THERE was a look-and-learn delegation from the Northumberland club, or “the Park”, at Goswick this week during Regional Qualifying for The Open Championship.
Next summer, the Park starts a five-year run as the host venue for RQ, bringing the event to Gosforth and the doorstep of Newcastle’s business community.
This is in a year in which the Northumberland club will embrace corporate membership for the first time in what will by then be a 115-year history.
The delegation was helping to prepare for the event, forward thinking at a club noted for its charm and welcoming atmosphere, a spacious and magnificent clubhouse classically renovated at a cost of £900,0000 and fast true greens. The always lively atmosphere at Regional Qualifying – successful players at Goswick were giving radio interviews – will ensure a vibrant buzz about the Park on 2013 RQ day, with free entry for spectators.
The club will have a firm hand on the tiller at the event in their chairman Richard Souter, although not because he used to be in the shipping business.
Souter has refereed in eight Open Championships – at Birkdale, Carnoustie, Hoylake, Royal St George’s, St Andrews (twice), Turnberry and Troon – and at 12 European Tour events.
Souter said: “The R&A will run the tournament, but volunteers from our club will play a big part which was why our general manager, Richard Breakey, and our greens committee man, Paul Coulthard, went over to Goswick.” Until recently the Park’s course has been in poor condition, particularly the greens, but there has been a startling recovery thanks to some TLC by greenkeeper Paul O’Connor, who arrived almost a year ago from Carnoustie via a spell working for Donald Trump in Aberdeenshire.
The 68-year-old Souter said: “Paul is a man of vision who has a lot of knowledge, attributes which are reflected in the course and he has made a huge difference, the course is better than it has been for many years.
“The compliments Paul was paid by the Dogolf director Andrew Hill in The Journal recently after Andrew played a league match at the club were well deserved.”
The 45-year-old O’Connor, born in Cork, lives in Brunton Park, Gosforth, with his wife Liz and five-year-old daughter Matilda.
As course manager he runs a team of six including himself and if you touch on the subject of design – whether that be a golf course, the Theatre Royal building or a tea cup – you are likely to find yourself in a long and animated conversation. One new feature of the course is the enlarged size of closely mown aprons round the greens encouraging a variety of shots, rather than the usual wedge out of semi rough.
So how did he make the transformation? “There are a lot of factors, “said the three handicapper. “The amount of sand you use on the greens and approaches, when and how you get air into the course, which fertiliser you use, your cutting regimes . . . I generally tend to have the greens at 6mm in winter and 4mm in summer. “Naturally I draw on the experience I have gained over the years and we always look to make a little progress each day no matter how small.
“You have to balance out the economics of what you can afford to do with your vision of where you want to be ideally. I am years away from being satisfied with the course.” At any club, the condition of the course is partly dictated by revenue streams off it, which is where the newly elected club committee man in charge of business development, John Smith, comes in.
Adept at improving the performance of businesses, Smith represents venture capital organisations on five company boards.
“Yes, the Park is moving with the times,” he says, “wifi in the clubhouse, buggies on the course and paying annual subscriptions by instalments.
“Our subs are £500 a year less than the highest price in the area and our club now places great emphasis on recruiting women and juniors for membership.
“Being chosen for Regional Qualifying adds to our tradition and we’re proud of our heritage, but now the Park is looking to the future, including this exciting tournament.”
IF you want to judge the changes at the Park for yourself, entries are being taken for a men’s Open at the Northumberland club on July 29 , entry £30 a pair. Ring 0191 236 2498 or email firstname.lastname@example.org