New playground of royalty? Tycoon crazy about polo 'plans venue on north coast'
Medical testing tycoon Dr Peter FitzGerald is set to buy a tranche of land linked with a major golf development in Bushmills - and he could devote his new playground to his favourite sport.
As well as being the head of the highly successful Randox, Dr FitzGerald, who is in his 50s, is one of just three key figures in Northern Ireland's polo set.
And with his acquisition of Dundarave Estate expected to complete soon, Dr FitzGerald could find himself with his own polo playground.
The magnate stepped into the controversial £100m Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa development after its proponent Dr Alistair Hanna recently died.
A spokeswoman for Randox said Dr FitzGerald's plans for the area within the failed golf resort bid have yet to be finalised but confirmed his chief's love for polo.
It's understood Dr FitzGerald is the buyer of the land which was to be house to house the 120-bedroom five-star hotel and 70 golf lodges.
It also includes the Dundarave country house which was on the market for £5m.
All that many know of the sport of kings is of the moneyed, equestrian set immortalised in novelist Jilly Cooper's bestseller Riders (left), and the champagne lifestyle of celebrities like model Jodie Kidd (top left).
Though the Randox boss is not known as a player in the social scene, he annually treats clients and staff to champagne receptions, Pimms and cucumber sandwiches at his polo retreat at Scone Castle in Perthshire and even hosts point-to-point races at Randox HQ in Crumlin.
Other members of the polo set - including one other leading business family - declined to comment on what their fellow fan's plans might be.
Dr Colm Murphy, author of The Sunday Times Irish Rich List, said the Randox founder was one of a Northern Ireland "elite" - self-made medical millionaires - and land was a sensible investment.
"Very often those who have made their money in the hi-tech sector like this tend to invest in land because you cannot make any more of it so over the long-term its value always goes up. It is a much safer investment than technology as it is tangible." Dr Murphy, who has tracked Northern Ireland's rich for 18 years, added: "Polo is a very expensive sport and has long been one of the past-times of choice of the very rich and royalty around the world but particularly in Ireland and the UK. The Weston family, who head the Irish Rich List, have been great proponents of the sport."
He said he was unsure whether such a rural location could cut the ice for polo. "Rich people tend to live in or near cities so most polo facilities are located on the outskirts of cities like the Phoenix Park in Dublin, but if someone has the money they could develop one relatively easily outside of a major city although it is unlikely to be commercially viable and would need an ongoing subsidy - something the rich tend not to like committing to."
North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann said the Bushmills community would welcome an initiative that would bring the revenue lost by the failed resort bid.
"If you could bring a new clientele and with it investment and jobs it's maybe not just as far off from reality," he added.
Randox boss Dr Peter FiztGerald is described as one of a tiny, elite group of key polo figures in Northern Ireland who annually treats staff to a polo retreat where for a weekend they dine like kings and queens at a Scottish castle. A keen equine enthusiast, the Queen's University Belfast biochemical graduate even hosts point-to-point racing events at the firm's Crumlin headquarters, originally set up in a chicken shed at his parents' home in the 1980s after lamenting the 'brain drain' of talented local scientists from Northern Ireland.