5 More Renovated Irish Courses You’ll Want to Play
While the spotlight is shining on Northern Ireland with the Open Championship on its way, several layouts in the Republic of Ireland deserve renewed attention
BY TOM MACKIN — Summer 2019
ADARE MANOR, County Limerick
Nowhere have the changes in the Irish golf scene been greater than at Adare Manor, where billionaire owner J.P. McManus gave designer Tom Fazio the nod to renovate the existing Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout, with a caveat to keep the layout recognizable to the original.
While maintaining the previous routing and hole corridors of the parkland layout, Fazio changed virtually everything else during a three-year project that began in 2015 and earned Best Renovation of 2018 honors from Golf Magazine after reopening in April 2018.
“The fact that we regraded the property, making 15- to 20-foot cuts in the ground and creating a whole different experience, makes this a brand-new golf course,” says Fazio. “What we’ve done in place of more bunkers is created challenge around the greens with elevation changes. More bunkers would mean less area to play golf on the ground.”
Fazio sought the perspective of Irishman and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, bringing him to tightly mowed chipping areas around greens with the most severe drop-offs (particularly on the ninth and 18th holes). “I asked him, ‘What club would you use for those shots?’ ” says Fazio. “He told me, ‘The hardest part about those shots is you’ve given me options. For good players, options create confusion, which adds to doubt in some fashion, which in turn leads to more challenge.’ A high-handicap player would certainly rather have those options than be in a bunker having to play a high, lofted shot out of the sand. That’s where the fun part of the course comes in — and it’s why there aren’t many bunkers.”
There’s not much rough, either. “Mr. McManus is a big fan of always being able to hit the back of the ball,” says Andy McMahon, director of golf. “Even if you’re in the trees, he wants you to have a swing at it.”
Overlooking numerous holes, most prominently the 15th and 18th greens, the luxurious Adare Manor received its own multimillion-dollar renovation (featuring a new 42-room wing) and now showcases a deft melding of contemporary touches with the rich history of a structure dating back to the 1830s.
“When you look at the practice facility, the course, and the grounds, this is now an international golf destination that any big event could be played on in terms of quality and space between holes for spectators and grandstands,” says Fazio. “You could pick it as a tournament venue one week and go play it the next week because of all the infrastructure that has been created.”
The renovation makes Adare Manor the early favorite to host the 2026 Cup — which would be a dream come true for McManus, an avid golfer and Limerick native who has gone on record about his hopes of bringing the biennial competition to the resort.
As for Fazio, he has only one regret with the project. “I’m disappointed that it’s finished,” he says. “I love that place.”
LAHINCH GOLF CLUB, County Clare
Despite a proud history spanning more than a century, Lahinch has never hosted the Irish Open. That changes in July when the tournament arrives for the first time since the course debuted 127 years ago.
British course architect Martin Hawtree, who completed a major renovation at the famed County Clare layout during the 2000s, returned over the past 18 months for further tweaking. He lowered the left-hand side of the second fairway by a few feet to open up a view of the green, reworking bunkers in that area as well. Similar work on the par-4 15th opened up a view beyond the left fairway bunker. A new back tee on the 13th — a drivable par 4 with a green bracketed by bunkers on the left and a deep grass pit on the right — plus new back tees on 17 and 18 push the routing just over 7,000 yards.
“That’s kind of the magic number these days, and the new tees allow us to go farther back on those holes if we want to,” says club manager Paddy Keane. The green on the famous fifth hole — “the Dell,” a short par 3 created by Old Tom Morris, who used a tall mound to block the view of the putting surface — was re-turfed in late 2016 and is now in prime condition. What will the pros think of a blind par 3? “We’ll find out,” says Keane with a laugh. “But they played the Irish Open at Royal County Down in 2015 and obviously there are six or seven shots there to the green where you can’t see it. The pro who is 2 or 3 under on the Dell for the week will like it!”
“The difficulties [of Lahinch] will depend on the strength of the wind,” says Hawtree. “Then the defense mechanisms of the surrounds and the contours on the greens will come into their own.”
NARIN & PORTNOO LINKS, County Donegal
Gil Hanse, one of the world’s most sought-after course architects, is putting his stamp on this low-profile links in northwest Ireland. He, partner Jim Wagner, and their team began the renovation work last year. The course, purchased by area native Liam Mc Devitt and business partner Larry Foley in spring 2017, will feature 16 new greens, 18 new tee boxes, and five new par 3s. The work’s final phase begins in October with a planned May 2020 completion (the course will remain open during the project).
Hanse calls Narin & Portnoo one of the most beautiful settings for golf that he and Wagner have ever seen. “With the course on a peninsula, the views all around it are stunning, with different bodies of water, islands, and hills providing a great panorama,” he says. “We have also never worked on a true links site, so the opportunity to work on a site that is pure sand, pure golf, and stunningly beautiful was an opportunity that Jim Wagner and I were excited to take on.”
Mc Devitt, who grew up playing the course, acknowledges the good fortune in attracting the acclaimed design team to the project. “Everything that Gil and Jim have put down on paper has been implemented,” he says. “The feedback we are getting from guys who have played the course for the last 30 to 40 years is they can’t believe the changes, the time frame they are being finished within, and the quality of the work. It’s like they have a brand new golf course.”
PORTMARNOCK GOLF CLUB, just north of Dublin
Portmarnock, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, enhanced its layout in preparation for hosting the 2019 British Amateur in June. To counter longer hitters, architect Martin Ebert extended nine of the championship tees and added six new strategic bunkers on six holes. He also incorporated a mounding program to enhance some flatter areas of the course; specifically on the left side of the second hole and between the ninth and 10th holes. Doing so prevents players from taking shortcuts off the tee and forces them to play those holes the way they were meant to be played. A revamped practice ground features a double-sided range, as well as new chipping and putting greens.
Portmarnock previously hosted the British Amateur in 1949, the only other time the event has been held outside of Great Britain.
Although the club has 27 holes, the championship routing consists of the Red and Blue Nines. Long considered a challenging but fair test, it has earned praise for its high quality from the world’s best golfers, including major champions Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods, among many others.
TRUMP INTERNATIONAL GOLF LINKS & HOTEL DOONBEG, County Clare
Extensive course renovations, begun in 2014 and now complete, include a new green at the third hole and a new par-3 14th hole. The project had various purposes, according to Martin Hawtree, who oversaw the changes: “to get rid of the quirks and mannerisms of the original [a 2002 Greg Norman design]; introduce some design features already essayed at Trump Aberdeen in Scotland, such as grass pathways; and repair the very considerable damage encountered during the 2014 storms, including adding some new holes and relocating some.”
The renovation wrapped up its final chapter in early May on the par-4 sixth hole with the relocation of the green farther away from a cliff edge to minimize erosion and saltwater-related damage incurred in recent years. Off the course, plans call for an estimated $45 million expansion, including ballrooms, a new restaurant, new leisure facilities, and new homes.
But the memorable views from many holes remain unchanged — most notably from the ninth, 14th, and 18th holes, all set adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and crescent-shaped Doughmore Bay (where you’ll often see surfers catching some waves).
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