One of my favorite parts of one of my favorite golf trips ever was when a friend and I spent several days in Northern Ireland, playing courses like Royal County Down and Royal Portrush – after all these years, Royal County Down is still one of my all-time favorites. As a result, I've always had a soft spot for Northern Ireland, and have been pleased to see players like Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell earn some golfing glory for their homeland.
Northern Ireland is making headlines today and Tuesday because the Lough Erne Golf Resort near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh is hosting the Group of Eight economic summit. From what I've seen, President Obama and his G8 counterparts from the United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan probably won't squeeze any golf in between their economic dealmaking sessions. That's a shame because, heck, why go to a golf resort if you're not gonna tee it up?
I haven't been back to Northern Ireland since Lough Erne opened in 2007 – it wasn't fully completed until 2009 – but it sounds like quite a place. It's described as the only five-star golf resort in Northern Ireland, and occupies its own private peninsula jutting out into Lough Erne.
The 120-room main hotel is ''a Provencal-inspired chateau, buttressed by a terrace of turreted rental lodges,'' according to a recent review on Boston.com. Inside the ''French facade was an interior of gentrified Anglo-Irish touches: roaring fires in the lobby, a lavish library to while away a morning with local literature, and a pleasing garden room for afternoon tea.''
Lough Erne has two championship courses – the Castle Hume Golf Course and the signature Nick Faldo Course, which was designed by six-time major winner Nick Faldo and consistently ranks among the top 100 courses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, there's a big statue of Faldo on site, and Faldo has a special connection with the property. Lough Erne has the only Faldo Golf Academy in Europe, and last September the facility hosted the 2012 finals of junior golf's Faldo Series (McIlroy is a previous Faldo Series champion).
Perhaps not surprising given the global economic situation, the resort went into ''administration'' – the British equivalent of bankruptcy – last year, and is for sale. The entire property – including hotel, guest lodges, golf facilities and more, cost approximately $50 million to build, according to published reports, and now could be had for as little as $15 million.
There's a lot of bucket-list golf competition in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and, honestly, most of the standout courses are a lot more convenient to reach than Lough Erne. But then again, places like Bandon Dunes are thriving in part because of their remote locations. So $15 million sounds like a deal.
In fact, I know a young English chap named Justin Rose who picked up a check for $1.4 million just yesterday. That looks like the perfect down payment to me.
Today is U.S. Open Friday, so it seems like a perfect day to pass along this item about PGA Professional Tom Abts, who tops a Golf Inc. list of the ''most innovative people in golf.''
Abts is the longtime PGA Head Professional and General Manager at Deer Run Golf Course in Victoria, Minn., just west of the Twin Cities. His innovation: Fast Play Friday.
As the golf industry addresses the issue of slow play with increasing vigor, Golf Inc. says, ''Fast Play Friday was not only successful in keeping rounds under four hours, it changed the culture of Deer Run with four-hour rounds becoming the norm every day of the week – even Sunday afternoons.''
''Too often people try to be out of the box and come up with silly ideas,'' Abts told Golf Inc. ''Golf is a timeless game, not a fad. Fast Play Friday just brought back the original pace of the game. Scottish shepherds were not lollygaggers.''
Fast Play Friday is just one of Abt's brainstorms – as Golf Inc. points out, he was named the Minnesota PGA Promoter of the Year. He's also proud of his ''Kid Plays Free with a Parent on Saturday Afternoons'' program.
''The joy of seeing kids playing golf with their parents is always moving,'' Abts said. ''That it became so successful and has been adopted by so many courses all over the country is especially gratifying.''
The Golf Inc. list of innovators came about when the company sought out asked for suggestions of people who are looking at ways to elevate golf, attract new players and incorporate new technologies into the business of golf during the past few years. They received more than 220 nominations, and whittled the list down to the 18 they felt ''we felt met our standard of doing something that was new, unique and captured the imagination of others.''
To see the entire list, click here.
Omni Hotels & Resorts has reached an agreement to buy five well-known golf resorts from KSL Capital Partners, LLC, the two companies have announced.
The resorts are Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin; La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.; Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, Calif; The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.; and The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.
The deal adds 12 golf courses along with nearly 2,400 rooms, more than 30 restaurants, three water parks, a ski facility and five spas to Omni's Resort Collection of nearly 60 luxury hotel complexes.
Omni, which is based in Irving, Texas, did not disclose a purchase price, but The Dallas Morning News said this is Omni's biggest acquisition since billionaire Robert Rowling's TRT Holdings bought Omni in 1996. Omni plans to rebrand its new properties on July 1.
''Each of these properties is unique in its own right — rich in heritage and distinctive in their elegance and charm. We would be fortunate to own and operate any single one of these celebrated resorts,'' said Omni President Mike Deitemeyer. ''By purchasing all five of these properties, Omni has significantly enhanced our growing Resort Collection in terms of scope, scale and prestige.''
The new acquisitions join an Omni golf portfolio that includes Omni Tucson National in Arizona, Omni Championsgate in Orlando, Omni Amelia Island Plantation near Jacksonville, and Omni Interlocken Resort & Golf Club near Denver.