Monday 21 October 2019

...and Gannon wishes Smurfit best of luck after hotel deal

HEADY DAYS: Gerry Gannon and Michael Smurfit at the K Club during the Ryder Cup
competition. Photo: Tony Gavin
HEADY DAYS: Gerry Gannon and Michael Smurfit at the K Club during the Ryder Cup competition. Photo: Tony Gavin

NIAMH HORAN

Property developer Gerry Gannon has sent his best wishes to Michael Smurfit as new owner of The K Club -- following well-publicised difficulties with the five-star golfing estate.

The move came after Dr Smurfit bought back Mr Gannon's 49 per cent stake in the country club from Nama, describing it to sources close to the deal as "one of the toughest" organisations he has ever done business with.

The packaging tycoon completed the deal on Friday night. It sees him take full control of his former business partner Mr Gannon's stake in the country's most prestigious golf club.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Mr Gannon said: "I would like to wish the doctor the very best of luck with The K Club in the future."

Meanwhile, a source close the the millionaire businessman said Dr Smurfit is delighted he finally has full ownership of the prestigious county club.

"Naturally he is delighted. He has put so much into it over the years. He was the brainchild behind it and created it from scratch. It is a passion of his and he always dreamed of one day taking it back," said the source.

"Of course a five-star hotel when corporate Ireland is on its knees will be a headache going forward, but he has always said the future of the club is very important to him. It is a national asset to Ireland."

Dr Smurfit and Mr Gannon paid €115m for the resort seven years ago when they bought it from Smurfit Kappa, the packaging company founded by Dr Smurfit's father.

In the Celtic Tiger years, the K Club epitomised the boom. Membership costs soared to €88,000 and billionaire developers rubbed shoulders with everyone from former US president Bill Clinton to golfing ace Tiger Woods.

A source described how Mr Gannon prized the status that came with being part-owner of one of Ireland's best-known golf clubs.

Both he and Dr Smurfit are said to have sold more than €150m worth of houses and apartments at the height of the boom when prices for the homes ranged in price from €1m to more than €5m.

As the source explained: "Dr Smurfit and Mr Gannon may have been business partners at one stage but they came from very different backgrounds. Mr Gannon started life as a brickie from Roscommon, a classic rags to riches story; whereas Dr Smurfit, with his mid-Atlantic accent and penchant for only drinking the vintage wine Chateau Petrus, was a world apart.

"I'd say Mr Gannon never thought in his wildest dreams that he would be mixing with the upper crust of the K Club."

Giving an insight into Mr Gannon's time in the club, the source described how the developer failed to gel with some of the other members.

"Mr Gannon never took his hat off, not when he sat down for dinner at the club's many functions, not when he was pictured with former president Bill Clinton, never. He saw it as his trademark but it didn't go down well with some of the well-heeled members.

"There was only one occasion he was ever seen at the club without it and that was when Dermot Desmond took it off his head. Let's just say Mr Gannon accepted it and didn't put it back on for the rest of dinner.

"On another occasion he requested one of the signature gold K pins that the club staff wear on their lapel and he pinned it to his hat and began sporting it on his head from that day on."

However, a source close to Mr Gannon described the talk about him never taking off his hat as completely untrue. He also spoke of his relationships with Dr Smurfit and others at the club: "Look it's no secret that they didn't really click but Mr Gannon went into the K Club purely as a business venture, nothing else. It was business not about making friends. And I know he wishes nothing but the best of luck for Dr Smurfit with the club in the future."

Sunday Independent

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