5 Minutes with... Alan McDonnell

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience in your own words? What has it been like to manage the new Golf Course at Adare Manor before and after it’s renovation?

“I come from a small village in Co. Kerry called Kilgarvan.  My original career path was that I follow in my father’s footsteps and become a member of An Garda Siochana, but my love of golf intervened and I decided to study Golf Course Management in Harper Adams in The UK. I joined Adare Manor in 1999 as an intern and I have been here since. I progressed up through the ranks and took up my present position of Golf Course Superintendent in 2007.  I met my wife, Orla, in Adare Manor and we have three boys Sam (5), Zac (3) & Hugo (6 months). It is hard to describe my experiences in Adare Manor. Even before the closure in 2016 we had so many highs: three Senior Irish Opens, one Irish PGA Championship, two Irish Opens, and two JP McManus Pro Am’s. But none of the previous highs could have prepared me for the last three years 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 for the renovation and we became exposed to such wonderful professionals that only helped us to develop in our chosen profession.

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 norm’ really comes to the fore in the new course. We very much operate as a team chasing perfection and catching excellence.”

We know that the course was designed over two years by Tom Fazio.  What areas of the course reconstruction were you most excited about?

“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 the literally mud. Tom Fazio had the desire that Adare Manor be ranked in the Top 100 golf courses in the world and therefore the reconstruction had to include the later adopted tag line of ‘Beyond Everything’. From a Greenkeeping perspective I was most pleased and excited by the 4th of July 2016, that day will live long in the memory as the day that the first seed was dropped on the new golf course – the crew were finally beginning to get out of the construction mode and back to 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 then 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 we spend a lot of time on the exacting tasks and the detail work that is required.”

Any tips for a first play-through?

“The best tip I could give anyone is to get the correct club in your hand for the 2nd and 3rd shots in to the greens. The greens are firm and fast, and the run offs and surrounds are devilishly tough. In most instances, to be short is better then being long.”

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 yds left to right, you now have water in play on the right and you have 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. To 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. And my reasoning for liking this hole so much is that 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.”

I know it takes a huge team and a lot of equipment to take care of the Golf Course. What’s involved? Can you tell me a bit about how everyone 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 2 equally skilled 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. The mechanics help make us Greenkeepers look good!!

From a works point of view, we start early, 6am starts are the norm in the season – 1st golf doesn’t start until 8am so effectively we have a 2-hour head start on all golf. The less the golfers and guests see of us the greenkeepers the better!! The number of maintainable acres on the course is vast – some would say that you could fit 2 golf courses on our footprint so cohesion of works and working in unison is key in getting the works complete with no disturbance to our guests. But we have an excellent crew who are committed to producing top-quality year-round surfaces.”

I have read about the Sub Air Technology and the other high-tech improvements to the course. How does this work and what’s the difference for players?

“SubAir is the one technology that grabs all the headlines as we are one of only 3 courses in these islands that has this technology. 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. It also helps with gaseous exchange and assists with plants having a better growing environment and therefore ensuring healthier greens. Other technologies include the latest irrigation system and weather station from Toro, the latest bunker liner technology from Capillary Concrete, the latest porous ceramics from Profile in our Greens and Surrounds construction.”

The golf course was designed to be capable of hosting large-scale tournaments and events. What kinds of preparations have been made to make the Golf Course at Adare Manor 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 insofar as possible future proof the course with the latest technology and build it so that it would be 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, 1291 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, the ability to have broadband connectivity throughout the course. And finally, the creation of room to move galleries around the site – most holes can now take galleries on both sides which previously was impossible to do.”

The Golf Course at Adare Manor will be playing host to the JP McManus Pro-Am 2020.  Could you tell me what you are most excited about this tournament?

“The JP McManus Pro-Am 2020 will have a field containing the very best professionals in world golf and I think from a Greenkeeping perspective the exciting thing will be seeing the best Professional Golfers in the world play our course. Week in week out we see these players on television and now we get to see them in the flesh and we also get to test them on our course. We are striving to be the best so now let us test the best golfers. The event itself is great event to be involved with, there is such a good atmosphere generated by the players and 45,000 strong crowd and all in the name of charity.”

Anything else you’d like to mention?

“It is an honour to be here in Adare Manor and involved in such an outstanding Golf Course and it is such a privilege to be the representative of such a magnificent group of people that I call my crew. We have people here from the four corners of Ireland, and UK and Europe involved with us here in Adare and each day they strive to better themselves and our course.”


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