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|Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort's Neo-Gothic Manor House took nearly 30 years to build. (Courtesy of adaremanor.com)|
ADARE, Co. Limerick, Ireland -- There's a misconception when it comes to planning a golf trip to Ireland.
Some Americans firmly believe a day spent on an Irish parkland golf course -- no matter how well regarded -- constitutes a wasted round that should have been spent on a links course.
The point makes sense: Every round on a links is a magical experience, essentially unavailable in the United States. But to ignore a fabulous golf course and five-star destination like Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort is a mistake. The resort staff treats stay-and-play guests like royalty.
Michigan resident Jim Knight recently spent his first golf trip to Ireland playing links golf on the legendary Ballybunion Old Course and Waterville House & Golf Links, but he came away just as impressed with Adare Manor Golf Club, ranked as the country's top parkland course by Golf Digest Ireland in 2009.
"It was one of those rounds you can't believe what you are seeing," Knight said. "The golf was challenging. You walk away feeling you had a great time. I'm really glad we went."
The 7,453-yard golf course ranks as the final jewel in the crown of Robert Trent Jones Sr. It was the last major project on which he worked, opening in 1995.
In typical RTJ fashion, nothing about Adare Golf Club appears flashy or tricked up. It serves a steady diet of traditional holes, rolling across 230 acres of lush Irish countryside just southwest of Limerick, about a 45-minute drive from the Shannon Airport. Two significant water hazards -- a 14-acre lake on the front nine and the River Maigue on the back -- add intrigue and drama to the round.
The layout pleases all types, whether you're a serious stick or just teeing it up on holiday.
The club boasts a championship pedigree. It hosted the Irish Open of the European Tour in 2007 and 2008. Who can forget Richard Finch's dramatic shot on the 18th hole to win in 2008? His follow-through sent him tumbling into the River Maigue, a blunder beamed across the world and still available on YouTube.
Tiger Woods shot a humbling, first-round 78 in the 2010 the JP McManus Invitational Pro Am, the largest charity golf tournament in the world. Held every five years, the event attracted 13 of the 15 highest-ranked players in the world.
"People always talk about the K Club as the best parkland course, because it hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup," said Gary Howie, pro shop manager and golf professional at Adare Golf Club. "(But) there are stronger holes here, all around. There are 16 or 17 tough holes."
RTJ made great use of the Manor House for aesthetic purposes, too. It first comes into focus on the eighth hole, the aiming point of the 481-yard par 4. And the ninth green rests near the shadow of the sprawling mansion.
The views get better along the back nine, including the ruins of the Franciscan Friary beyond the 14th green. The 378-yard 15th plays peacefully along the River Maigue. The 167-yard 16th hole requires a precise swing over more water and a deep front bunker.
The round climaxes with the 548-yard 18th hole, no doubt one of the best par 5s in the world. The green sits tucked across the river, reachable only by a dynamic foot bridge. The Manor House and a mammoth tree, the oldest Cedar of Lebanon in Europe, tower in the background. Knight walked all the way back to the golf course from his accommodations in the village just to take more pictures.
"All those holes along the manor were just stunning," he said. "The 18th hole is one I'll always remember."
It takes a history lesson to truly appreciate an architectural wonder like the Manor House.
The Neo-Gothic mansion took nearly 30 years to build. Its construction, which began in 1832 as a project of the ailing Wyndam Henry, the second Earl of Dunraven, kept many local peasants busy during the devastating potato famine. The structure was named after the nearby village of Adare, a charming community of thatched-roof cottages, lively pubs and antique shops just a short stroll past the estate's gates.
Curious eccentricities lend charm to the house, most notably its design as a "Calendar House," with 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. The windows detail the Dunraven family's history through cryptic symbolism.
The Dunraven family lived in the house until selling it in 1982. Five years later, the Thomas F. Kane family of Palm Beach, Fla., purchased the 840-acre estate in its entirety, setting into motion a massive renovation that restored the house to its former grandeur. It opened as a full-service resort in 1988.
Two decades later, Adare Manor is a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World. Don't leave without investigating every nook and cranny of the inspiring Manor House.
Stone gargoyles sport mischievous grins as they guard the lobby. Grand chandeliers and remarkable woodwork anchor the Minstrel's Gallery, a stunning banquet hall popular for destination weddings. Brides love the photo-friendly scenery of the formal outdoor French gardens.
All 62 guestrooms and suites are unique in size and decor. Those with ornate fireplaces are particularly treasured. Most rooms feature old-world handiwork, beds with carved headboards, high-arched ceilings, marble bathrooms and fine furnishings. There's wireless Internet, too.
The staff serves traditional afternoon tea with a modern twist in the spectacular Drawing Room that overlooks the manicured lawns. The Tack Room, buried in one of the oldest parts of the manor, feels like a stuffy cave by day. Fueled by alcohol and live music, the atmosphere comes alive late at night with the revelry centered around an open fireplace. Classic novels, written in several languages, fill the shelves of the library.
The royal setting of the Oakroom, overlooking the river, delights the senses almost as much as the food from the menu. Only candlelight illuminates the accompanying colonnade at night, setting the stage for an enchanting meal.
For a more casual experience, try the gregarious bar and dining room of the nearby Carriage House, also known as the clubhouse. Its menu features fish and chips, part of a refined bistro slant. Savor the fresh cod, caught off the coast of Kenmare and served the same day.
"(The Manor House) has just a great atmosphere," Knight said. "If I went back (to Ireland), I would be tempted to stay right there."
The resort offers so much more than the Manor House and the golf. Its 22 two- and four-bedroom townhouses sit adjacent to the golf clubhouse, as well as 46 luxurious three-bedroom villas situated 15 minutes, by foot, from the Manor House. The villas provide a perfect option for larger family groups or vacationers who want more privacy. They are more affordable than accommodations at the Manor House and allow access to the same amenities.
The spa, featuring Elemis Spa products, serves as a relaxing haven for those who spare no expense. Celebrities John Travolta and Michael Douglass have taken advantage of the treatments.
Entertainment varies, from whiskey and wine tastings to horseback riding and garden tours. More sophisticated pursuits such as archery, falconry and fly fishing are available. The River Maigue produces some of the best trout in Ireland.
Adventurous guests can ride in hot air-balloons ride to view some lovely countryside from a different perspective. And why not? After all, a stay at Adare Manor takes any vacation to new heights.
September 17, 2010
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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