John Daly

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - KINSALE - Prom­i­nent peo­ple

Pop­u­lar busi­ness­man John O’Con­nor etched his own im­mor­tal­ity on the town of Kin­sale as the cre­ator of the Old Head Golf Course.

A na­tive of Kerry who spent many years in­volved in busi­ness around the world, he ded­i­cated the fi­nal twenty years of his life to mak­ing the Old Head the kind of place where peo­ple like Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, su­per­star Tiger Woods and golfers from all over the world would com­bine to make it one of the sport­ing world’s ‘must do’ lists.

In a his­toric set­ting where me­dieval cas­tle ru­ins and a 17th cen­tury light­house dom­i­nate the sky­line, O’Con­nor trans­formed this an­cient sand­stone out­crop into what one en­thu­si­as­tic re­viewer termed “a course where golf­ing an­gels will con­gre­gate and leg­ends will be born.”

When he bought the land in 1989, the no­tion of mould­ing this in­hos­pitable land­scape into a mir­a­cle union of sci­ence and na­ture for the noble pur­suit of golf was the last thing on his mind.

“Cre­at­ing a world class golf course sim­ply wasn’t on my radar,” he re­called of that fate­ful first sight­ing. “I came over to see i t one beau­ti­ful day in 1989 and was im­me­di­ately taken by the stun­ning lo­ca­tion of the place — I felt right away that it might have been an in­ter­est­ing place for some­body to live.”

At the urg­ing of many peo­ple, in­clud­ing the late golf de­sign­ers Ed­die Hack­ett and Joe Carr, O’Con­nor found him­self thrust into the un­ac­cus­tomed role of golf vi­sion­ary.

“When we talked about costs, I re­mem­ber that the fi­nal fig­ure came in some­where just shy of a mil­lion pounds,” he said.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing then that it sounded a very rea­son­able cost.”

In a ten- year strug­gle against the el­e­ments, Mother Na­ture, and a pro­longed plan­ning wran­gle, the bottom- line real­ity even­tu­ally spi­ralled well above €20 mil­lion.

“We ended up im­port­ing ev­ery­thing. The only thing we were long on here was rock — plenty of rock,” he re­called.

“I’d like to think we’ve helped pro­mote Ire­land as a lo­ca­tion for a strand of tourism that’s never re­ally come here be­fore — ex­tremely wealthy peo­ple whose pri­mary in­ter­est is golf but who get to see this coun­try as a re­sult of that. Some come in Lear jets, some in pri­vate 707s, but the end re­sult is the Old Head act­ing as a gateway to the rest of Ire­land for peo­ple who of­ten go on to Bally­bunion, Water­ville, Mount Juliet and Lahinch as part of their stay. This kind of trade had not come to Ire­land be­fore the Old Head came into be­ing.”

For­mally opened in 1997, the “im­pos­si­ble dream” of mould­ing the Old Head into one of the top cour­ses in the world be­came a real­ity as it found it­self rou­tinely men­tioned in the same hushed breath as sa­cred golf­ing places like St An­drew’s and Peb­ble Beach.

“They say it takes a world class course fifty years to ma­ture, but I don’t have that kind of time,” said O’Con­nor, who died in 2013. “A course like this re­quires a con­stant pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, there­fore you can never re­ally be pleased to be any­where near the end of the project.

This is not like an of­fice build­ing or a ho­tel where you reach a fi­nite point and are fin­ished with it. The deeper one goes into the Old Head the more one tends to no­tice ev­ery blade of grass that’s out of place. For­tu­nately, I sup­pose, the peo­ple who come to play here don’t see it like that, they just see a snapshot of the place on the day they play.”

John O’Con­nor, who died in 2013, at the Old Head Golf Course in Kin­sale, Co Cork, in 2008. Pic­ture: De­nis Scan­nell

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