Saturday 17 August 2019

Dermot Gilleece: 'Parkland perfection created at Adare Manor - Ireland's Augusta - will make it an ideal Ryder Cup venue'

Adare Manor is considered by many to be the world's best hotel
Adare Manor is considered by many to be the world's best hotel

Dermot Gilleece

The landscape of Irish golf has changed dramatically since the Ryder Cup was first staged here in 2006.

Back then, we were without a Major winner since Fred Daly had captured the Open Championship in 1947. Now, the announcement of Adare Manor for 2026, comes in the week that Shane Lowry captured this island's 11th Major, through his runaway win in the Open Championship.

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Irish golf is truly flying high. And there is a justified belief that in staging big events, we can compete with the best.

This was certainly true of The K Club, which earned rich praise for the manner in which the Palmer Course was presented in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. And in terms of organisation and course quality, Royal Portrush was similarly commended.

Adare Manor, however, is about to set new standards for parkland perfection on this island. A reported investment of  €50m by the owner, JP McManus, has seen dramatic changes to what was already a highly-regarded layout.

The level of investment in the venue has prompted it to become known as Ireland's Augusta National. There could be no higher compliment than comparison with the home of the Masters, where the quality of the course is the stuff of legend.

Especially renowned is the quality of Augusta's greens, where the sub-air system was pioneered. Firmness of sod in Adare has also been achieved by the application of a total of 250,000 tonnes of sand to the 18 greens, which have all been redesigned to further facilitate drainage.

The objective is to make it effectively weather-proof. In other words, it is designed to be impervious to the most severe of weather, making it the best presented parkland course on this island.

As a test of golf, it has always been highly rated from its creation more than 25 years ago. And the fact that it finishes with a gamble par-five, makes it ideal for the matchplay combat of the Ryder Cup, just as The K Club was in 2006.

As it happens, that particular aspect of Adare has already been tested. When the 2007 Irish Open was staged there, Padraig Harrington emerged victorious after a sudden-death play-off down the 18th against the Welshman, Bradley Dredge.

Small wonder that Harrington loves the place. "Myself and Shane [Lowry] would often talk of having a golf course which would be like being on Tour. A place we could come down and play while getting ready for the next tournament, where the greens would be as fast as you wanted and there would be difficult chip-shots like you might get out on Tour. Now, Tom Fazio has given us such a course."

Tom Fazio, whose work as a leading golf-course architect includes regular refinements to Augusta National, has brought a level of quality to Adare never previously attempted in this country. This includes restructured greens, each with sub-air systems to regulate firmness.

It is 30 years since the idea of the Ryder Cup in Ireland was first acknowledged by the European Tour. That was in the wake of a thrilling draw with the US at The Belfry in September 1989 – the occasion when Christy O'Connor Jnr thrilled the golfing world with his climactic two-iron of 229 yards to the 18th green.

The K Club used the occasion to put down a marker, at a time when the course was still under construction.  A realistic contender, however, was Portmarnock, which lost out on the 1993 staging to The Belfry, through the casting vote of Lord Derby, chairman of the PGA.

Our next, serious bid was Government led, with Padraig O hUiginn as the key negotiator.  In his dealings with the European Tour, agreement was eventually reached for a figure of IR£7.5m and the official announcement of Ireland as the destiny of the 2005 Ryder Cup, was made at Valderrama in 1997.

Then came bidding from individual venues, with The K Club emerging victorious largely through the Smurfit sponsorship of The European Open.

All, however, was not plain sailing. The horrors of 9/11 in the US caused a year's postponement of the 2001 event and led to subsequent stagings going to even years.

So it was that the 2005 event at The K Club was actually held in 2006.

Financial details for 2026 have not been disclosed, but they are certain to be very different from previous arrangements. There has been no mention of additional tournaments, as was the case, for instance in 2001, when Adare Manor, under previous ownership, played host to the Irish Senior Open. This was on top of the Irish Open, European Open and the North West Open as regular tour events.

One imagines that we're in a far stronger negotiating position these days, than was the case for 2006.  Either way, we can be certain that Ryder Cup '26 is going to be a very costly undertaking.

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