Alan MacDonnell: The Golf Course at Adare Manor Superintendent
Alan MacDonnell is one of the longest serving members of the Golf team at 2027 Ryder Cup venue, Adare Manor, starting his professional career in 1999 as an intern and progressing to become Golf Course Superintendent. Ryder Cup Europe caught up with Alan to discuss everything from the redevelopment of the course, his favourite hole, the maintenance required to keep the course in pristine condition and why it is the perfect set up for a Ryder Cup venue…
What has it been like to manage the new Golf Course at Adare Manor before and after its renovation?
Even before the closure for the renovations in 2016 we had so many highs here at Adare Manor; three Senior Irish Open’s, one Irish PGA Championship, two Irish Open’s and two JP McManus Pro Ams. Yet these previous highs still couldn’t prepare me for the three years of redevelopment and the pure exhilaration that we have experienced during the rebuilding of ‘The Manor’. I was fortunate that all the crew that we had prior to the renovation, stayed with us to see the project through, and we became even more exposed to such wonderful professionals that have helped us to develop in our chosen profession over the years.
Managing the new course is so far removed from the old course. I am lucky that the team that we have assembled are so dedicated to providing the best – the mantra of ‘yesterday’s standard is tomorrow’s norm’ really comes to the fore in the new course. We very much operate as a team chasing perfection and catching excellence. Being named as a Ryder Cup host venue in 2019 was a huge reward for all of our team’s efforts.
We know that the golf course was designed over two years by Tom Fazio. What excited you the most about the reconstruction?
I think it has to be the infectious enthusiasm that The Fazio Group brought to the project and the sheer drive and determination to better an already well-established and recognised golf course. The vision of Tom Fazio and his lead architect, Tom Marzolf, to see a finished hole from nothing but mud, and their desire to design a golf course that would be ranked amongst the best in the world. This is one of the reasons why we later adopted the tagline of ‘Beyond Everything’. From a greenkeeping perspective, I will always remember 4th July 2016, a day that will live long in the memory after the first seed was dropped on the new golf course. It also meant our crew were finally beginning to get out of construction mode and back into greenkeeping mode.
What are the biggest changes that golfers will notice between the old course and the newly designed course?
The single biggest change is the green complexes on the course. In total we moved over 500,000m3 of material around the course to help create the undulating fairways and 14 elevated green complexes, which I feel are the signature of the course. The next biggest change is the actual size and the maintainable acreage on the course. We have more than doubled the size of each golf hole which, whilst not unique, is certainly very different to the old course. From an agronomic standpoint, we are trying to create a monostand of creeping bent grass on our greens and surrounds that will provide a pureness and trueness on the surfaces that previously we would have only dreamt of. The fact that we have a crew dedicated to the pursuit of excellence means we spend a lot of time on the exacting tasks and the detail work that is required.
What’s your favourite hole on the course and why?
My favourite hole since the redevelopment is the 9th hole. Before it was a rather long, flat, ordinary Par 5. Now it has movement from tee to green, and you could even describe the fairway as a ‘rolling fairway’ which measures 85 yards left to right. You now have water in play on the right and a full view of The Manor as the backdrop to the hole. And then you have the green complex itself, which is like a work of art. For me, the first sighting of the green complex visible on the walk to the 1st tee is one of those ‘wow’ moments that you get to experience at Adare Manor. This is why I like this hole so much – whilst it is the largest hole on the course, it turned out to be one of our easier holes to ‘grow-in’ during the redevelopment.
It must take a huge team and lots of equipment to maintain the golf course. What’s involved and can you tell us how the team works together to keep the course perfect?
In total we have over 250 pieces of equipment in our fleet operating out of our modern maintenance facility, and during the season we would have 50 staff involved in the upkeep of the course. The upkeep of the equipment is immense, but we are fortunate to have an extremely skilled Equipment Manager, Jonathan Coleman, and two dedicated mechanics in the crew. Jonathan and his crew have the arduous task of setting up each bit of kit every morning for all 50 staff. Really, it’s the mechanics that help make us greenkeepers look good. From a works point of view, 6am starts are the norm in the season. Golf typically starts around 8am so effectively we have a two-hour head start on the first tee times. The less the golfers and guests see of us greenkeepers, the better. The number of maintainable acres on the course is vast. You could fit two golf courses on our footprint, so cohesion of works and working in unison is key to ensure necessary works with no disturbance to our guests. We have an excellent crew who are committed to producing top quality surfaces all year round.
SubAir System technology and other high-tech improvements have been made on the course. What differences will players notice from these?
SubAir is the one technology that grabs all the headlines as we are one of only three courses in these islands to have it. In simple terms, it is like a big vacuum that has the ability to pull air through the profile of the putting surface and, in turn, any excess moisture is pulled away from the surfaces ensuring that greens are firm, fast and dry, irrespective of weather conditions. Other technologies we have include the latest irrigation system and weather station from Toro, the latest bunker liner technology from Capillary Concrete, porous ceramics from Profile in both our greens and their surroundings’ construction.
The golf course was designed to be capable of hosting large-scale tournaments and events, such as the Ryder Cup. Tell us more about the provisions made to ensure The Golf Course at Adare Manor is tournament-ready?
The build was mammoth and possibly the biggest of its kind ever undertaken on this island. The criteria from the outset was to future proof the course as much as possible with the latest technology and have an infrastructure that would make Adare Manor capable of hosting future tournaments. This included using the latest bunker liner technology, the installation of 7 ½ km of access roads around the course, 73,000 metres of drainage, 250,000 metres of secondary drainage, 1,291 sprinklers, an entire sand-capped site which necessitated the importing to site of 270,000 tonnes of sand, 22,000 linear metres of ducting across the site, access to mains power at every green and the ability to have broadband connectivity throughout the course. We aim to welcome crowds and fans to deliver an atmosphere like no other Ireland has seen before.
The Golf Course at Adare Manor will now be playing host to the Ryder Cup 2027 event in its centenary year. What does being appointed a Ryder Cup host venue mean to the team at Adare Manor, and Ireland in general, and what are you most excited about for this tournament?
In our first 18 months of operation after reopening following the redesign, we were honoured to collect numerous global accolades, and these were capped off with a sense of huge pride in 2019 when we were confirmed as a Ryder Cup host venue. In fact, the news last year simply rounded off a great year for golf in Ireland, after friend of Adare, Shane Lowry, captured his first Major win at The Open in Portrush. The appointment was a huge testament and reward for the entire team here and one which they are immensely proud of.
To host golf’s greatest spectacle, in particular now during a centenary year, is a real honour and we can’t wait to see some of the world’s best players going head to head on our golf course. The course is set up for much drama, particularly down the closing stretch and from both a TV and live audience perspective, we are sure that this will be a Ryder Cup to remember.