machines and will be re-shaping two holes next year.

Dromoland Castle is looking to invest significant money in its impressive and muscular parkland next year. New cart paths are planned, new buggies will be purchased and the green-keeping machinery fleet will be replaced.

Finally, Carr Golf manage both Elmgreen and Corballis in Dublin, and an investment of €1,000,000 is being injected into the clubs’ facilities, starting with the purchase of state of the art machinery worth €500,000. Off-course facilities, including clubhouses, pro shops, locker rooms, driving range and restaurant will be renovated to the tune of €500,000.

Elsewhere, Glen of the Downs has also invested in new machinery, New Forest has added a 300 yard driving range and refurbished on-site accommodation, County Sligo continues to alter the famous links through Pat Ruddy, Seapoint has enhanced its definition and added some new tee boxes and features around greens, and both North West and Portsalon, in Donegal, made changes to their links as part of their 125th anniversary celebrations in 2016.

There are many more and they serve to prove Robert Frost’s observations.

Golf courses simply can’t stand still if their quality and reputation are to be maintained, but it is still reassuring to the golfing population to see clubs making improvements to their golfing product.

With winter parked on the doorstep, it gives us something to look forward to next year when the many golfers who hibernate for the dark months find cause to dust off their clubs and celebrate the arrival of Spring.

New facilities, new membership at Fota academy

The Fota Island Golf Academy has been an invaluable asset for golfers in the region. The academy recently announced its new training centre and membership package, which encompasses two United States Golf Association standard outdoor tees boxes, three USGA standard chipping and approach greens and an impressive USGA standard putting green.

There have been specific changes made to the academy’s indoor facilities — the practice rooms now feature the latest Trackman launch monitors. These give precise details and instant statistics of ball connection, flight, clubhead speed, launch velocity, height, ball speed, arc, and rotation. For those looking to analyse their game, this is as good as it gets. Golf simulators are also available.

“We are very excited about the latest development within the Golf Academy,” says Seamus Leahy, director of marketing. “We believe that with the aid of these new facilities, advanced technology and PGA professionals on site, it will encourage people to develop their skills and take them onto the golf course. We believe it is the ideal stepping stone to becoming a full member.”

Along with video analysis, short game, putting and family lessons, the new academy membership package also offers access to nine holes on Barryscourt course and reduced green fees on the Deerpark course and the full 18 of Barryscourt course. Annual membership for 2017 is €800 including driving range credit of up to €40 per week.


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