Saturday 19 October 2019

Polishing a diamond

Adare Manor begins Ryder Cup countdown

Masterpiece on a grand scale: Turfgrass Consultancy’s John Clarkin (Managing Director) and Julian Mooney (Director of Agronomy) pictured at Adare Manor
Masterpiece on a grand scale: Turfgrass Consultancy’s John Clarkin (Managing Director) and Julian Mooney (Director of Agronomy) pictured at Adare Manor

Creating a golf course beyond anything seen on the island of Ireland was a gargantuan task.

But while The Golf Course at Adare Manor may be ready to stage the Ryder Cup tomorrow, there's still work to do before Europe and the USA do battle in perfect conditions in 2026, even if Limerick decides to unleash rainstorms that would put Angela's Ashes to shame.

Just ask John Clarkin, Managing Director of golf course specialists Turfgrass Consultancy, who were a key part of the team that helped JP McManus make his Ryder Cup dream come true.

The brief handed to golf course designer Tom Fazio and all the consultants involved in the remodelling and rebuild was to create a course "beyond everything".

While that might appear easy to do if money is no object, the goal was not to spend money needlessly but to produce something of such quality that it simply became irresistible as a Ryder Cup venue.

Turfgrass were enlisted as the agronomy, course specifications and construction management experts for the project in 2015 and working alongside the Fazio team, they helped turn Robert Trent Jones' original design into something that will thrill millions worldwide in seven years' time.

Anyone who has set foot on Augusta National's hallowed turf will attest to the fact that Adare Manor is its equal in terms of quality - purpose-built to test the best of the best but also eminently enjoyable for the amateur golfer.

The latest "grass technology" was used to create what is a masterpiece on a grand scale with wall to wall sand-capping ensuring a dry, playable golf course all year round.

With SubAir built into each of the 19 greens - they didn't forget the practice putting green - Golf Course Superintendent, Alan MacDonnell and his staff can regulate air, water and temperature to maintain the creeping bentgrass greens and the ryegrass surrounds in perfecting condition all year round.

"In fairness to Mr McManus, the brief was to build it for a Ryder Cup," explained Clarkin, who along with Julian Mooney, Director of Agronomy at Turfgrass, has vast experience when it comes to preparing courses for big events.

Not only have they worked for the last four European Solheim Cups, but they have also done nine Rolex Trophies at Golf Club de Genève and count Wentworth Club as well as Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy among their many clients.

The golf course itself may well be ready to host the Ryder Cup tomorrow, but Adare Manor will go the extra mile to make sure every inch of the estate is ready for the vast crowds that will come to see the event in 2026 as well as next year's JP McManus Pro-Am from July 6-7.

"When we opened on April 4 last year, I asked Rory McIlroy what he thought of it because I have known him for 10 years," Clarkin explained.

"He said the greens were a little firm and young and could do with developing a bit of thatch, which was 100 per cent correct. But he said we could have the tournament tomorrow.

"That's why Mr McManus brought in Fazio, who is the man for big tournaments. Room for grandstands was built into the design, and all the ducting for fibre-optic cable for television went into the ground. All that is prepped and ready to go."

Preparing to welcome more than 40,000 spectators a day is a big challenge, but when one considers that there were close to five times more hospitality units at Hazeltine in 2016 compared to The K Club in 2006, it's clear that the Ryder Cup is now an enormous beast.

Adare Manor's Ryder Cup will come ten years after Hazeltine, which means that Ireland's second hosting of the Ryder Cup is likely to be the biggest ever staged.

Clarkin and Tom Marzolf, Senior Design Associate for Fazio and his man on the ground in Adare, made sure they took in every aspect of the course at Hazeltine and predict 2026 to be a global monster.

"The golf course can handle anything, it's the infrastructure that is the challenge - moving people around the golf course and over bridges," he said.

"The JP McManus Pro-Am will be a great test for it with 40-45,000 expected each day, but it won't be a problem at Adare, especially now that the golf course has been opened up."

Golf course superintendents all over the world would give their right arms to work for a client like the McManus family and Clarkin admits he's been fortunate.

"They wanted the best of the best," he explained. "When it came to working out what type of drainage system to put in, it was amazing.

"On a typical course, you would put in a herringbone system on the fairways with a mainline and lines every 10 metres. The McManus family wanted a line every five metres. So for the client to over-spec the drainage system was fascinating. And it wasn't about money, it was about quality.

"It was about Irish weather and what people seek in a golf course is dry conditions. It was all about quality."

Adare Manor is 80 hectares (200 acres) of pristine grass, which is what guarantees return business.

"Your average golf course has 20,000 linear metres of drainage and Adare has 83,000 metres! On top of that, we put in a further 250,000 linear metres of sand slits. That's 250km of drainage on top of the drainage. And 250,000 tonnes of sand as well. It is the ultimate."

The K Club took 110m of rain in 2006 and while they had six inches of sand on the fairways, having begun sand-capping in 1993, there was little in the rough, prompting organisers to rush out and buy Ireland's supply of mulch when the rain started to pelt down.

"Mr McManus recognises that it's important to get the spectators around," said Clarkin. "So we are going to be top-dressing the rough very heavily to add another three inches of sand to the rough over the next few years, so that's another 100,000 tonnes of locally sourced sand."

Clarkin has known the likes of Ryder Cup skipper Harrington since his days playing Boys golf and he admits that building the Dubliner's home practice facility was an eye-opening experience.

"We built it in 2001 and we still maintain it and it was fascinating. His attention to detail was incredible. He even dictated all the levels of top dressing because he didn't want an explosion of sand when he hit a ball. He wanted to feel the club going through the turf. He was brilliant.

"When we were doing Adare Manor, he tested the sand for the bunkers and the sand he liked most was crushed glass but we couldn't make it work."

Making Adare Manor work has taken the expertise of hundreds of professionals but given the attention to detail that's gone into its creation, Ireland's second staging of the Ryder Cup promises to be unforgettable. And wellie-free.

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