Oliver Brady always had an eye for a winner and in what turned out to be one of his final deals before his death last September, the late businessman and racehorse owner may well have found one.
The opportunity to buy the magnificent Moyvalley Hotel and Golf Club on the historic Balyna Estate in Co Kildare was one of those golden opportunities that comes along once in a lifetime — a hotel, a five-star golf course and an historic country house, all within a short drive of the capital, just off the M4 motorway.
Balyna House itself is a wonderful, Italianate mansion commissioned by Ambrose More O'Ferrall of that noble Irish family, to replace the house that burned down in 1878.
Brady was one of racing’s most flamboyant characters and the Shabra Plastics business he set up with his Kenyan business partner Rita Shah on the outskirts of Castleblayney in 1986 is one of the great Irish business success stories.
Together, Brady and Shah went to horse racing and enjoyed some notable successes.
According to his obituary in The Irish Times: “His life’s dream was to have a winner at Cheltenham, a prize he came closest to when Baron De Feypo ran third in the Coral Cup in 2007. For Brady it was enough cause for celebration that bemused Cotswolds punters were treated to the sight of him removing his shirt in the winners’ enclosure to reveal a Monaghan jersey underneath.”
In April last year, when he was recovering from serious illness, it was announced that Brady, Shah, Jane Tripipatkul of Thailand and her son Mark McCarthy, were the new owners of the resort having snapped it up for a song.
It was estimated at the time that they had paid around €5 million, which would have been an incredible bargain considering it valued at between €60-75 million when it was initially developed by Northern Ireland developer Alistair Jackson and set up as an exclusive "Champions Club" with a joining fee of €75,000 less than a decade ago.
According to Mrs Shah, Brady would have been disappointed to hear the €5m figure bandied about.
“Oliver wouldn’t like that,” she says. “He bought it for very handy money. Very handy.”
One of Ireland’s most innovative business women with a huge interest in charitable giving through the foundation she founded with Brady — Shabra — Mrs Shah is delighted with what has happened at Moyvalley over the last 12 months.
“OIiver had great ambition for Moyvalley, particularly the golf course,” she explains. “He had a vision for the club and wanted to have people coming in and having fun after having great craic on the course, which is what a golf club is all about.”
There will be plenty on fun on the course on June 2 when the Shabra Charity Golf Classic takes place at the club the day after a big open air charity concert featuring the hugely popular Nathan Carter.
“We had 44 teams last year and every one of the people who played will be back,” Mrs Shabra says of a charity has raised €584,000 for various causes over the years. “Unfortunately, this year it is going to be played for a large memorial trophy for Oliver on June 2. But it is a great cause.”
The course will be in perfect condition that day and it is back to its very best after a major investment programme was put in place soon after the new proprietors moved in.
“Incredible investment has been made,” Mrs Shah says. “Things had to be fixed and a new marketing plan put in place and a lot of money was put into the golf course to bring it to the next level.
“We had a strategic plan for the local community, more so to inspire the young generation and children. We believe through charity that education is a vital instrument for anything in life. It multiplies over and over and having such wonderful golfers in Ireland we should try to build on it.”
Members who left during the period when the course was closed have no returned and with strong local interest from the catchment area of Johnstownbridge, Celbridge, Leixlip, Lucan, Enfield, and Kinnegad, numbers are back up to 170 and rising.
“Like every business you are always looking to put more in and a lot has been invested over the past year,” Mrs Shah says. “The pathways around the course are being tarmacadamed and that’s not cheap. Between the hotel and the golf course, around €2 million has already been put in.”
That figure includes the purchase of new golf course machinery for course superintendent Alan Walsh, who has succeeded in bringing the course right back to its best.
The entire resort currently employs 60 people but that figure looks set to rise to 80 or more when the new leisure complex with swimming pool, sauna and a spa is fully functioning.
“We will have tennis courts and squash courts too and everything that will be unique and not made for the sake of it,” Mrs Shah says. “It will be perfect for a relaxing weekend.”
With a top of the range golf course, hotel, leisure complex and spa, Moyvalley will become an even more popular wedding venue and within two or three years, it will be close to the vision that Shah and Brady had for it when the decided to buy the complex just over a year ago.
While the membership is small, the club has become highly popular with golf societies and the course has undergone some vital drainage work, making it even more playable in winter.
Built by European Golf Design with Darren Clarke as the signature architect, no green fees were to be allowed at the par-72, 7,368-yard parkland layout, which was to be reserved exclusively for its members, their guests and residents of the hotel.
When it hosted the Challenge of Ireland in 2009, it cost just €10,000 for a preference share and in June 2010 it was seized by NAMA and put into receivership.
The sale is a boost for the locality and while it also means continued competition for business for local clubs, its facilities make it one of country’s leading destinations.
Its practice facilities are second to none with its driving range and short game academy incorporating two practice chipping greens, practice bunkers and putting greens.
The collective design philosophy for the course was to make sure that it would be suitable for the leading professionals from the back tees but also playable and enjoyable from the forward ones for the amateurs.
While the on-site apartments have now been let, the resort’s hotel still features 54 stylish and fully air conditioned bedrooms, a bar and restaurant, as well as the popular holiday cottages.
The new owners are very keen to encourage former members to return and to attract new members at what are excellent rates.
After all, the facilities are world class with a two storey, self-contained golf clubhouse, a pro’s shop and extensive locker room facilities. Not only that, the spacious bar and restaurant facilities only serve to enhance the enjoyment and comfort felt by visitors and members alike.
The 19th century Italianate Manor House, Balyna House, and adjoining abbey have both been painstakingly restored to add a further touch of class to the magnificent surrounds.
The new proprietors have put in place a strong and enthusiastic management team and have retained all of the existing employees. With the development of the leisure complex, they hope to expand the facility to its full potential and employment for up to 80 people over the next three years.
A past Lady Captain of the Slieve Russell Golf Club, Mrs Shah knows her golf and with her business acumen and one of the best facilities in the country, an Irish golfing success story is brewing in one of the most scenic parts of Co Kildare.