The improvements at Cocken Lodge have made a big difference and the County Durham complex is now a very attractive prospect for everyone with time constraints as well as for those at either end of the age range. For many ladies and youngsters looking to take up the game, joining a golf club can be a daunting experience and expensive. In recognising this, owner Lucy Holmes and her son Gawain certainly did their homework and have provided an excellent facility for a very big gap in the market.
With a short nine-hole course, newly built club house and a floodlit driving range fitted with the very latest power tees, Cocken Lodge is attracting people of all ages and from all walks of life to the sport.
Lucy said: "We consider Cocken Lodge as a feeder centre for other clubs and are proud of our relaxed friendly attitude. To think we are in a middle of a recession, this year has been really good - we are picking up golfers who can't afford golf club memberships."
They now have approximately 45 ladies who play regularly two days a week and with the course having an official standard ladies scratch score, it is ideal for beginners of any age to mark cards for handicapping purposes.
And with the award of RangeMark, the English Golf Union and English Women's Golf Association national scheme that identifies quality ranges, Cocken Lodge has been recognised as beginner and junior friendly and underlines the fact that the centre has a safe environment for youngsters.
The PGA professional at Cocken Lodge is Julie Welch, who was a late starter in golf and did not become a professional until turning 40, said: "It is much better for boys and girls to start a lot younger than I did and the RangeMark award was without doubt a big feather in our cap - getting youngsters into golf is all about making them feel welcome and their parents knowing they will be looked after.
"We have established a junior academy here with competitions every week and group coaching for both boys and girls. We've also instigated a ladies club where ladies can come and meet other ladies and widen their circle of playing partners and attend social events."
As further recognition of her work with youngsters, the Durham County Golf Partnership has appointed Julie as one of four Academy Coaches to teach children with potential.
Julie concluded: "It's great to be able to teach really young children and ensure they get the basics right when they are still new to golf - I find it enormously rewarding."
The compact clubhouse at Cocken Lodge is fully licensed and open to everyone. There is a range of light meals and snacks on offer along with a children's menu and the facility is available for private parties and business meetings. The centre also offers corporate days for small businesses who can't afford bigger venues.
Opened for play in 2001, Cocken Lodge has seven par 3s and two short par 4s. Although the course measures only 1592 yards off the back tees, the USGA spec greens are small targets and even those who are more proficient at the game, will find the par of 29 a good test of their ability.
The first hole is a 163-yard par 3 with out of bounds on the left. Played slightly downhill to a green surrounded by hummocks and protected by a bunker front right, finding the putting surface is one thing, getting the ball in the hole is another - the severely sloping green is not easy to read.
At 151 yards, the second has out of bounds to the left and to the rear. Only a shortish iron is needed but make sure you have enough club as the green falls away at the front.
The next hole is a 246-yard par 4 and driveable for the better players. There is a bunker on the left approximately 25 yards short of the green and with the fairway dog-legging slightly left, newly planted trees will create a little more difficulty in years to come. Again, favour the right side of the fairway to take the out of bounds on the left out of play.
The fourth is without doubt the prettiest hole on the course and although only 125 yards, the large pond on the right can be a magnet for balls. No bunkers to worry about but similar to the first green, the severe slopes will test your putting stroke to the full. Miss on the left or go through the green and you will find yourself on one of a number of large grassy mounds which may be pleasing to the eye but can leave very tricky chips to save par.
There then follows a 122-yard par 3 to a small target with a bunker front right. Again all the difficulty surrounds the putting surface so select the right club, aim for the centre of the green and commit to the shot. Try and leave your tee shot at this one below the hole or
you will be faced with a difficult downhill putt.
The entrance to this green is narrow at the 153 yard sixth hole and the bunker located front left comes very much into play. If the pin is placed on the left, you will be faced with a tricky tee shot with very little green to work with.
The seventh is one of the tougher holes on the course measuring 177 yards and played to a partially hidden, slightly raised green. Depending on the wind direction, consider maybe selecting an extra club - it is very easy to come up short at this one.
At 273 yards, the par 4 eighth is the longest hole on the course and a slight dog-leg right. No real difficulty from the tee unless you want to have a go for the green - the target is small with trees, bushes and water left and bunkered right, only the foolhardy would risk loosing a ball. A mid-iron and a wedge is the sensible option, to leave a good birdie chance.
The final hole is the longest par 3 and at 182 yards, the toughest hole at Cocken Lodge. Trees and out of bounds are on the right, the green slopes steeply back to front and there is a bunker located on the left to watch out for. This is a strong hole, and to finish with a par is always a good score
This nine-hole course is ideal for beginners and those players wanting to sharpen up their short game - and with the atmosphere being so relaxed and friendly; Cocken Lodge is the perfect place to try out golf.
Name: Cocken Lodge Golf Club
Address: Leamside, County Durham, DH4 6QP
Telephone: 0191 584 1053 Fax 0191 512 6188
Location: From the A1(M), take the A690 towards Sunderland. From the A19, take the A690 towards Durham. Follow the signs for West Rainton, Leamside and Finchale Abbey - Cocken Lodge is then signposted
Green Fees: £10 for 9-holes, £15 for 18-holes. Juniors half price. Mondays & Fridays - special rates for the over 60s between 8am and 10am
Driving Range: £2. 50 for 50 balls (approx)