The customer is always right, and if you don’t believe us, perhaps it’s time you paid a return visit to St Margaret’s Golf and Country Club in north Co Dublin.
Just a 15-minute spin from Dublin Airport, this classic Tom Craddock and Pat Ruddy collaboration was one of the darlings of the pre-Celtic Tiger years, hosting the Irish Seniors Open, the Ladies Irish Open and the Irish PGA in a golden period from 1995 to 2004.
The economic crash almost proved to be a devastating blow to this par-73, parkland gem, which had lost 50 percent of its members by 2014.
Faced with closure, the owners decided to put the course on the market for an estimated €1.9m. But such was the wave of interest in what is regarded as one of the Ruddy-Craddock tandem’s most impressive creations, they had second thoughts.
Today, the club is thriving with 450 members on the books, a pristine golf course and a buzzing clubhouse, offering everything a golfer could desire.
The key to the club’s resurrection was the sale of a parcel of land for an estimated €1m that gave the owners the capital to invest heavily in its renovation.
Synergy Golf, the professional golf course maintenance and golf club management company run by Ronan Branigan, Andy Kenny and Garrett Donnery, were called in to take control and the results have been stunning.
With head professional John Kelly, a former Irish Region No 1, taking on the role of Director of Golf, every aspect of the club has been improved beyond recognition.
The secret, according to Kelly, has been to listen to the needs of the members in an ultra-competitive marketplace that forces golf clubs to fight for every cent.
“Every other golf club was struggling to retain their members, and at the end of 2014, we were down to 160 members,” Kelly explained.
“The owners were so surprised with the high level of interest in buying the club that they had second thoughts, changed the management, contracted Synergy Golf and sold a piece of land across the road to raise investment money of about a million. That money was invested very wisely.
“Synergy Golf took over the management of the club and the maintenance of the golf course in November 2014 and made it a priority to get it back into top shape.
“It hadn’t received the tender loving care it merited, and so we improved the quality of the course so we would have a Championship standard golf course every day of the year. It isn’t in great condition just for the captain's prize. It is in great condition every day.”
Kelly added: “Members want the course in good condition and they want it to be friendly. I try to address everyone by their first name. It is their club. If they come up with a suggestion and it is a positive suggestion, it is done. They pay the money.”
Synergy Golf’s maintenance programme has been outstanding, and it’s the key to the rebirth of St Margaret’s.
“It's attention to detail on everything,” Kelly explained. “The shaping of the fairways is better; the tee boxes look better and are sanded regularly; the fairways are cut better, and there's a definition between the fairway and the semi-green.
“We have different heights of cut so when you are standing back down the fairway, there is an apron on most greens, most of which are elevated. That's made a massive difference.
“A huge sanding programme was carried out on the greens, and once a month they are top-dressed, so they are smoother and faster than ever.
“All the fairways have been shockwaved, which has improved the drainage massively. Synergy Golf looks after the whole golf club, right from the front gate to the 18th green.
“Golf clubs are businesses, and you need business people to manage them. With the greatest respect to member-owned golf clubs, committees are just passing through, but you need someone looking at the long term plan for the course.
“Every decision is taken to ensure that St Margaret’s is better in the long term.”
This year marks the club’s 25th anniversary, and the course and clubhouse are unrecognisable from just a few years ago.
Trees that had grown out of control were trimmed, non-native species removed and ponds cleaned.
“Pat Ruddy's work is respected all over the world, and this Ruddy-Craddock course will be here and talked about long after we are all dead and gone,” Kelly said.
With a major PGA pro-am planned for in September and ambitions by the incoming captain to raise €25,000 for LauraLynn Children's Hospice, it promises to be a big year for St Margaret’s.
Branigan, a son of former amateur great Declan Branigan, believes the Synergy Golf model is crucial in golf’s new era.
“It isn’t about reducing your costs at any cost,” he said. “It is about reducing costs while either maintaining standards or improving on what was there.
“With clubs selling their product a little cheaper, they needed to differentiate themselves from their neighbours by saying, our course is better maintained or our greens are faster.
“Declan Branigan Design and Synergy Golf are fastidious about what we roll out. It’s all about consistency and excellence, so the course is as good from Monday to Friday as it is on Saturday and Sunday.”
St Margaret’s Golf & Country Club
- Address: St. Margaret's, Co. Dublin, Ireland
- Email: email@example.com
- Tel: 01 864 0400
Midweek €25 Weekend €40
Midweek €25, weekend before 1.30pm €35, after 1.30pm €30. Society rates are available to groups of 12 or more. Add food to your society with a Society menu starting from €10.
Yes, €30 per buggy
Yes, top of the range TaylorMade €40 per round
Yes, €12 per round
Yes, €3.00 for 30 balls or €5.00 for 60 balls
Signature hole: 18th (458 - 425 yards, 400 yards Red)
A downhill sweeping dog leg to the left par-four (par-five for the ladies) to a green protected on the right by a lake, Sam Torrance described the hole as “the best finishing hole I have ever seen.”
Don’t be greedy with your second shot and aim at the top circular window of the clubhouse. Don’t be tempted to go at the flag.
Full 7 Day membership (first year special offer) €1000 plus GUI fees. Gold membership first year special offer €1250 plus GUI fees. 5-day €600 plus GUI fees.
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This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly golf supplement, Tee to Green, on Thursday, March 2.