When the host for the 2026 Ryder Cup was revealed, predictable cynicism was expressed over the reason it was heading to that particular venue. ‘It’s all about money and nothing to do with the quality of the course’ was the refrain. It was sneering based on fact though. The Ryder Cup, within reason, now goes to the highest bidder. In 2026 though, it will also happen to go to a stellar course, not just one that happens to be owned by a wealthy man.
In fact when Adare Manor hosts Europe against the US in seven years’ time, the Ryder Cup will be played on its finest European course for nearly half a century. It is, in this golfer’s opinion, a cut above the Belfry, the K Club, Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten, Gleneagles PGA Centenary and Golf National – the venues that have followed the last classic course to play host, Walton Heath in 1981.
That’s right, all the way back to the era when Jack Nicklaus, Peter Oosterhuis, Lee Trevino, and Bernard Gallacher were playing. It wasn’t always superior. The first time I played it, Adare would, in my eyes, have sat in the middle of those courses. It was a perfectly enjoyable parkland with a special backdrop of the manor house and River Maigue to the closing holes.
Then it was bought by racehorse supremo JP McManus and, as someone not only used to success in life but also as a proud Limerick man eager to give his corner of Ireland something to be proud of, he set about doing something special with his purchase.
The hotel has been upgraded to the point it frankly has no peers I can think of, while the transformation of the Limerick course is without question remarkable. Only Turnberry’s Ailsa has been renovated so comprehensively. Its routing changed more than Adare’s, but in terms of how it plays, the Irish course has been transformed more extensively.
American architect Tom Fazio, who advises Augusta, carried out the overhaul and while it’s easy to get carried away about that comparison, Adare now has echoes of the Masters host.
Whereas its previous iteration had relatively narrow fairways – partly as a result of relatively scarce maintenance resources in that era for Adare Manor – and rough so thick it made Carnoustie ’99 seem sparse, now you never have to so much as look for your ball never mind lose it.
The whole site, all 170 acres of it, is mown down, so the only time your caddie – they are obligatory here – has to reach for another ball is if you find water on the 14 holes where lakes, streams or the Maigue are in play.
There are also just 42 bunkers, albeit used astutely to give the skilled and brave player the best route into greens, and there are trees – 127 new mature trees to be exact – that block views of greens if you are wayward off the tee, but this is now an exceptionally forgiving course off the tee.
Instead, the challenge is on and around the greens, most of which have a crowned ‘Pinehurst’ effect that puts an emphasis on accurate approaches and even more of a premium on the shots that follow if you miss the target with your first attempt.
Chipping is not the worst part of my game by any means, but rarely have I more regularly felt the strike had to be vaguely decent to achieve any sort of desirable result.
Anything slightly heavy will often be back at your feet at Adare, anything slightly thin and you are probably facing the same shot from the other side of the green. Anyone who has played at Royal Dornoch will be able to picture this scenario easily.
And despite the obvious links-parkland/fescue-bent grass distinction, some of you will be pleased to know that as at Dornoch you often have the option of taking the putter as Adare’s surrounds are so tightly mown. As I proved many times, this is no guarantee of success, but if you aren’t keen on chipping you do at least have an alternative.
Once on the green the examination continues, because most surfaces have significant undulations. In your favour, though, as with every inch of this 7,509-yard course is the fact the super-slick greens will be the most flawless you have played on all year. Or any other year.
Even if like me you enjoy the rawness of a links, you can’t help but admire Adare’s presentation. It is sensational. I’ve not played Augusta but I’ve been three times, seen its greens, tees and fairways up close and would challenge anyone to confidently state it is in notably better nick than Adare.
Given the respective climates of Limerick in south-west Ireland and Georgia in America’s south, it is a notable feat for Adare and its head greenkeeper Alan McDonnell. Helping McDonell are no fewer than 50 greenkeepers, which is of course a good start.
It also helps to have all 18 greens fitted with a sub-air system that sucks moisture away through vacuum pumps, 77,000 linear metres of gravel trenches and perforated pipes, 180,000 tonnes of sand under the endless carpet of grass, and 41 capillary concrete bunkers that mean the fine white sand in the traps is always fluffy.
So what does this all expense – I’ve seen and heard up to £100 million quoted – effort and expertise add up to? Well, Adare – the resort is known as ‘Adare Manor’ but the golf is ‘Adare’, because right next door is the village’s own golf club, Adare Manor – is ranked in eighth place in our inaugural Irish Top 100.
It lies ahead of the European, County Louth, County Sligo, Old Head, Doonbeg and Tralee – and I would expect it to rise one or two places as time goes on, which would put it behind only County Down, Portrush and Portmarnock.
That ranking is a conspicuous indication of how good it now is. Other rankings have actually had it even higher but, for better or worse, our panel could be accused of having a links bias – so for perhaps an even better illustration of Adare’s quality, consider that the next highest-placed inland course in our Irish list wasn’t even in the top 20. If you want further proof of its excellence, try these three:
Padraig Harrington: “It’s second to none. A fantastic design, fantastic development. With the hotel and clubhouse, there’s nothing better.”
Rory McIlroy: “The course is absolutely incredible. To have it presented like this is phenomenal, it’s parkland perfection.”
Shane Lowry: “The best course in the country and one of the best in Europe. The whole venue is just incredible, like nothing else we have in Ireland.”
Open champion Lowry told me it was Ireland’s No. 1 in Dubai at the start of this year and his view startled me. He genuinely loves Adare though and both he and Harrington are regular visitors, not just to use the outstanding practice facilities but also to play the course.
It might seem odd to point that out, but Tour players barely play social golf away from the circuit. Lowry, clearly, simply enjoys playing this course. One of its strengths is the absence of an obviously weaker stretch or even a more modest single hole.
Most will point to the back nine as the stronger, and there is an argument to be made for switching the nines in the Ryder Cup in order that all the matches get to the thrill-a-minute last four.
It would be a shame if that quartet – with either the Maigue or a lake in play for three of them – don’t see much action because matches finish as early as they usually do.
But don’t mistake the front half for a warm-up. Right from the off it grabs you, the 1st a portent of things to come with an inviting drive followed by a mid-iron to a lamb chop-shaped green on angle that has a stream running all along its front.
The odd numbers might provide the best of this half: McIlroy’s favourite was the strong two-shot 3rd; the 5th is a tantalising risk-reward par 4 around a lake; the 7th a tantalising ‘gettable’ par 5 around water; and then the undulating 9th has the handsome manor as the backdrop. Coming home though, the pulse does rise a notch.
The inviting 10th, the bunker-free but water-protected short 11th and twisting par-5 12th set up what is a real highlight at the classy two-shot 13th. After you’ve tackled the 14th’s funky green complex you turn round to start the high-octane march for home.
It begins with a reachable par 4 played parallel to the river and the manor, continues with a par 3 entirely over water, tests you with a stringent two-shotter and culminates with an all-world finishing hole where the river separates the fairway and a magnificent, sprawling green complex.
It will be an epic finishing hole for Ryder Cup matches, and might even convince the cynics that the event had gone to a home that warranted it as well as could afford it.