The K Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare in Ireland is well known for its championship golf courses, both of which were designed by the legend and ‘King of Golf’, Mr. Arnold Palmer. The resort famously hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006 and has set the scene for some of golf’s most exciting moments, many of which happened on the Arnold Palmer designed Palmer South. Who could forget the excitement of the 2004 Smurfit European Open when Retief Goosen went on to win just two weeks after taking his second US Open title? Or the closing stages of the 2007 Smurfit European Open, when Colin Montgomerie finally ended his 18-month drought without a trophy and somehow stayed out of the water on the 18th to win the 2007 European Open by just one shot?
This inland inspired course is situated to the south of the River Liffey which flows through the 550-acre estate course and boldly faces its sister to the north, the Arnold Palmer designed Palmer North. While the Palmer North is generally described as a mature parkland course, the Palmer South is distinctly different. A combination of doglegs skirt the water’s edge on the 5th and 6th holes leading up to the breath taking signature hole, the almighty 7th. The magnetic feature of this hole is the ‘Swallow Quarry’, a vast man made rock face that rises some 60 feet out of a glorious lake. A series of waterfalls cascade the water hazard but its beauty belies its treachery and players are well advised to admire the view from the centre of the fairway!
The course has recently undergone a substantial rejuvenation programme in order to make it sharper, fresher and more challenging. Course Superintendent, Gerry Byrne and his team have been busy and the refresh of the golf course was just the third phase in a reinvestment programme that has seen over €20 million being spent on the famous Kildare resort.
The full reinvestment programme commenced when Sir Michael Smurfit became the sole owner of the resort and started to put money into all aspects of the property in order to firmly place it as one of the most exciting resorts in Europe. Stage one involved resurfacing the full entrance avenue, the refreshing of public areas in the hotel and the laying of new, handmade Connemara carpets. New tennis courts were also constructed and a new, Thai Restaurant now enhances the K Lodge.
Stage two got under way two years ago, involving the construction of 70 new hotel bedrooms, comprising the Liffey Wing of the Five AA Red Star hotel, along with a new hotel bar, the Henry and the extensive renovation of bedrooms in the original wing.
Most of the work on the Palmer South was completed in late 2016 and was done after the team finished working on the Palmer North which was the venue for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in May 2016. For Gerry and his team the work represented a great challenge, coming as it did nine years after the last European Open and 10 years since the resort staged the Ryder Cup.
Work began in earnest on the Palmer South when more than 3,000 metres of drains were laid. Then came extensive sanding, the fairways were re-seeded and top-dressed with 1,000 tonnes of sand, hauled from a pit in Wexford in Southern Ireland. And one application wasn’t considered sufficient, rather there were as many as three in a year. The plan is for this sand treatment to become part of the course-maintenance programme from now on.
Meanwhile, various lakes throughout the course had become heavily overgrown and needed to be cut back. Little landing areas for fishing were also created and all the lakes were restocked.
“Our aim here is to present premium playing surfaces with attention to all the key details,” said Gerry Byrne. “I believe the drainage upgrade will help us create those surfaces. That, and nearly two tonnes of seed onto our fairways should gradually deliver the lush, uniform look that we desire.”
Director of Golf at The K Club Sharon Smurfit said that the work on the course has been very successful and was warmly welcomed by the members and guests. “Work never stops here, it can’t. We must continually strive for excellence – an attribute that The K Club is well known for. New course furniture and signage will also be put in place this summer and various upgrades are due to take place in the K Lodge later in the year.”