The old Skellig Bay Golf Course by Ron Kirby never attracted golfers to the southwest of Ireland, going bankrupt and then fallow in less than a decade.
The new Hogs Head Golf Club designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. on the same site won't have the same problem. Hogs Head, built upon a segment of the old course just four miles from Waterville Golf Links, made a soft opening this fall for prospective members and VIPs. The club plans to be private, offering only limited public tee times. When it officially opens next spring, two non-member foursomes per day will be chosen by lottery at a rate of €250 per player (roughly $295). There are plans for a lodge and cottages.
Hogs Head is the vision of Bryan Marsal and Tony Alvarez II, founders of Alvarez & Marsal, a global professional services firm known for turning around troubled companies. In essence, their expertise was put to good use at Hogs Head.
Surrounded by farmland, Hogs Head is more a headlands course than a links. It boasts stirring views of the Atlantic Ocean, Ballinskelligs Bay and Ireland's tallest mountains, the Macgillicuddy’s Reeks. The Finglas River, a salmon-running stream, flows through the front nine.
"We have a passion for creativity," Jones II said in a phone interview in early October. "We are getting good feedback. Some thought it was too hard; some too easy. I thought it was like goldilocks and the three bears. It was just right. The wow factor is the scenery."
His team of shapers and local contractors cleared out the network of rock walls constructed by the previous owner and moved a reported 250,000 cubic meters of dirt to sand-cap the fairways, ensuring firm and fast conditions. Three styles of native fescue grasses line the fairways. A dramatic sequence of holes (nos. 8-16) runs near or along 100-foot coastal bluffs. Corridors from at least four old holes were reused.
Jones II said he tossed in all sorts of architectural nuances, comparing it to "a jazz musician riffing, lots of subtext and melody." The club's motto is "built by friends for friends for fun."
The par-3 third hole crosses the stream with shades of the famous 12th hole at Augusta National. The par-5 sixth hole ends at a 'Biarritz green', which is unique considering most long Biarritz greens dissected by a swale are found on par 3s. The 11th and 14th holes share a double green. No. 13 features two different greens used for alternate play. All five par 3s flirt with the varying topography - the river, the cliffs and the sea.
"I would describe the course like a mystery with 18 puzzles that reveal their secrets slowly and depending upon the wind and the weather," Jones II said.
The club's website is expected to be live early next year.
Reawakening of Adare Manor
The 104-room Adare Manor will reopen Nov. 2 after a two-year-long, multi-million-dollar expansion and restoration. Golfers, however, will have to wait until next spring to tee it up at the renamed Golf Course at Adare Manor, long considered to be among the top two parkland courses in Ireland (the K Club's Palmer course, host of the 2006 Ryder Cup, the other). Tom Fazio's upgrades of the playing turf and infrastructure on the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design circa 1995 is an all-out effort by resort owner J.P. McManus to land the 2026 Ryder Cup. Sand-capped fairways and cutting-edge SubAir technology should solve drainage issues that once plagued the course set on the River Maigue. The Irish Times has reported that the two-time Irish Open venue (2007-08) will charge the highest green fees in Ireland (€340 or roughly $400) with the golf cart hire (€60/$70) or a caddie (€55/$64) pushing the total cost higher.
A new 42-bedroom wing, a 350-guest ballroom and the La Mer Spa (one of only 11 in the world) were added to Adare Manor, a unique Neo-Gothic mansion that is a "Calendar House," named for its 365 stained-glass windows for each day of the year, 52 chimneys for each week, seven pillars in the lobby for the days of the week and four towers to mark the seasons. Each bedroom is individually designed, paying tribute to the creative force behind the original Manor built in the 1830s – Lady Caroline Dunraven. Guests can dine by candlelight in the Oak Room or join the lively party and live Irish music in the Tack Room bar. Outside, the walled gardens and manicured trails around medieval ruins have all been enhanced as well.
Renovations at Castlerock Golf Club
Renovations on the Mussenden Links at the Castlerock Golf Club - one of the world's rare par-73 courses - will start Oct. 16. Northern Ireland's premier 27-hole links is just minutes from the Dunluce Links at the Royal Portrush Golf Club, site of The Open in 2019.
Dr. Martin Hawtree, known for tweaking England's Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Scotland's Muirfield and the Old course at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland and designing Trump International Golf Links Scotland, is in charge. The work, scheduled to be completed next April, will alter eight holes (nos. 1-2-3-11-13-15-16-18), while improving the greens and bunkers on others. Thirteen holes will stay open all winter, eight from Mussenden and five holes on the Bann nine, which I fell in love with during my visit to the region earlier this year.