Asst. Superintendent Robert Anderson (left) and Superintendent Aidan O’Hara (right)
Asst. Superintendent Robert Anderson (left) and Superintendent Aidan O’Hara (right)
The Mount Juliet team that are trained to use the machines
The Mount Juliet team that are trained to use the machines
Mowing the rough on the 7th hole
Mowing the rough on the 7th hole

Mount Juliet and Aidan O’Hara

Posted on July 04, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Aidan O’Hara is from Galway. The son of a Head Greenkeeper, he knew from a young age exactly what he wanted to do and he has only ever had two managerial jobs. After serving his apprenticeship in Galway Golf Club, he was appointed as Course Manager at Elm Park Golf Club in Dublin from 1985 to 1989, and since then he has been at Mount Juliet, Thomastown in County Kilkenny.

“In three months time I will have been at Mount Juliet for a quarter of a century. I came here at the start of course construction in 1989. It was a rural environment, horse paddocks, rough ground and the like. The then owner, Tim Mahony got Jack Nicklaus to design an 18-hole course. It was good to be involved at the very beginning and to see it emerge.

It’s a fantastic place and blends into the countryside really well. We opened in 1991 and have always been up there as being the top parkland course in the country. It is a place where golfers love to come. It is a very enjoyable and challenging course.”

Voted amongst the top ‘50 most influential people in Irish Golf in the past 100 years’ by Golf Digest in 2008, they wrote of Aidan, “As resident greenkeeper at Mount Juliet in 1993, O’Hara faced the daunting challenge of preparing the course for the Irish Open, only two years after it had opened. When the tournament got under way, defending champion, Nick Faldo, enthused: “These are the best greens I have played on in Europe this year.” Nine years later, when the American Express Championship came to the Thomastown venue, Tiger Woods expressed a similar view. Quite simply, this BSc graduate sets standards which have become the envy of his contemporaries, here and beyond these shores.”

Aidan is self-effacing and brushes off the accolade. He is proud of his team and enjoys being his own boss. “I had a very good relationship with Tim Mahony who sadly passed away in 2008.”

Mount Juliet Resort has very recently changed hands. The new owners, Brehon Capital Partners and Irish Businessman, Emmet O’Neil bought the estate for an estimated €15M and intend to plough a further €4M into the 500-acre resort, expanding the hotel accommodation and updating the spa and swimming pool.

“The change in ownership is very recent but I’m sure the new owners will be very involved and I’m hoping we will be hosting another major tournament in the not too distant future. It’s been a long time since we had one.

We have hosted many tournaments, 3 Irish Opens in the early to mid 90’s and we did the World Golf Championship in 2002 and again in 2004. We have had some of the world’s top players here, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington.

We are well known for the high standards that we present on the course. In 2002 Tiger Woods said ours were the ‘best greens he’d played on’.

The reason they were so amazing is really down to the grass species. At that time we had 100% pure creeping bent grass that is absolutely great for putting; in fact anything within 15ft went into the hole.

That’s really hard to maintain in our climate, so now we are around 50% creeping bent and 50% annual meadow grass, the latter being the predominant grass species on Irish parkland golf courses

Annual meadow grass is a problem worldwide. The Irish climate is particularly ideal for the rapid invasion, of what some consider a weed species, into a sward of creeping bent grass or fescue. In dry climates you’d manage to keep free of annual meadow grass for a lot longer.”

The maintenance team is smaller now than it’s been in the past, 8 full-time staff and 7 seasonal, including Aidan and the mechanic, and he says, they are a great bunch of people who work together closely. Many of them have been at Mount Juliet for years and Aidan’s assistant; Robert Anderson was at Elm Park with him.

“We are not loyal to any single brand of mowers but we have mostly Toro and Jacobsen and a couple of John Deeres.

We’ve just replaced our old Express Dual grinder after 24 years of use, and I think we were the first club in Ireland to purchase grinders. I might be wrong but I’m pretty sure I’m not.” The grinders were purchased directly from Atterton & Ellis who became part of Bernhard in 1998.

Strangely, I was chatting to an Irish guy at GIS in Orlando this February about our old Atterton & Ellis machines and how well they had served us and he offered to buy them, so right there and then we agreed a deal. I believe they are earmarked for Ghana. It was a good chance meeting.”

Outside work, Aidan, are you a golfer?

“I used to say I’d only play golf if I had to, but I realize how important it is to play the game in part to see the golf course from the golfers perspective. It helps us to do the job better I think.”

And if you weren’t in this lovely place, where would you be?

“Yes, this is lovely and I’m very happy, but I suppose if I dreamt of starting my career over again I’d like to spend 6 months right here and 6 months somewhere in the southern hemisphere – maybe South Africa or New Zealand.

The winters can be hard, although they are the perfect time to get major projects done on the course. We like to do these jobs in house. The summers can be lovely. It would be good to nip off to a lovely beach like Rosslare, and have a swim now and then.

I have a son of 28 and daughter of 27. They have both left home now but it’s good to spend time with my family.”