The incredible scenes of Irishman Shane Lowry lifting the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush have barely dissipated, but there is more exciting news for the island of Ireland. Fresh off hosting The Open 2019 in Northern Ireland, it has been announced that Adare Manor in County Limerick, Ireland, will host the Ryder Cup in 2026.
This isn't just exciting news for the hordes of Irish and European fans who will no doubt come in their droves to this sleepy corner of west Ireland, but fantastic news for golfers everywhere – who will get to witness first hand the joys of one of architect Tom Fazio's greatest masterpieces.
A little bit of Augusta National in the Emerald Isle, Adare Manor was voted the best new European golf course in the Square Mile Golf Awards 2018, along with countless other plaudits, from golf pros to sportswriters.
Before heading out into the rugged links courses of the Wild Atlantic Way, golfers to this part of Ireland simply must stop off at the spectacular Adare Manor. A short 30-minute drive from Shannon Airport, County Limerick’s finest five-star hotel dates as far back as the 1860s – and, yet, it’s recent multi-multi-million pound renovation makes it one of the very best in the British Isles.
L C Lambrecht
L C Lambrecht
The 842-acre property, owned by racehorse tycoon JP McManus, is a little reminiscent of Gleneagles in its confluence of old-world charms and modern touches, but its parkland golf course is a striking point of difference.
The story goes that famed golf architect Tom Fazio was invited to consult on a small bunker restoration project to coincide with the hotel’s grand reopening in 2017, but he and Open-winner Padraig Harrington persuaded Mr McManus into rebuilding the entire golf course from scratch. As an avid golfer, the Irishman couldn’t help himself: he signed a cheque for some £30m and watched his course transform into one of Europe’s most spectacular layouts. No, really, even that undersells the scale of this achievement.
Fazio tore up almost the entire existing Robert Trent Jones Snr course to lay 77,000m of drainage and moved 220,000 tonnes of sand to alter the camber of the fairways. On the greens he laid 007 bentgrass (a tightly knitted turf that makes for a marble-like surface) and installed the first SubAir system in Ireland underneath (essentially, a big vacuum that controls the amount of moisture on the greens) to ensure the perfect putting surface in any weather conditions.
As in a fine dining restaurant, it’s the minute details you don’t even notice at first that really add up to Adare Manor being a world-class venue
Elsewhere, there are perfectly primped and preened bentgrass runoff areas – the kind of devilish feature that wreaks havoc on the PGA Tour – and a team of more than 50 greenskeepers repairing every single divot before golfers take to the course each day.
As in a fine dining restaurant, when you’re playing the best golf courses it’s the minute details you don’t even notice that really add up to a world-class venue. Early journalist reviews have quietly compared Adare Manor to none other than Augusta National, but it’s only upon walking the manicured fairways of the 12th and 13th holes that you begin to believe it: you can almost hear the faint roar of the Masters floating through the colourful trees.
It’s unsurprising, really, that the Ryder Cup will now bring the biggest tournament in golf to this course in the not-too distant future. From the tips, the course stretches to an eye-watering 7,500 yards, with a high degree of difficulty, but the truth is this course was simply made to host a matchplay tournament. The drama of the water holes, the need to use almost every club in the bag – heck, Fazio installed fibre-optic cabling underneath the course ready for TV cameras.
The 9th hole is a gigantic 631-yard par five that caps of a lively opening nine. Peppered with bunkers left and right, and a narrow treeline to avoid on both sides, the big stick needs to find the fairway to avoid turning this hole into a nightmare. As a traditional three-shotter, it's not a surprise to see one of the most testing green complexes ask some serious questions of players approaching the green. A gaping central bunker just short of the green is likely to collect a lot of balls, irregardless of the ability of the players, while more of those steep run-offs is going to punish those who go a little long.
As with the finest championship courses, however, Adare Manor rises to a crescendo in its final holes, starting with a driveable par four that is dominated by the River Maigue, which runs the length of the right-hand side. During the Ryder Cup, there is no doubt we will see plenty of eagles and doubles under the highest of pressures. This is what matchplay is all about.
Next up is a tremendous par-three that bears more than a passing resemblance to the 12th at Augusta. No more than 167 yards from the tips, the difficulty lies in the vast lake that clouds the vision in front of the putting surface. Fazio being the sadist he is, players who take too much club to carry the water may find themselves in a tricky little hallow at the back of the green where, once again, water will be in play for those who don't execute a perfect pitch shot.
The par-five 18th hole is surely Fazio’s masterstroke. Playing back towards the manor house and into the wind, players must make the decision whether to go for the green in two or lay up and leave a tricky 120-yard pitch into the green. Either way, the River Maigue is the first line of defence – eagerly waiting for the slightest miscue short and right of the green. Miss the green to the left and you find yourself with a steep uphill chip with no protection from the water behind. It’s heart-attack city from tee to green. I celebrated par as if it were an eagle.
Make no mistake, this is the best new layout in Europe, and is set to entertain the world on your TV very soon. For now, if you can, pay the €340 green fee and the €55 compulsory caddie fee and play it for yourself: this is as good as it gets anywhere. Period.
Adare Manor costs €340, plus €55 caddie fare, see adaremanor.com for room rates and tee times