Why Tiger, Phil and the world’s most famous golfers are playing an Irish Pro-Am
On Wednesday, world No. 1 Brooks Koepka announced his commitment to a two-day pro-am taking place in Limerick, Ireland next July. Interestingly, Koepka won’t even be one of the most famous people there. The sixth edition of the J.P. McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor promises to be its most star-studded yet. Tiger Woods, who commits to most PGA Tour events less than two weeks out, has been committed since the summer of 2018. Rory McIlroy’s in, too. Phil Mickelson. Mark Wahlberg. Hugh Grant. And now, with the addition of Koepka, eight of the top 10 players in the world.
If you’ve never heard of the J.P. McManus Pro-Am, you’re forgiven, as this will be the first time the event has been held in a decade. Plenty of myth surrounds McManus himself, who was born in Limerick and reportedly started betting on horses before the age of 10, slowly ramping up and diversifying his investments over the coming years. He got pretty good at it, initially making a fortune in currency and bond markets before diving into horse racing, Manchester United ownership, gambling and golf course development, among other things.
When it comes to relationship-building, McManus may be second to none. Padraig Harrington has said the secretive businessman hosts open-house dinners Masters week that draw plenty of tournament players. He first met Tiger Woods in 1998 and the two became friends, leading to Woods’ appearance at the 2000 pro-am and every playing since. Woods was married at a McManus-owned property, Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, in 2004, and Woods and then-wife Elin also reportedly attended the wedding of McManus’ daughter Sue in 2007. And while most Tour players are loathe to travel across the world without financial incentive, there have reportedly never been appearance fees paid out for the pro-am.
“We come together for JP and for him only,” Woods said before the 2005 event. In addition to the pros, the rest of the field is comprised of celebrities, high rollers and a certain number of open qualifiers, providing a democratic entry point to the otherwise exclusive pro-am world. In 2005, 9,000 people signed up for qualifiers, a number comparable to U.S. Open qualifying. The end result was always significant donations to local charities, most of which are located in the Mid-West of Ireland. Five previous iterations have resulted in €140 million in donations.
Here’s a brief history of the five iterations of the J.P. McManus Pro-Am:
1990: The inaugural event was held at Limerick Golf Club and attracted a bunch of Europe’s top players; 42 teams raised €1.2 million for local charities.
1995: The European Tour got involved and helped attract more international pros, bumping up the stature of the event — and bumping up the money raised, too, to nearly €4 million.
2000: Things ramped up with the addition of the hottest star on the planet, in the midst of the hottest stretch of his career: Woods showed up at Limerick Golf Club alongside David Duval, Padraig Harrington, Lee Janzen, Mark O’Meara and others. He won the event (and four majors in a row!) and buoyed the event to nearly €20 million in earnings, highlighted by a €1.78 million bid for a round of golf with Woods and O’Meara, paid out by billionaire Joe Lewis.
2005: The tournament moved to Adare Manor for the first time. Woods returned as well as many of the top stars of the day: Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and more. The stature of the celebrities involved increased, too, from Real Madrid stars to actors and musicians. Charitable donations grew to €31 million.
2010: Woods returned, with Ryder Cup stars past, present and future (to name a few: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Jim Furyk) alongside him. Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones showed, too. They raised €44 million.
THE COURSE: ADARE MANOR
There was no pro-am in 2015, which coincided with an injured, struggling Woods. But it was still a seminal year for McManus in the golf world: he purchased Adare Manor for an estimated 30 million euro. He poured millions more into an extensive redesign, bringing in Tom Fazio to tackle the course and turn it into an emerald-green paradise. Irish golf typically connotes the rugged, windswept dunes of traditional links courses, but Adare Manor is a carefully manicured parkland layout with nary a blade of grass out of place — literally. The course boasts 170,000 square meters of “perfectly manicured fairway” but no rough.
The property has been dubbed “The Augusta National of Ireland,” which is a tribute to its aura and its maintenance budget, but any schmoe off the street can play Adare Manor — provided he or she is willing to shell out $425 for a greens fee. The course reopened in 2018, as did the gigantic hotel and clubhouse (the “Manor” itself) to positive reviews.
In return for his investment, McManus received a number of honors and accolades (including GOLF‘s Best Renovation of 2018), but the most meaningful by far came from on high with the awarding of the 2026 Ryder Cup, where it will draw more curious eyeballs than ever.
The 2020 edition
One bit of intrigue is this year’s pro-am’s place on the schedule. The 2020 edition runs July 6-7, beginning the morning after things wrap up in Memphis at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic. The list of committed players suggests a McManus-sponsored charter might fly from there to Ireland, arriving in time for a nap, a warmup and 36 holes of golf.
Another intriguing subplot will be whether the event serves as a boost to the Scottish Open, which begins that Thursday at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick. The Open Championship begins a week later at Royal St. George’s. It seems logical that players would stick around, but because there hasn’t been one of these held in a decade, we don’t have much context for how they’ll tackle the week.
In 2010, Woods didn’t stick around for the Scottish Open, choosing instead to head immediately home to Florida following his second round. But that was a distinctly different time in his life. Woods, who was in the process of finalizing his divorce, fended off questions from scandal-curious European reporters (“the world No 1 was at his staccato, excruciating worst,” wrote the Telegraph at the time) before heading to his jet.
Ten years is a long time in a man’s life. For Woods, it’s been more than enough time to turn back into a hero. For McManus, it’s meant enough time to reboot the most star-studded pro-am in all of golf. Check out the list below — it’s no wonder tickets are already sold out.
JP McManus Pro-Am field
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