THINGS are really starting to come together at the George Washington Golf & Country Club. The club's owners, Ailantus Hotels, have just invested over £3million in an ultra-modern clubhouse that boasts state-of-the-art men's and women's changing rooms with luxury lockers and showers, a superb bar, meeting and function rooms and a spacious pro shop. What's more there's also a fantastic terrace with views of the 1st and 10th tees and the 18th green.
The new facilities complement the driving range, seven-hole academy course and the lovely 18-hole parkland course.
The new clubhouse complex, which adjoins the hotel, has just been officially opened by the Lady Mayor of Sunderland.
Golf Operations Manager Graeme Robinson is delighted at the progress being made at George Washington.
He said: "The members are really enjoying the new clubhouse and we've had some nice days which has encouraged people to go out on to the terrace after a round. Its proximity to the 1st tee in particular has led to quite a bit of banter.
"We think the new facilities are a match for just about anywhere. No expense has been spared; we've gone for luxury finishes everywhere, from the carpets to the tiles and fittings in the showers.
"The lockers are particularly luxurious and look fantastic."
Graeme's spacious new state-of-the-art golf shop covers 96 square metres where customers can browse through many of the top brands be it clothing, golf equipment or other golf-related items.
As for the course itself, the new head greenkeeper Mark Hornsey is starting to make a big impact.
Graeme added: "Mark is making a big difference to the course, which is now in pretty good condition. The greens are improving all the time and are testament to the hard work that Mark and his staff are putting in.
"The goal now is to start attracting more players to try out the course and our facilities. It's ideally set up for corporate golf days and societies and is obviously a great members club.
"We think the new facilities will particularly appeal to lady golfers and we'd urge them to come and have a look at what we have here."
Corporate golf is a big growth area for George Washington and Golf Business Development Manager Glenn Lowery has just moved from Ramside to help drive it forwards.
Glenn is a golf professional with vast experience of the golf industry and is a former England schoolboy international and Durham county boys champion and senior county player.
He added: "I'm looking forward to taking on the managerial role here at George Washington and helping to bring back the good times to the club. We want to compete with the top resort courses in the country."
Things get underway with a fairly gentle 462-yard (off the yellow tees) par 5 with a sharp dogleg right. There are trees to both sides but the real issue here is to get your initial shot past the corner, which is approaching 250 yards from the tee. If you are short you can take on the corner though as the trees are not that high. The green is protected by bunkers left and right. The putting surface itself, like all at George Washington, is fairly tricky with some very subtle borrow. A pretty testing par 3 of 198 yards follows. There's sand on the left and the green is two-tiered. And if you fall short or are off-line, be warned that the rough at George Washington is fairly testing. The grass is not that tall or thick but it's dense stuff and requires some power to escape from, which means the ball could squirt off in unanticipated directions. All in all, quite a test.
The 3rd is another par 5, this time of 480 yards. The fairway is nice and wide to begin with, but at around 250 yards it narrows in appreciably on both sides. The trees run down both sides and so anything more dramatically off-line will find trouble. The green has sand on both sides and is another tricky proposition.
A par 4 of 372 yards follows. The fairway is quite tight here with trees again to both sides and there's a very slight uphill gradient. There's a bunker to the right of the green. It sounds easy on paper but this is the SI 1, so beware!
The 5th is another par 5, this time of 488 yards and it seems to go on forever. There are thick woods on both sides but in between there's an inviting expanse of fairway. The green wraps around a bunker to the front.
Six is a quirky 338-yard par 4. There's a nice target area to aim at here, though long hitters should be aware that the fairway drops away to a stream after around 250-260 yards. It's best to say up on the main part of the fairway, on the left by preference, and then wedge across to the green between the gap in the trees.
The 7th is a par 4 of 358 yards. This one doglegs left and there's a ditch at around 200 yards. Clear the ditch with your tee shot and you should be in a good position to reach the green, which is protected by a bunker on the left and grassy banks all around.
The 349-yard par 4 8th is another hole that looks deceptively simple. It's fairly straight but uphill so you can't see the green. A hit of over 200 yards will present a good view of the green though.
The 9th is a 145-yard par 3. There are trees between you and the putting surface and more dotted around the green, while there's a large bunker to the right and a smaller one on the left, which all makes hitting the target that much harder.
The back nine begin with an interesting par 4 of 355 yards. As the hotel is behind the trees on the right you can only take an iron from the tee here. If you can get one away 200 yards or so you'll have a nice view downhill to the hole and the two bunkers in front of the green.
The 11th, a 471-yard par 5, features a 90 degrees dogleg right. If you aim for the marker pole you'll run out of fairway at about 250-260 yards. It is possible to hit across the corner if you are a bit short and still comfortably make par but the green s another particularly tricky customer.
The par 4 354-yard 12th is another deceptive hole. There are thick woods on both sides but the fairway is wide, though it narrows at driving distance. The green has sand short on both sides.
It's quite easy to leave it short at the par 3, 172-yard 13th. The reason is the huge bunker that cuts across the front of what appears to be the green, but there's 20 yards of fairway between it and the putting surface. There's more sand front right of the green and a grassy bank on the left.
The 14th is a very tricky par 4 of 361 yards. The tee is elevated but the green is slightly higher on the other side of the valley. The hole also doglegs left slightly and the green has sand on the left and behind while the land slips away on all sides. From down on the fairway all of this is pretty much hidden though, so you have to be very careful with your approach.
From arguably the hardest hole on the course, the 15th is rated as the easiest. This par 3 of 144 yards is fairly straightforward. The tee is again elevated and affords a good view of the trees and sand that protect the green.
The 16th is a 363-yard par 4. There are thick trees to the right but there's plenty of room to get your drive away. The fairway narrows appreciably some 50 to 60 yards short of the green and there's plenty of sand to the left of the putting surface.
The 479-yard par 5 17th is a very tricky especially if you have ambitions of reaching the green in two. The tee shot is uphill over a blind summit and if go over 240 yards or so, there's rough and a track, after which the fairway runs down to the green, which is protected by sand on both sides.
The round is completed by a 353-yard par 4. It's uphill all the way and the green is tucked behind some trees on the left. The fairway is nice and wide so try and find the right-hand side if you can as this will open up the green for your second. Again, there is sand to both sides of the putting surface.
Now, you can enjoy those sparkling new facilities in the clubhouse and maybe even relax on that superb terrace.
Address: George Washington Golf and Country Club Hotel, Stone Cellar Road, High Usworth, Washington, Tyne & Wear, NE37 1PH.
Contact: Golf shop 0191-417-8346; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Directions: From A1M south take J65 on to A194 (M). Take the slip road A195 signposted Washington North. Take last exit off roundabout for Washington. Turn right at the mini-roundabout. The hotel is located 1/2 mile on the right-hand side.
Membership: Full Membership £575; 5-day Membership (inc Bank Holidays) £440; Youth (19-21)/Student Membership £240; Junior Membership £90; Joint membership £1075 (£10 club fees also payable).
Driving range: Driving range (20-bay floodlit bays): £2.50 for 50 balls, £10 for 250 balls, £17.50 for 500 balls.