On the face of it, WB Yeats, Tiger Woods and The Man With No Name would appear to have little in common. But that’s before you speak to Francis Reynolds, who has seen some of world’s most famous faces pass by in the 22 years he’s been golf manager at stunning Mount Juliet in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
Conceived by the late Dr Tim O’Mahony, the magnificent Mount Juliet estate has long been associated with Yeats’ lyrical poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree:
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow…”
It’s about as far removed from Sergio Leone’s wild west or the Magnum blasting violence of Inspector Harry Callahan of “Dirty Harry” fame as it’s possible to get. And that’s precisely what made Clint Eastwood’s presence at Mount Juliet so incongruous, when Paramount Pictures booked the entire course for the Holywood icon when he paid a visit to Ireland in 1997.
Now 83, Eastwood was a sprightly 67-year old when he stopped off a Mount Juliet to play golf. Horse-riding and clay pigeon shooting are also available at one of Ireland’s great resorts, but Clint had the course to himself, intent on shooting birdies not baddies.
There was no one around to hear if he muttered, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” to a brand new Titleist as he teed it up on the Jack Nicklaus designed course that has hosted three Irish Opens and two WGC-American Express Championships.
Far from the image he often portrays in his movies — the growling, dangerous loner with the itchy trigger finger – Eastwood is, in fact, a soft-spoken artistic type with a love of the great outdoors and the quiet life.
“I am not sure what it cost Paramount to close the course for him,” Francis says. “He was just touring Ireland and he was a lovely man, a real gentle man. His voice doesn’t match his image at all, he was very soft spoken. A shocking nice man…”
Of course, Eastwood has Irish blood in his veins.
“The best part of me is the Irish part, Egans on my mother’s side,” Eastwood said a few years ago. “She had roots in Monaghan and I’ve been to Ireland many times. It’s one of my favourite places to golf.”
His love of Ireland has as much to do with his admiration for the great film maker John Ford as his Irish ancestors.
In 2011, he was presented with the first John Ford Award by the Irish Film and Television Academy at a special event at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles.
“It’s a great privilege for me to be associated with John Ford in this way, as he was such a pioneer of American film-making. Every film-maker I know is very influenced by Ford, whether it’s his westerns or the Grapes Of Wrath.
“When I worked with Sergio Leone he often talked about Ford’s influence on him. I’m sure he would have persecuted me like he did many of his other actors, but I would have been able to take it.”
There is no question of being persecuted at Mount Juliet, were Francis reveals that “nothing is too much trouble.”
“As resorts go, it is as easy going a place as you will find anywhere in the world,” he says. “It is all about friendship and the welcome and as Tim O’Mahony used to say when quoting WB Yeats, it’s ‘where peace comes dropping slow.’”
Irish golf fans certainly saw the friendly face of a peaceful Tiger Woods when he played in the WGC-American Express Championships at Mount Juliet in 2002 and 2004.
“Tiger was a lovely man too,” Francis says of his locker room chats with the 14-time major winner. “He was a real gentleman and chatted about Ireland and coming over here on holidays. He was down in the river several times to fish, he loved that.”
Woods also loved the greens, describing the course as “immaculate.”
“As good as anywhere in the world,” he said.
It’s no wonder people keep coming back.
“Our repeat business is tremendous,” Francis says. “Seventy percent of our clients have rebooked for corporate business and that’s how I judge how we are doing. The course is also improving all the time because we have he best greenkeeper in Ireland and probably one of the best in the world in Aidan O’Hara.”
Of course, every artist needs good material and both O’Hara and course designer Jack Nicklaus have made the most of the stunning estate on the banks of the Nore, just nine miles from Kilkenny City.
“Other promoters and golf course managers should come here to see just how good a course can be,” said Nick Faldo, who completed a hat-trick of Irish Open wins at Mount Juliet in 1993.
Every golfer who takes on this Nicklaus delight — a par 72 that can play up to 7,300 yards from the Championship tees — will leave with happy memories of some great holes, some delightful countryside and perhaps even a glimpse of the wandering pheasants.
But like so many more of the great resorts, Mount Juliet provides more than a fine course on its 1500 acres. Not only is there an award-winning spa, an equestrian centre, trout and salmon fishing and facilities for tennis and shooting, there is accommodation of all types from romantic rooms in Mount Juliet House to self-catering facilities for families in the wonderful Rose Garden Lodges.
Add that its three wedding venues, two restaurants — one just recently voted the best hotel restaurant in Ireland - and it’s easy to see why guests are loathe to leave and keen to return.
Clint Eastwood might just amble through the gates any day now as he scouts for locations for that long-awaited Irish movie he wants to make.
No doubt, Francis Reynolds will be waiting, keen to make his day.