GOLF clubs have been having a tough time in the recession, but one North East club is bucking the depressing trend and honing its game both on and off the course.
After securing its long-term future on its magnificent course at High Gosforth Park, just north of Newcastle, The Northumberland Golf Club has embarked on an ambitious plan to propel it into the 21st Century, while at the same time exploding many of the myths which seem to have surrounded the club for many years.
The first phase of the plans has seen a major extension to the main lounge coupled with a total refurbishment and upgrading of the changing, shower and toilet facilities, all done to a four-star standard.
Members and guests can now enjoy unrestricted panoramic views of the first and 18th holes through the new large bay windows, as well as from the new terrace which has reconnected the lounge with the course.
“The extension blends in well with the original building and demonstrates that, whilst introducing the best of modern facilities, the club has retained its traditional standards,” says club chairman James Heppell.
“I believe that we have achieved our aim of at least matching any of the clubhouse facilities offered by the new breed of proprietary golf clubs while still retaining the core values of being a members club – rather than having to give priority to the overriding interests and profit making for shareholders.”
Impressive as the clubhouse now is, the prime asset of The Northumberland Golf Club is undoubtedly its magnificent course which has staged many national and international amateur and professional events.
A new programme of investment has provided the club with the latest greenkeeping equipment coupled with work on drainage, greens and bunkers which has already ensured a major reduction in course closures despite everything the weather has thrown at the region in recent years.
There is now no need to resort to mats and temporary greens through the winter period and this high quality year-round golf makes Northumberland a real attraction to the regular golfer.
The club also boasts the benefit of a massive practice field, which, together with a purpose-built practice chipping green and four additional full practice holes, provides a facility for full members and guests as well as the thriving new junior section.
In addition, with the assistance of Kirkley Hall, a planting programme is currently in hand to restore some of the features of the Capability Brown-designed High Gosforth Park, while some minor changes to the cutting regime have improved the landing areas for the higher handicapper while giving greater challenge to the better golfers.
“The James Braid and Henry Colt design features mean the course is strategic rather than penal, offering a challenge for all levels of skill,” said chairman of greens Tony Brett.
“It tempts the better players without punishing high handicappers, with the many bunkers on the course providing the main hazard.”
Contrary to local myth, women are welcome and respected by Northumberland, young players are encouraged and the flourishing junior section has just completed its second year in the county junior league, and clubhouse regulations are now much more relaxed.
“I would defy anyone to show me a friendlier golf club in the North East,” added Heppell. “While such criticism was very possibly justifiable in the past, it is simply not the case now. Times change but reasonable standards have to be maintained and I think we have done that by bringing our dress code up to date and we are delighted to be attracting members in the 30-40 age group.”
While visitors are made extremely welcome, “the Park” remains very much a private members club. As a result, visiting parties are restricted and membership numbers controlled to ensure easy access seven days a week.
This enables the club to employ an “open tee” policy so that outside of competitions, members never need to book a tee time.