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A case of two for tee at the best golf address in Ireland

September 4th, 2020 7:10 AM

By Emma Connolly

The stark low-sized stone buliding, above, is almost entirely unadorned, and a bit like something out of a James Bond movie

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With Scott Tallon Walker architects on board, and Home of the Year’s interior designer Deirdre Whelan adding the finishing touches, the Old Head’s spectacular guest suites are aiming to wow – and they certainly do just that.

AT this time of the year the Old Head Golf Links would usually be fully booked with members and guests from the US.

Covid-19 obviously put those plans in the rough, but it’s rarely an ill-wind, as it means that coveted tee times and suites have become available at the luxury golf resort.

Not surprisingly, Irish golfers have snapped up the chance to play in what is regarded by some as the world’s most spectacular course.

Plenty of non-golfers, myself included, are also jumping at the chance to enjoy a staycation in their suites, the newest of which launched just a few weeks ago as part of a multi-million euro investment.

For the last two years the company has been working on an architectural masterplan with renowned Irish architects Scott Tallon Walker at the helm.

Phase One was completed in closed season 2018/19 and saw the complete rebuilding of their existing 15 luxurious suites.

Phase Two started as soon as the 2019 season ended, and in spite of virus-caused delays, more brand new suites opened at the end of July.

That now brings their accommodation offering to 20 suites, including the incredible deCourcey presidential suite, as part of an €8m revamp of their suites.

I lunched here some years back, but to my absolute shame, was not even aware of the option to stay. Although even if I was, I’d have been under the impression that this was just a spot for golfers, and a very expensive one at that.

And while some might insist there’s some truth in that, the message coming loud and clear from the resort is that prices have dropped, and visitors of all kinds are most welcome.

Despite living only a short 30 minutes’ drive away, the dramatic landscape and serious sense of seclusion, really created a sense of distance from home. And arriving into the lobby of the Old Head Golf Links I couldn’t help but get some serious James Bond vibes.

The stark, low-sized, stone building, almost entirely unadorned, is a bit like a bunker, and for a minute I almost expected to see Daniel Craig appear in a golf buggy.

But while there weren’t any 007 cameos, there were lots of guys (and girls) on their own mission as they tackled the world-famous golf links.

In the rooms, the colours are muted and, like the rest of the building, materials are sympathetic to the surroundings with lots of granite, wood and natural fabrics.

I hadn’t been invited to try out my golf swing, but to check out the suites, and Covid-19 restrictions aside, which means some touches and soft furnishings have to be removed, the rooms are incredible.

They’re elegant and in perfect sync with the incredible views of the headland and lighthouse which can be enjoyed from your private terrace, and your (very large) bed.

Colours are muted and, like the rest of the building, materials are sympathetic to the surroundings with lots of granite, wood and natural fabrics. Interior designer Deirdre Whelan, of RTE’s Home of the Year, worked on the revamp and it shows.

There’s also a strong West Cork link to the revamp, as all the wall panelling, headboards and joinery in the rooms was done by Clohane Wood Products in Skibbereen.

Headed up by Finbarr Hourihane, the company has been creating specialist joinery for the past 40 years and employs around 20 people.

The overall effect is that it’s all very peaceful although that was greatly helped by the fact that we were without our four-year-old sidekick. The resort’s business model doesn’t support children under 12 which presented a rare and watertight excuse to travel solo.

Covid-19 naturally has had an impact on operations throughout the resort. The lovely chap that met us in the car park apologetically told us that we had to put our luggage on his golf cart ourselves. That was a good ice breaker, and made me feel a little less embarrassed about bringing our own pillows. The spa’s sauna and steam room are also temporarily closed.

Naturally, masks are required indoors, but their enormous terrace makes it perfectly pleasant to wine and dine outdoors, weather permitting.

When we visited, a heavy fog shrouded the resort, but with the iconic lighthouse peering moodily out of of the mist, it only added to the atmosphere. The lighthouse is the property of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and not accessible to guests, but you can still walk quite close to it along the cliff edge.

The resort was fully booked during our stay, and is having an exceptionally busy summer – possibly helped by the fact that suites which would normally cost €375 a night, have been reduced to €250.

The good news, marketing director Brent Dornford explained, is that all their US guests who had to cancel have re-booked for next year.

‘As in previous years, before we were even scheduled to open at the beginning of April, almost every available tee time and suite night for the entire season had been booked. While very few have cancelled, increasingly they are looking to postpone to 2021. While we very much hope to welcome our international members and visitors back as soon as safe travel arrangements allow, in the meantime we have been able to offer times that have been freed up to Irish golfers who have been booking in their droves. And they are as delighted at the opportunity to play Old Head as we have been to see them.’

Development work continues at the resort with work well underway on the new O’Connor presidential suite, named after Kerry brothers, the late John O’Connor and Patrick, who opened the course in 1997.

Occupying the west wing of the clubhouse, Brent says it will be developed to the most luxurious standards that exist within any golfing environment. It will open at the end of September and will cost €750 per night.

‘Details include views of the lighthouse afforded from both the bedroom and the bathroom (specifically bathtub) as well as the luxurious lounge and private elevated terrace overlooking the 18th green and fairway.’

Improvements are ongoing on the course all the time as well.

The stunning suites at the Old Head Golf Course have views of the lighthouse, the Atlantic and are designed with comfort and style in mind.

Brent added: ‘As custodians of the Old Head Golf Links and working with the incredible legacy left to us by John O’Connor, we do not take lightly this responsibility and any changes that are made need to be thought as polishing a perfect diamond, rather than simply being made for the sake of change.’

He added: ‘With this in mind, we have continued to work with the talents of original designer Ron Kirby who, having overseen the changes made to the par 5 God’s Acre (8th Hole) in 2019, was brought in to provide a redesign to the par 5 (Dun Cearmna) 10th Hole this year.

‘Ron saw the opportunity to strengthen the hole while affording even more spectacular views of the ocean from a green site that is slightly raised and positioned a further 40 yards back from the original.’

He conceded that they aren’t immune to the financial challenges delivered by the pandemic.

‘If we had a crystal ball that could have foreseen the events that have unfolded this year, would we have undertaken the work at this time? Most likely we would have postponed. We are not immune to the financial challenges that this virus has laid down, but what we do have is an exceptional, talented team in place from front to back to enable us to more than roll with the punches.’

I was always completely convinced that golf wasn’t for me, but it turns out that I just hadn’t been to the right golf course. Time to get myself some Bermudas!

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