Harrington designs first course

By Brian Keogh

The last time Padraig Harrington made a mess with pencil and paper, he was qualified from the 2001 Benson and Hedges championship for forgetting to sign his scorecard.

But the Dubliner is determined to avoid disaster this time with the announcement that he is to put his name to his first golf course design in Tipperary.

The Marlbrook in Clonmel will be the European No 1’s first attempt at building a golf facility outside the practice ground he designed in his own back garden.

And he knows that there will be no second chance to make a first impression as he prepares to mould 500 acres of pristine Irish countryside into a course playable for all.

Explaining the pressure involved, Harrington said: “If I don’t get the first one right, I won’t be doing a second one. That’s the reality and that is why it has taken me so long to do my first one.

“I have looked at more than 30 potential designs in lots of different places. Some of them were lovely sites and there were good people behind them but they didn’t have everything.

“This one has everything, especially in the people behind the project. They are committed for a lifetime and while the property that is being built will help to pay for it, they want a sustainable golf course.”

The brainchild of the Kent family, owners of the 500 acre Marlbrook Estate near Clonmel, Harrington’s first course will not become another white elephant or a chance for a property developer to make a fast-buck.

In an era when many top class Irish resort courses are under pressure to survive and with another two dozens courses in the pipeline from designers such as Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Ian Woosnam and Lee Westwood, The Marlbrook will be an Irish golf club in every sense of the word.

Harrington wants his course to survive a lifetime and while the Kent family plans to build 140 high end residences with starting prices of around €700,000 each, this is not going to be a glorified residential estate with a golf course attached

Harrington said: “Like all professional golfers, I have confidence that I can get the job done on the course.

“But what worries me more is the people behind a project and how they maintain the golf course into the future is probably the most important thing in a project.

“And I know that John Kent and his family are committed to the golf course and maintaining the golf course.

“This is not the typical five year project where you build a few houses and then take your profit.

“They want to build a golf course that is going to last and are truly committed to building a viable golf course that is going to stand the test of time.

“If it is not maintained, in ten years time people are going to come and say that Padraig Harrington designed a terrible golf course.

“The people of Clonmel will get behind it because it is geared very much geared towards the Irish market. While there are other golf courses in the area this is a high-end, championship course that will attract local people.

“In that sense it is going to be a golf club with a club atmosphere, a friendly, club oriented place that will sustain itself over the years.

“It is going to be a nice place to be and people will enjoy it and want to come back.”

The 18th century estate was described by Harrington as one of the most beautiful sites he has ever seen.

And he wants to do justice to a backdrop that includes hundreds of mature trees, the River Suir and the Comeragh Mountains by creating a test for players of all abilities.

He said: “The site is fabulous because it has a lot of protection. It is undulating with a lot of mature trees but the Comeragh Mountains give a lot of shelter and in the worst of conditions it will be enjoyable to be out on.

“I have been waiting for four or five years for the right project to come along and while I see it as a past time or a hobby more than anything else I will be down there a lot watching it take shape.”

Harrington will be doing more than what he described as “the standard three visits” often provided by many stars before putting their name to a course.

He joked: “The reason I haven’t done any course designs before is because I want to be there as much as possible and not turn up for the opening and be asking where the first tee is.”

With European Golf Design doing the basic routing, he will be relying on chief designer Stan Eby for advice as he attempts to get the course in play by early 2009.

He said: “I want to see if I can get what’s in my head onto paper. That’s why Stan Eby is involved - to make sure I don’t go off the rails here. I am looking forward to testing a few ideas out.

“The philosophy is that it challenging for the good golfer, very playable for the average golfer and not impossible for the high handicapper.

“There will definitely be situations where you are fooled into playing to what you think is the safe place and that ends up being worse than where you thought was what the danger was.

“I am going to design more for the guy who can control what he is thinking - definitely for the braver player. If there is water hazard on the left, don’t miss it on the right because it is going to be worse over there.”

Harrington points to the 280-yard, par-four 10th hole at Riviera in Los Angeles as a model of the kind of hole he hopes to create at Marlbrook.

He explained: “It is one of the toughest holes I have played in my life. It is 280 yards, par-four and you can hit three-wood onto the green.

“Or the eighth hole at Riviera, which has no bunkers around the green and is a reasonably short hole.

“Anybody who misses left will have no problem chipping on the green and making five. But anybody who misses right is never going to make par.

“An average player can always play safe, a good player has to take on the green or he is taking a chance of not making par and if he misses short right he is in trouble. So that is the ideal hole for me.

“I don’t like 480 yard par fours with two bunkers in front of the green that are just brutish. That doesn’t appeal to me. There will be length in the golf course but I don’t believe in Ireland we need length.

"I am all for missing a green and having options. Putt it chip it, lob wedge it. You confuse a good golfer that way whereas with average golf, he is going to use the one club he chips with all time.

“I wanted to design a golf course that is very challenging for the professional golfer or the scratch golfer yet very playable for all the handicap golfers. That would be my aspiration

“I don’t want a 20 handicapper to feel that he wants to go in after nine holes. That is my lofty ambition and I have a great team behind me from European Golf Design.

“I insisted in Stan Eby being on the team because he is a tremendous designer and hopefully he will put me straight.

“I am going to be very involved. I have been to the site twice now and done an initial routing and I am going to be very involved in the shaping.

“I am going to stand on every hole as it is taking shape and see where the prevailing winds are coming from and be there for the final stage when we decided what we are going to go with.”

While the course will not be open for play until late 2009, a limited number of golf memberships were released yesterday for a refundable deposit of €15,000 in addition to an annual subscription.