A river runs through it

  • Adare
    Larry Lambrecht/ Adare Manor

    In play from tee to green, the River Maigue stages a dramatic closing par five at Adare Manor

  • Adare
    Larry Lambrecht/ Adare Manor

    At the driveable par-four fifteenth, the river presents a risk-and-reward challenge

  • Adare
    Larry Lambrecht/ Adare Manor

    The bunkerless par-three eleventh

Alan MacDonnell
By Alan MacDonnell

In 2016 The Golf Course at Adare Manor in County Limerick, Ireland, underwent perhaps the most comprehensive redesign ever seen in Europe. The estate was purchased by racehorse owner JP McManus in 2015 and, with a desire to host the highest level of tournament golf (which would ultimately be fulfilled with the awarding of the 2027 Ryder Cup), he hired Fazio Design to rejuvenate the Robert Trent Jones Sr layout, which originally opened in 1995. 

One of the course’s key defining features is the River Maigue, which bisects the 840-acre property and plays an important role in many of the golf holes. GCA spoke with golf course superintendent Alan MacDonnell to find out more. 

Can you tell us about the different ways in which the course interacts with the river, and the roles the river fulfils? 

The course was built with the water very much at the design’s forefront. The front nine features a large 15-acre lake that anchors holes three through eight. The lake is in play from the very beginning as it effectively acts as a tributary of the River Maigue, with its outfall featuring on holes one, two and three. 

Following the safety of a water-free ninth, the river returns into play to encourage drama on the way back in. Players are reintroduced to the Maigue from the tenth tee and it then continues to flirt in and out of holes as an ever-present threat. The sound of the river also plays an important role as it tests the mental game of golfers, creating a subtle announcement of the water’s danger. It may well be out of sight but still very much in mind! On the back nine, players are asked to cross the river twice, at the eleventh and eighteenth, as the water plays an instrumental role in both holes’ risk and rewards drama. 

Teeing over the water, the bunkerless par-three eleventh is guided by the Maigue down the right-hand side to the green and is teased into play by the rolling bentgrass approach, which penalises aggressive shots missed to the right. Similarly, for the fifteenth, the Maigue meanders around to hug the right-hand side of the hole and helps to frame the dogleg design with a defined right lining. Strategically, the river works in harmony with the bunkers on the fifteenth to narrow the fairway and approach in, as the river is prone to catching any stray balls, whilst the sizeable green-high bunkers on the left leave a nerve-wracking bunker shot with the river awaiting beyond the green. It’s a great example of how the river is used to create playing experiences that are as beautiful as they are strategic. 

As the course reaches its crescendo, the River Maigue assumes a starring role. On the final hole, water follows the action from tee to green, never leaving the player’s left-hand side until they cross safely on their approach to the green, which lies in the shadow of the manor house. Despite disaster lurking, it encourages players to take on the closing par five in two to avoid a scrutinising wedge shot in. This truly intimidating finish will play a lead role in staging some quite spectacular scenes come the JP McManus Pro-Am in 2021 and the Ryder Cup in 2027. 

From an agronomic standpoint, the River Maigue and the lakes play a crucial function as drainage outlets. Particularly with our climate, we can be exposed to wet conditions, so the water features are critical for course management and maintenance programmes. 

How did the redesign impact this relationship between course and river? Did it change significantly? 

The Maigue has always played a significant role in the golf course and while Tom Fazio’s redesign was sympathetic to the original Robert Trent Jones Sr design, Tom recognised the river’s full potential in regard to the layout and strategy of the course, further emphasising its presence. 

Read more: The full story of the Adare Manor redesign appeared in the January 2018 issue of Golf Course Architecture 

The greens next to the river are undoubtedly more elevated with much steeper slopes and inclines that present a real test of short game skill. The fifteenth and eighteenth greens have been brought closer to the water following the redesign. This, coupled with the low cut turf of our runoffs and little rough, means that the water is arguably more in play than ever before. 

The Maigue neighbours the whole of the driveable par-four fifteenth, tucking in very close on the right-hand side, creating a real risk and reward, whereby well struck drives could find birdie or even eagle opportunities, but offer little forgiveness for misguided shots. Equally, the eighteenth green is now only one foot from the water, posing questions to golfers who are looking to be aggressive and reach the closing par five in two, whilst also demanding a fine wedge in to hold the green and crucially avoid frustration so close to the finish. 

A retaining wall was introduced here during the redevelopment that acts as a very definitive boundary of being in play or not, but also acts as a hard engineering defence to potential erosion problems that we used to experience in this location. 

From your perspective as superintendent, what maintenance challenges does the river present? 

It’s certainly no small feat to care for and protect a river. At just under 40 miles long with a catchment area of approximately 1,000 square kilometres, the Maigue carries a lot of weight to it. The length of the river running through Adare Manor is just over three kilometres which, in total, means we have six kilometres of riverbanks that we have a duty to preserve, protect and ultimately sustain for future generations. 

Much like any river running through a course, the Maigue brings its own unique maintenance challenges and obstacles. The river here is tidal up as far as the manor house so, during the spring tides or storm surges from the Atlantic, it does present us with challenges – but normally such challenges ease as quickly as the tide turns. Because of this, the river has been known to break its banks during such events. Thankfully though there is never any lasting damage. 

An issue we used to face prior to the redesign was the constant scouring of the riverbank. However, as part of the renovation, this is something we looked to address and eradicate to prevent further damage. We sodded to protect the banks by using deep rooting fescue on the riverbanks’ tops and introduced native riverbed flora to stabilise and strengthen the banks further. This has really helped with any erosion problems previously experienced. 

As a team we are duty bound to respect the watercourse and therefore every precaution is taken to protect water quality. We are all very conscious of our obligations with regards to our interactions with the river and have implemented no spray buffer zones to ensure we protect and preserve its conditions. Over the last five years, we have put a lot of work into a thorough programme to eradicate invasive and destructive species from the riverbanks at Adare Manor, such as hogweed and Japanese knotweed, which can both affect the biodiversity and the amenity value of the river. 

What environmental benefits does the presence of the river, and other areas of water on the course, bring? 

Beyond the strategic interplay with the course, and its beautiful aesthetics, the Maigue invites a number of unique benefits, none more so than the biodiversity it encourages and homes. 

Salmon and brown trout are common sights as one looks over the bridges on the fifth, eleventh, fifteenth and eighteenth holes, but on closer inspection the river is home to particularly rare species including crayfish, freshwater mussels and lamprey eels. No matter how long you have been at Adare, these subtle features are special and endlessly impressive when we do catch a glimpse. 

Above the water, the Maigue invites many beautiful bird species with the likes of grey herons, cormorants, swans and ducks often sighted when we are out working on the course. Not forgetting the otters, who we are fortunate to share the course with and frequently see playing on the riverbanks. 

Equally, the water also means that we have a lot of positive interaction with the relevant authorities such as The Office of Public Works, Inland Fisheries Ireland and The Maigue Rivers Trust. The Office of Public Works has a real-time water gauge adjacent to the fifteenth green, which gives us information such as water levels, water temperature and voltages, allowing us access to some expert knowledge and insight to help us protect our environment and create sustainable maintenance programmes too. 

This article first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.