Golf club that is aiming to stay ahead of the game with ambitious transformation plan
- Credit: Archant
It can be difficult to shake the stereotypes surrounding the humble game of golf.
Clubs have long been seen as an exclusive hideout for the older generation, with strict dress and shoe codes.
But one course determined to change all that and welcome in a modern era of the sport is St Ives Golf Club, helped along by an upcoming investment of almost £6million.
The club used to be based in Westwood Road, but after almost a century there, sold the site to a housing developer in favour of a new home in Needingworth Road, officially opening in 2010.
Since the deal, the club has pumped £2million into the business, landscaping the entire plot over two years for an 18-hole course, creating ponds for wildlife, and investing in the latest groundwork equipment.
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Now with another £6million on the way, the management team has plenty of plans.
“We’ve got a terrific opportunity here,” Gordon MacLeod, the general manager, said.
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“We’ve got a wonderful young golf course, we have a lot of land, some very enthusiastic and committed members and now a significant amount of money which will enable us to realise the true potential in this golf club and golf course.”
The course, which covers 240 acres, is overseen by head green keeper, Rob Duff, and is currently undergoing more improvements, such as hole landscaping and bunker building.
“We’re definitely the envy of the green keeping community, the equipment we’ve got and the ideas we have,” Mr Duff, who is in charge of almost £500,000 worth of machinery, said.
“Our holes are designed for all abilities, so if you’re a high handicapper – not as good - then you’re still going to be able to play the same hole. We don’t punish those players. We cut the shorter grass right back to the tee so if you only hit the ball 50 yards you’re not going to be looking for it for three hours.
“If you’re a good golfer, the holes are challenging enough for you to feel challenged.”
More than £100,000 has already been spent on perfecting three holes, with ponds also lined and railway sleepers installed.
Some 38,000 footpath mats have been laid on the course as well, ensuring it can be used all year round.
“One of our roles is to look at what we can learn from other golf courses,” Mr Duff added.
“I think it’s imperative that we can’t just sit and rest on our laurels. We do need to look at what other clubs have to offer to try and remain ahead of the game. We’re fortunate we’re not too far from some very exclusive clubs in this part of the world.
“We’ve been there, they’ve discussed opportunities with us, and they’ve been very open and frank with us and we’ll try and emulate the bigger and better clubs.”
The course is also keen to minimise its ecological footprint, using an irrigation system to be self-sufficient and laying longer-lasting Astroturf in its bunkers, which might otherwise have gone to landfill.
Elsewhere on the site, there is a shop, driving range, professional coaching at the Ashwell Golf Academy, and a Titleist fitting centre adorned with the latest technology for analysing game techniques – things which haven’t gone unnoticed.
Gareth Thomas, a club member, said: “The thing that attracted me to the club was the practice facilities – the driving range is great.
“The course is hard and testing, and it’s well laid out and has been particularly well-designed, so it’s a really well thought-out course. The club is fantastically friendly, and I’ve been a member for another club for about a year and didn’t get to know anyone at all.”
Although the club already boasts 650 members, it wants to tap into new markets, such as the school mums, young couples, and getting more youngsters playing the game.
“We did benefit previously [in Westwood Road] from the school where the youngsters would cross the road and play golf,” Mr MacLeod said.
“It’s a little more difficult now, so one of our big pushes in the coming months and years will be to get as many youngsters through our doors here. We have arguably one of the best golf ranges and practice facilities anywhere in Cambridgeshire.”
The management are also keen to banish stale golf club rules.
“It’s not my phrase, but we don’t want youngsters to have to dress like their fathers and grandfathers,” Mr MacLeod added.
“Golf is a sport. Do we care about collared shirt or sports tops? No. We need to encourage them to feel comfortable – it’s their club. You can wear jeans and you can wear training shoes in the golf club, which flies in the face of traditional thought.”
As well as golf, the team is keen to invest in the clubhouse, which already features a spacious bar and dining area, plus an upstairs function room and changing rooms.
George Jackson, chairman of the club, said: “We’ll be modifying the golf house to cater for our members and partly for different types of events.
“What we’re aiming for is that people in the local area if they want to have a party or wedding or conference, one of the first places they will think of is the St Ives Golf Club.”
Although Mr Jackson said the team cannot guarantee membership prices won’t increase as more investments are made, the club is set on staying affordable.
At the moment, membership for youngsters up to the age of 10 is £30, 18-24-year-olds pay £235 and, as of July, full memberships will be £815 – which officials at the club say is among the cheapest in Cambridgeshire.
“I think there’s a misconception that golf is an expensive sport. You can pick up a set of clubs for £40 to £50 these days, if you join as a member you’re paying up to £815, and for twice a week that’s less than £8 a round. That’s for four hours enjoyment,” Mr Duff added.
“Go hire a squash court for four hours [and see the difference]. I think it’s got its reputation somewhat unfairly as being as an expensive sport and I don’t think it is anymore, and we’re definitely trying to break down those barriers.”
The club, which employs 20 full-time staff, eventually hopes to bag a spot in the top 100 golf courses in the country, as well as host premier competitions.
For more, visit stivesgolfclub.co.uk.
• St Ives Golf Club was started in 1923
• Since moving to its new home, more than 90 different species of bird have been recorded as living on the course
• The club offers six buggies for players to use, and the course is floodlit until 9pm
• The course was landscaped by Cameron Sinclair in a ‘links’ style – the oldest and most traditional golf course design
• The golf club is hosting a Family Fun Day on August 20 and will include the chance for visitors to try golf.