Future full of eastern promise after Moyvalley rescued from NAMA
On a bleak wintry day early this month, an intimate gathering bore witness in remarkable circumstances to the emergence of an exciting new venture. With the planting of two young trees sourced by Christy O'Connor Jnr, Twin Oaks staked its place in our golfing world.
Under its new title, it will play host to three successive stagings of the Irish Professional Championship. In the process, it marks a welcome return of sanity on the Irish scene.
As Moyvalley, which was bought for €2.8m by its new owners two years ago, members were welcome at no entrance fee and an annual subscription of €850. Which was a far cry from October 2006 when, in the wake of the Ryder Cup, an outlandish proposal was floated which matched the mood of the time.
We were informed of the so-called Champions Club at Moyvalley, where a high-flying clientele would be paying an entrance fee of €75,000 and an annual sub of €5,000 for the privilege of playing a course with a design endorsed by Darren Clarke. After a sojourn in NAMA, it is now the property of Rita Shah and her partners, Jane Tripipatkul, her brother and Jane's son, Mark McCarthy.
The 500-acre estate, halfway between Enfield and Kinnegad has a rich history associated with Balyna House which dates back to the early 19th century. Oliver Brady, the flamboyant Co Monaghan racehorse trainer and businessman, fell in love with the place, which he and Ms Shah bought on April 10, 2014, when the Tripipatkuls also came on board.
Sadly, Brady didn't have long to enjoy the purchase in that he died in September of that year. "He had been ill in hospital but we were confident he would pull through," said Ms Shah. "Later, I told Christy [O'Connor Jnr] about Oliver's vision for Moyvalley."
During a meeting last October, O'Connor outlined plans for a revamped layout, which has since taken on a great poignancy, given his sudden death on January 6. "He talked about getting it right," said Ms Shah. "I'll never forget his opening line when we were introduced - 'Trust me. We're gonna make sure this is gonna be exactly what you and Jane want. Dah-de-dah-de-dah.' That was his tag line."
Crucial to success would be a sane marketing plan. "We heard these stories about the previous fees," said Mark McCarthy. "I think our idea is for this place to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. And we are trying to piece the future together with the co-operation of the O'Connor family."
Though a formal agreement has yet to be reached, it is anticipated that O'Connor's changes will be executed by European Golf Design. And an ongoing involvement with the project is already indicated by the fact that September's pre-championship pro-am will carry his name.
Ms Shah and O'Connor first met during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club, and given that she owns a business in Castleblaney, she became familiar with his creation at Concra Wood, describing it as "very scenic . . . a beautiful course." She also values Clarke's association with Moyvalley, especially in the context of his current role as European Ryder Cup captain.
"We needed to add a few things to make it more attractive," she went on. "And Christy had a plan. He was down here maybe 12 to 15 times, the last occasion being December 16 when he was all set to begin implementing his plan, but the weather was too bad." She paused before adding: "The sixth of January just came too soon for him."
The change of name was O'Connor's idea. He picked the 18-foot saplings from a nursery before Christmas and even chose the site for them between the clubhouse and the 18th green. In the presence of his widow Ann, one of the trees was dedicated to his memory and the other to the memory of Oliver Brady. And the private little ceremony was blessed by Fr Michael Kelly, who had celebrated the golfer's funeral mass in Galway Cathedral two months previously.
Meanwhile in its short lifespan, the course can boast the appearance there of two of our most promising young players. I retain a special memory of late 2006, when Clarke hit a typical professional's chip-shot from off the 16th green during his Foundation weekend. Having watched the ball check before coming to rest about two feet from the hole, he turned to 11-year-old Leona Maguire and challenged her with a grin: "Get inside that if you can." She readily obliged by holing a 30-foot, eight-iron running shot for a birdie on the toughest hole on the course. Naturally, we sensed she was going to be pretty good, but the world's number one amateur . . .
That was also an occasion when the boys' under 18 competition was won with rounds of 72, 72 by a well-nourished youngster named Shane Lowry from the Esker Hills club. Incidentally, Lisa Maguire won the girls event with rounds of 77, 75, four strokes clear of her twin sister.
The O'Connor stamp is already in evidence in current maintenance work which is being carried out to his specification. "We see this as a niche golf course, a beautiful place which not only the members will enjoy, but which will attract visitors from far afield," said Ms Shah. She also highlighted peripheral attractions like a beautiful walled garden and the special appeal of Balyna House.
On a broader level, there is a charming, 54-bedroom hotel, 32 apartments. 13 cottages and the potential for 61 houses. And an open-air concert is planned for Sunday, June 2 when up to 4,000 people are expected for an event headlined by some young chap named Nathan Carter.
Ms Shah concluded: "I'm Indian, born in Kenya, have studied in England and have now made Ireland my home. Jane is from Thailand and we share very warm feelings for this place. We want to make it very special. And one day, when we have it right, we envisage bringing people here from the Far East. To share our delight in it, together."
From a business perspective, doubt continues to surround the future of several golfing properties consigned to NAMA. In the case of Moyvalley, however, an inspiring re-birth is firmly under way. Indeed the future appears to be full of eastern promise.
Sunday Indo Sport