How high-flying wealthy Americans regularly jet into Kerry’s multimillionaire golf playground

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How high-flying wealthy Americans regularly jet into Kerry’s multimillionaire golf playground

High on the Hog: Ireland’s most exclusive private golf club, writes Niamh Horan


The Hogs Head golf course near Waterville, Co Kerry
The Hogs Head golf course near Waterville, Co Kerry

The hog has a bad reputation. With its stocky body and flat snout, it’s an animal few are keen to be affiliated with – except in the Wild West of Kerry, where it holds a very special status.

Here, near Waterville, members of Ireland’s most exclusive private golf club, Hogs Head – mainly rich American money men – call themselves ‘the Hogs’.

Behind the high security gates of the multi-millionaire’s playground, the animal logo is omnipresent.

A private Gulfstream jet – Hogs Head Air – is on standby to transport up to 22 golfers and their wealthy buddies to and from the course. On the wing is the distinctive hog logo – complete with pot belly and golf club.

In the club house, everything from limited-edition Pinea hog wine to golf balls, jackets, hats, hip flasks and specially commissioned soft brown leather cigar cases – complete with hog lighters and cigar cutters – are available when the high-flying golfers jet into town. Even the green keeper trundles around the Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed course, on a hog mobile.

A five-star hotel and spa, with water jets, sauna, jacuzzi and swimming pool are available when members want to unwind. Otherwise their party can head back to McCarthy’s bar and the adjoining restaurant where they have an in-house sommelier and sweeping views of Lough Currane.

And when a hog wants to brush up on his golf swing, he can escape to the club’s private golf simulators. These are the sort of machines that you’ll find in the homes of professional golfers such as Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth. The machines use tracking technology, several high-speed cameras and infrared lights to give swing and ball feedback to golfers, while its virtual green floor can change slope and undulation to mimic any putting contour in golf.

One golfer, who has been behind the gates, explains to the Sunday Independent: “This is another world. Another level altogether. They’re just playing with money there.

“The owners were originally members of the Old Head [the golf club on the Old Head of Kinsale] who decided they wanted somewhere even more exclusive. That’s the attitude. They wanted a piece of America in the middle of Kerry.

“I heard at the time they said that, in the way their friends spend millions keeping their yachts ticking over every year, they want to do that for golf. It’s their hobby.” Redeveloped by Bryan Marsal, the man responsible for breaking up financial services company Lehman Brothers following its 2008 bankruptcy, Marsal decided, along with his business partner Tony Alvarez, to open their own golf club, near Waterville two years ago. Locals were delighted when the big-money venture came to town – but as for getting a peek inside, that’s harder than a hole-in-one.

“I know a very well-to-do woman who tried to get in for coffee recently and they wouldn’t let her past the electric gates,” says a local golfer. “They’re a private club and that’s that.

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“It is very American in its rules and membership – but many people in Kerry don’t understand that. The Old Head in Cork, for example, is very exclusive – but at least they are open to people who are willing to pay. In Hog’s Head you have to be a member. And it’s not just anyone who can be a member either. Most of the hogs are the owner’s friends from America. Their motto is: ‘Built by friends, for friends’ – so there are very few Irish people. But I’m sure you could guess the names of the very wealthy Irish members for yourself.”

He added: “I know someone so I’ve played there, because I wanted to have a nose around, the way people do – and they certainly have done a fantastic job on the hotel and clubhouse. It’s all stone and timber beams and all the materials, apart from the stone, have been brought in from America.

“Still, the golf course itself is average enough. The Old Head is a phenomenal course, if you’re really into your golf. As for Adare Manor, well that’s as good as Augusta. It’s a done deal there for the Ryder Cup,” he said. “The Hog’s Head isn’t a links course, like you’d get in the Waterfront, Ballybunion and Tralee, and links courses are a lot more appealing to golfers – but it has nice scenic views.”

Sunday Independent


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