IF you are ever in Ireland and want to play a sumptuous, championship, Robert Trent Jones-designed parkland in the shadow of a stately home do not make the mistake of going to play at Adare Manor.
Although the five-star hotel and resort goes by that name, the famous on-site course that has hosted the Irish Open in recent years is called Adare.
Neighbouring Adare Manor GC, extremely pleasant though it doubtless is, is a more modest members’ club that dates back to 1900 and was originally a nine-holer, upgraded to 18 by Eddie Hackett in the 1990s.
With those facts established, we are now free to concentrate on one of Ireland’s finest inland layouts, on which the likes of Tiger Woods, John Daly, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Poulter and Adam Scott competed as recently as last year in the latest instalment of the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am.
Adare has also hosted the Irish Open in recent times, with Harrington among the champions. Even more memorable was when Richard Finch won here, earning himself the nickname of ‘Flipper’ by falling into the River Maigue while propelling his ball into the heart of the final green.
This, then, is an established tournament venue, and the resort as a whole has long been especially popular with Americans, who can be on the property within 40 minutes or so of leaving Shannon Airport, in turn only a five-hour flight from their country’s eastern seaboard.
It is not difficult to see what the appeal is – leaving aside the course for a moment, this Neo-Gothic Manor built in the 1850s is a stunning piece of architecture and the setting is almost equally impressive.
A personal highlight would be the 13th, one of only five holes by my reckoning where you cannot see water. Here the fairway is lined by tall pines and the drive is blind and over a brow.
The course in its current form opened in 1994, when Trent Jones was 87.
It has several of his trademarks – airport-runway tee complexes, irregularly shaped and large bunkers, contoured greens and plenty of water.
Quite apart from the River Maigue, you will encounter two large lakes, ponds and streams.
With the exception of the climb up to the 5th green and the subsequent elevated tee shot on the short 6th, the terrain is flat, and the fairways are often lined by mature trees.
The conditioning is outstanding, and the greens are very slick. It is not enough merely to find the greens with your approaches – end up in a different segment to the flag and three putts are almost inevitable.
The Maigue bisects the course and is first viewed running alongside the 3rd. It is not until the back nine, though, that it becomes a hazard.
At the 15th, 378 yards off the back tees and considerably less from the rest, it is a matter of yards away from the middle of the fairway and the ideal position from which to attack the green. Crucially, a large tree on the left makes life difficult for those bailing out.
Trent Jones described the last as the best closing par 5 in the world, and while Pebble Beach and Royal County Down, to name but two that spring to mind, might have something to say about that, it is certainly a classic.
The Maigue is on the left for the first 400 yards or so, but the green is on the other side, with the hotel as a backdrop.
A three-shotter for virtually all, the safer you play the longer you make the hole and it is all too easy to leave yourself the best part of 200 yards out for your third shot. The green is wide but shallow, meaning the angle for the approach changes from one day to the next, and you really do not want to be going in with anything more than a short iron.
For all the drama of the 18th, a personal highlight would be the 13th, one of only five holes by my reckoning where you cannot see water. Here the fairway is lined by tall pines and the drive is blind and over a brow. It eventually doglegs right to a large and elevated green.
It is a more subtle than, say, the 7th, a classic cape hole, played around a lake that is on your right for the duration of this par 5.
To get the most out of your round at Adare, choose a set of tees that reflects your ability and remember that even if you play from the Golds (just over 6,000 yards) there is still lots of water to avoid and the greens are just as difficult to putt on as they are for those playing from the Blues.
And you never know, you might just have the enduring satisfaction of finishing your round with a birdie that few will be able to match.