Golf clubs struggling to keep heads above water

Duns Golf Club course manager, Wayne Ford (left) and first assistant greenkeeper Stuart Thomson, who have been battling it out with the rain.
Duns Golf Club course manager, Wayne Ford (left) and first assistant greenkeeper Stuart Thomson, who have been battling it out with the rain.
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IT’s been a rough few years for golf clubs as they struggle to cope with declining memberships and reduced green fee income as the UK’s economic woes continue.

Their hardship has been exacerbated in north Northumberland and the Borders by the wettest 12 months on record which has created muddy lakes where once there were manicured fairways.

Magdalene Fields in Berwick has been one of the worst hit with a fall in visitors by 1,000 contributing to a £19,000 loss which has placed the club in a precarious financial position.

“We’re finding times very tough at the moment,” admitted club secretary Scott Eddington. “The course was closed 18 times last year because of the wet weather and that led to a significant loss of income from visitor bookings.”

As a result, the club decided to place a £25 levy on subscriptions this year which, not surprisingly, has not gone down well.

“The hardcore membership has stumped up because they realise we’re in a difficult financial position,” explained Scott, “but it’s fair to say there were many who weren’t happy about it and we’ve lost seven members as a result, all of whom have gone to Goswick which is fortunate enough to have excellent drainage and can cope far better with the rain we’ve had.”

Fortunately, the club has been able to keep its income streams up thanks to much improved catering revenues.

“That’s been vital for us, to be honest,” admitted Scott. “If it hadn’t been for the efforts Hector White and his staff had put in to create a much more pleasant dining experience then we’d be in a much more difficult position.”

It is also offering a 20 per cent reduction on 2013 subscription fees for first time members.

“We’re hoping it will bring in a few fresh faces,” said Scott.

The weather has had a major impact upon both the number of days the Hirsel has been open and the condition of the course when it has been classified as fit for play.

A club spokesman said: “Our visitor numbers were down last year, much to the disappointment of the many visitors who return to the Hirsel every year, to enjoy the beautiful setting and the delightful layout of the course.

“The core members at Coldstream’s golf club, have had so much pleasure from the course over the years, that they are not going to walk away, simply because we’ve had a long period of bad weather. They are a hardier bunch than that. Very few clubs in the area have got away with the relentless battering the climate has given us, so we’re all in the same boat, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

Plans are already under way to improve the drainage on the course, to carry out improvements and to get the tees, fairways and greens standing to attention, ready for the coming season.

“A band of volunteers is already in place to support our amazing greens staff and there are further plans being developed to improve the atmosphere of our clubhouse and the welcome that our visitors get,” the spokesman added. “All in all, the future is in our own hands and our members are right behind the plans to keep the Hirsel high on the list of any golfer wanting a memorable day’s golf in the Scottish Borders.”

Duns is advertising some attractive incentives to try and pull in new members, with a £60 saving off the full membership price of £385 for first timers.

At the club’s recent AGM, members applauded their ground staff for keeping the course playable for all but a handful of occasions.

Course manager, Wayne Ford said: “We are delighted with the way the course has come through some of the worst conditions we have ever seen.”

Club captain Alex Craik added: “It is not only the diligent work of the ground staff which has helped us continue playing. Duns is also a very resilient course. It drains well, and the fairways and greens have remained in good condition throughout the year.”

“We have been flattered by our visitors who have told us how impressed they have been by the condition of the course,” he added. “Naturally, we have had a couple of damp spots but there has been nothing which stopped golfers enjoying their game.”

Seahouses is doing its bit to bring in new members, offering a £30 reduction in subscriptions from £365 to £335 if paid by February 14. And Eyemouth and Wooler are trying to encourage the next generation by offering free memberships to juniors. Eyemouth offers free golf for primary age pupils, while Wooler offers free golf to children not playing in adult competitions.

Bamburgh is the only club in this area still operating a waiting list for full membership, whilst Dunbar has also decided to introduce a levy on members’ subscriptions to pay for a potential new clubhouse and academy.

Goswick is continuing to attract new members. More than 40 signed up in November and seven more in December and although figures for the 2013 season are not yet available numbers appear to be holding their own.

Club secretary David Brigham said: “Green fees for 2012 increased by £12,000 on 2011 and initial bookings for 2013 indicate another increase. Goswick has remained playable during the recent wet spell and indeed during the wet summer.

“The club have just completed extensive works on the 13th hole to improve drainage and are aware of the current economic climate and will continue to improve the course for members and visitors.”