New K Club owner plans fresh investment despite pandemic

Michael Fetherston seeks planning permission for new ballroom at 5-star golf resort

The new owner of the luxury five-star K Club golf resort in Co Kildare has hired the former general manager of JP McManus’s Adare Manor to run it, and is planning fresh investment in the property to include a new ballroom.

The K Club has in recent weeks applied to Kildare County Council for planning permission to build a new 16,000 sq ft ballroom at the estate, which was bought from previous owner Michael Smurfit by nursing homes investor Michael Fetherston for about €65 million in February.

The proposed development will also include the addition of new meeting rooms, as well as the removal of a swimming pool.

It is believed that future building plans may also include a refurbishment of the golf clubhouse at the complex, which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup, although planning has not yet been sought for this aspect.

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The investment will be overseen by the K Club's new chief executive Paul Heery, who ran Adare Manor, which is due to host the Ryder Cup in 2026, until he left in September.

Mr Heery has previously worked at Sheen Falls in Co Kerry, the Connaught in London and the Merrion in Dublin. He took over at the K Club on December 1st. The resort was previously run for many years by hotelier Michael Davern.

Accounts filed this week for Bishopscourt Investments, the ultimate owner of the K Club, show it incurred losses last year under Mr Smurfit’s ownership of €3.8 million and had a hole in its balance sheet, prior to its sale, of €20.5 million in the form of a shareholders deficit.

The latest accounts do not reveal the K Club’s turnover last year, but the previous year it had sales of about €17.5 million. Prior to its purchase by Mr Fetherston, just three weeks before the arrival of the pandemic, Bishopscourt owed €82.6 million, including about €68 millions in loans and interest to Mr Smurfit.

Mr Smurfit described it as the “end of an era” when he sold the property to Mr Fetherston, who owns the TLC chain of nursing homes based mainly in the greater Dublin region. The new owner has previously been an investor in bars and hotels in the capital.

The 550-acre K Club estate, including the 134-bedroom hotel and its two championship golf courses, reopened this month after it was closed along with much of the rest of the hospitality industry throughout the Level 5 restrictions that ended on the same day that Mr Heery took up his new job.

The golf courses reopened on December 1st, while the hotel itself reopened on December 3rd. The resort reopened to non-residents for food and drink on December 4th. However, the resort, which is just outside Dublin close to the N7 artery out of the capital, is unlikely to feel the full benefit of the reopening until inter-county travel restrictions are lifted for the Christmas period on December 18th.

The wider hotel industry has been devastated by nine months of various restrictions brought in to control the coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 Irish people to date. Luxury properties such as the K Club have been hit harder than economy hotels, according to data obtained last week from research firm STR.

The K Club is especially popular with visitors from the US, who have virtually vanished from the Irish tourism scene this year as a result of quarantine requirements on arrival here, as well as restrictions on arrival from Europe back in the US.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column