Monday 20 May 2019

It's a shore bet

Stunning setting of Tulfarris is a true feast for the senses and one of the finest golfing challenges on offer

Breathtaking course offers spectacular views for golfers
Breathtaking course offers spectacular views for golfers
Tulfarris features imaginative use of the natural landscape on course
You can get the full ‘Lord of the Manor’ experience with a stay at the hugely impressive Tulfarris Golf Resort

Brian Keogh

There's something undeniably special about Tulfarris. Stand on the first tee beside Blessington's lovely lakes and you will be stunned by the beauty of this 18-hole championship course, designed by the late, great Patrick Merrigan.

Set on a three-fingered peninsula, the course delivers a true feast for the senses, while providing one of the finest golfing challenges in the country.

Nestling in 200 acres of mature woodland against the backdrop of Wicklow's rolling hills, little more than an hour from Dublin, Tulfarris is the perfect place to test your golfing skills while taking in the breathtaking surroundings, where ponds and wild grasses meld with the natural environs to create sweeping panoramic views.

The estate seamlessly fuses the elegance of the four-star hotel with the imaginatively designed lakeshore championship course, creating a feeling of relaxation and recreation.

The imaginative use of the natural landscape is evident throughout the course and the integrity of the environment has been preserved, with the ponding and wild grasses appearing to be an extension of the lakeshore itself.

However, the creative use of the stunning Blessington Lake is not the sole ace in Tulfarris's pack of surprises.

Course superintendent David Brady and his staff have done sterling work over the past few seasons

With experience earned at Whistling Straits and The Duke's at St Andrews, the man who manages the course has seen first-hand what it takes to present and maintain a top-class venue - both for everyday play and tournament golf.

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Perfect for private parties, its seven individually designed deluxe suites provide the perfect beauty spot for golf societies, birthday celebrations or that special away trip with your golfing pals.

The present Tulfarris House was built in the 18th century and along with Russborough and Baltyboys, it was one of the main landed estates of the locality at that time.

Much of the house's more recent history is associated with the Hornridge family, who lived in the house and managed the estate from the early 18th century until the 1950s.

Blessington Lakes came into existence in March 1940 when the ESB flooded the Liffey Valley by damming the river, providing both power and water supplies to the city of Dublin.

Dr Karl Mullen, who captained Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 1948, resided with his family in Tulfarris for several years.

In the 1980s ownership passed to Barry and Maureen Pocock and subsequently to Jim and Maeve Hayes, who were the last to use the manor house as a family home.

In order to fund the development of the resort, the Hayes family sought planning permission for 34 townhouses in 1993 and approval was granted.

The restraints of the original nine-hole golf course - built on a peninsula of land jutting into the lake towards Russborough House - meant that the opportunity to increase membership into the club was limited.

Hayes quickly recognised this and put together a development plan for an 18-hole championship golf course with a new 64-room hotel.

Additional lands were purchased from local landowners and Patrick Merrigan - whose great designs also include Slieve Russell and the Old Head of Kinsale - was brought on board as the architect.

The new course was completed in 1999 and in 2000 it staged the AIB Irish Seniors Open, when the American Bruce Fleisher, at that time the No. 1 senior golfer in the world, claimed the title.

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With more than 100 bunkers and water coming into play on 13 holes, it is not a course for the faint- hearted, but it's nevertheless a stunning place and a golf course to test the very best.

It has also stood the test of the economic times.

In 2003 the PREM Group took a 60pc stake in the resort and took over the management of the facility.

Over the next couple of years various smaller investors were brought on board to help fund the project.

The new owners obtained planning approval for a new conference centre and this was constructed on the site of the gymnasium and Spike Bar.

Eventually the developer Paddy Kelly acquired a majority shareholding until 2009, when Anglo Irish Bank appointed receivers over the property in relation to loans of €25m. Mr Kelly had bought the property for a little less than €18m in 2003 and it was estimated that he and his partners invested close to €60m in the hotel.

The receiver put the hotel on the market through DTZ Sherry Fitzgerald in February with an asking price of €5m.

It was acquired by the PREM Group, which managed it for seven years, in May this year for a price that was reportedly in excess of €8m.

The PREM Group has a portfolio of low cost city-centre hotels, four-star business hotels and resort properties - including the Osprey Hotel and Spa in Naas, which it purchased in 2015.

Announcing the acquisition, Jim Murphy, Chief Executive PREM Group, said: "It's a high-quality property with excellent staff, set in the most picturesque surroundings."

As one of Europe's leading resort operators, PREM Group is looking to make Tulfarris one of Leinster's premier golf destinations and making the most of the championship course that thrilled the seniors back in 2000.

Significant investment has already been made in the course and the improvement project will continue over the winter months to ensure members and societies will experience a world-class golf facility at Tulfarris.

Some of the upgrades include deep rough mower cutting to reduce the deep rough and promote enjoyment and creativity; landscaping and course aesthetics; pathway resurfacing; tree care surgery and an intensive bunker renovation project.

The four-star hotel features 67 elegant deluxe bedrooms as well as the Elk Bar and Lime Tree restaurant.

With its spectacular views across Blessington Lakes and the Wicklow Mountains, it's become hugely popular for family occasions and weddings and those looking for something a little more exclusive can spoil themselves at the manor house, which offers individually designed deluxe suites.

All suites command stunning views of beautiful lakes or mountains and feature elegant drawing rooms, a library and private dining to ensure you get the full 'Lord of the Manor' experience.

The resort is popular as a wedding venue, so book early. And don't be afraid to bring the kids. Nearby Russborough House has a great playground and maze, while Stonebrook pet farm in Ballymore Eustace is also nearby.

Guests can use the swimming pool at Tulfarris's sister property, the Osprey Hotel in Naas, though it's unlikely, once you drink in those views, that you'll want to leave.

Club factfile

Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort, Blessington Lakes, County Wicklow

Tel: 045 867600



Green fee rates: Midweek €30, Weekend €45

Societies rates: Midweek €25, Weekend €40

Buggy hire: €30

Club hire: €20

Electric trolleys: €10

Range Balls (50): €4

Signature hole: 18th 481 yards, Index 3. The tee is perched on the shore of Blessington Lake amidst natural grasses and wildlife, reminding golfers that a slice will send your ball to a watery grave. Risk and reward was never so evident.

Professional tip (by PGA professional Tom O'Neill): "A carefully considered lay-up presents the smart player with a pitch straight up the length of the undulating green, offering a great chance of par. Alternatively, playing the approach directly over the expansive lake will test the most adventurous golfer. A long iron must be hit with pinpoint accuracy to reach a shallow, bunker-protected green, but a birdie on this legendary hole will keep you smiling, and boasting, for some time to come!

Nearby clubs

Ballinascorney Golf Club

Blessington Lakes Golf Club

Castlewarden Golf Club

Craddockstown Golf Club

Dunmurry Springs Golf Club

Edmondstown Golf Club

Hazel Grove Golf Club

Killeen Golf Club

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