Tuesday 12 November 2019

Lakeside luxury at Tulfarris

Former tour professional Thornton the driving force behind Wicklow resort

Homeward bound: The 18th at Tulfarris facing onto the hotel
Homeward bound: The 18th at Tulfarris facing onto the hotel

Brian Keogh

Simon Thorton knows a top resort when he sees one having plied his trade on the European Tour for close to six years.

Europe's global circuit took the former Royal County Down assistant all over the world from the scene of his 2013 European Tour win at St Omer in France to great resorts such as Gleneagles, the Home of Golf at St Andrews and the cream of world golf in far flung corners of Asia and beyond.

So it's little wonder he's confident discerning Irish golfers will recognise top-notch quality and service when they see it as he grows into his new role as tournament professional for Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort in Co. Wicklow.

Set on the shores of Blessington's lovely lakes, Tulfarris boasts much more than its 18-hole championship course, designed by the late, great Patrick Merrigan more than 20 years ago.

Set on a three-fingered peninsula, the resort nestles in 200 acres of mature woodland against the backdrop of Wicklow's rolling hills, less than an hour from Dublin city centre and 25 minutes from the M50.

It's the perfect place to test your golfing skills or just relax and enjoy the elegance of the four-star hotel which was purchased by PREM Group in 2016.

Thornton was appointed two years ago and while he is still one of Ireland's top club professionals, he has thrown himself into all aspects of making the resort one of Ireland's best.

The PREM Group has invested in excess of €6 million in the 90-bedroom hotel and championship golf course that will host Europro Tour's PREM Group Irish Masters for the third time next summer.

It's one of Merrigan's finest creations, hosting the European Senior Tour's Irish Seniors Open in 2000, when American star Bruce Fleisher (then the world's No 1 senior) saw off compatriot George Burns and the Australian Bob Shearer by three strokes.

"The goal is to make people realise there's a magnificent facility here at Tulfarris and we are slowly getting the message out there," said Thornton (42), who still competes a high level on the Irish circuit, finishing fourth in this year's Order of Merit.

"I am going into my third year now and the course has come on tremendously since I started in terms of sanding, drainage, the renovation of all the bunkers and general maintenance.

"We've added a new driving range and a new practice tee and a new clubhouse opened this summer with beautiful changing facilities and everything you need for a great day's golf, whether it's just a casual round with family and friends or a large corporate event.

"There's been major investment in new machinery and a new greenkeepers' facility but the key for us is offering quality service, whether its golf lessons with our resident teaching pro Tom O'Neill, or just a quiet weekend away enjoying the tranquillity here."

The four-star hotel offers fine dining in the Lime Tree Restaurant, more informal fare in the redecorated Elk Bar or the chance to pamper yourself with a range of beauty and body treatments .

With the West Wicklow Greenway set to pass the resort's front door following a €5 million funding announcement this summer, Tulfarris will welcome new customers over the next few years and Thornton is enjoying the challenge of making sure all guests leave feeling they've been somewhere special.

"The customer is king and they decide whether you have a good product or not," Simon explained.

"So it is all about attention to detail and being on your game all the time

"I was trained at Royal County Down, which is consistently voted the best course in the world outside the US and I go back all the time to see how they are evolving and improving all the time, making sure customers are getting a quality product.

"Tulfarris is a great facility with a great golf course and hotel and we make sure we get that right. But it's also about customer focus and making sure the client is made it feel special from the moment they arrive.

"First impressions are so important and we made sure our new driving range is the first place you see when you arrive."

Thornton does not miss leaving the long haul travel of tour life but he still finds time to play at a high level and he's passionate about putting Tulfarris back on the Irish golfing map.

"We want the people to come and see what we are - a top-class, four-star golf resort in stunning surroundings," he explained. "We are just 45-minutes drive from Dublin city centre and you will feel like you are in the middle of nowhere here. It's a beautiful environment."

The hotel has become one of Ireland's most picturesque wedding venues, boasting a breathtaking backdrop of lush green meadows and glistening lakes.

It's also an excellent location for business with facilities to cater for anything from small corporate meetings to a conference for 320 people.

As for the golf, the course remains one of the great parkland designs of the past 20 years.

The course was the brainchild of Cork businessman Jim Hayes, who predicted at that 2000 staging of the Irish Seniors Open that it would be three to five years before the course was at its best.

That dream was delayed by the economic downturn but as the club prepares for 2020, it's fair to say his vision has finally been realised.

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