Meet the golf club managing director: Julie Wannop

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire August 20, 2019 21:42

The co-founder and managing director of Eden Golf Club in Cumbria talks about the advantages of offering nine as well as 18-hole golf, how Eden became a host venue for Girls Golf Rocks, the industry’s changing attitudes towards women and what the club has been doing to attract non-golfers to use its facilities.

Julie Wannop

Can you tell us a bit about Eden Golf Club, including its history and your connection to that, plus what the course is like today?

My husband and I started Eden Golf Club in 1992. We were looking for opportunities to develop our business and golf came along at the right time. Since then we have added the restaurant and events business, an additional nine hole course and a driving range.

Today, Eden is highly praised by visitors and members alike for it’s immaculate condition, beautiful environment and above all its ability to test golfers without being unfair. We have hosted the English Seniors Championship and is Cumbria’s only 27-hole course.

The fairways wind their way through the 50 acres of woodland around which the course is designed – although tremendous views of the Pennine and Lakeland fells are still afforded on various parts of the course.

Wildlife is numerous on the courses with families of swans nesting on the lakes as well as mallards, moorhens, hares, otters, the occasional roe deer family and our residential red squirrels.

Our nine-hole Hadrian’s course is where steep gullies and undulations await with rewarding views of the River Eden and surrounding fells and countryside. Whether played on its own or as part of a 27-hole day, this 3,262 yard par 36 course greatly adds to the appeal of a day out at Eden.

The courses hold several county and inter county events each year.

How do you think your role as the manager of a UK golf club has changed during your time with Eden?

Golf has been a very male-dominated sport and place to work, with a terrible reputation for being a snooty game. Sometimes when visiting other clubs or attending meetings and seminars I was made to feel very uncomfortable and at one event unable to cross the line defining ‘the men only side of the clubhouse’ (not that an out of bounds line would stop me) and yet it is one of the few sports men and women can play and compete side-by-side. Added to that you can play from and to any age – in which other sport can a grandparent and parent compete with or against their grandchild or child?

Golf is fantastic fun and a social game with incredible health aspects to it as well. Thank goodness this is now being recognised and moving on from its stuffy reputation. My role as a manager and a proprietor has always been to move on, look for new and fresh ideas and make the game and club more accessible and inclusive. That is still true today.

 

What would you say are your biggest challenges at Eden Golf Club today?

Finding good staff and new ideas has always been a challenge. But, I am very proud of our team at Eden. From the greenkeepers to the restaurant team, the admin and events team – they are a great team to work with.  We quite often gather together for a meeting and they always come up with fresh ideas that I’d never thought of. It really is wonderful to work with such a brilliant team.

How do you market the golf club to potential new members and visitors? Your website has an outstanding aerial video, how did that come about?

Good marketing is so important – bad marketing is a waste of money and that’s why new ideas and pushing the boundaries as to what we can provide is key to recruiting new members and visitors.

I’ll have to agree with you there – the aerial video is great! People want to see what they have signed up to so photography and that aerial video are perfect for showing that.  We were lucky to host a very large lavish birthday party for a client in our marquee. The evening was filmed from all sorts of angles and heights and the guys doing the filming very kindly came back to do the course the next day and what a great result we got!

 

Is Eden trying to attract more women and juniors to the facility?

Very much so. It is such a good sport to get into, especially for all those who are not interested in mainstream sport or who want to have a hobby that involves their husband, partner or the whole family.

Our ladies’ section is growing rapidly and we are hoping to field a full girls’ team in our junior section, which is pretty much unheard of.

All his helps with the general ethos of the club, whilst still respecting and supporting our gents section and scratch teams.  Last May, our juniors won comfortably the county junior team event, with a team of two girls and two boys. Proud would be an understatement!

The club offers free taster sessions to some beginners. How do these work and how successful are they? Similarly, this year you were one of just four venues in Cumbria to host the national Girls Golf Rocks programme. How did that come about, what did it entail and what benefits did you see this year from being involved?

The taster sessions have been organised by our new coaching professional. He has organised several different coaching sessions to get people started and offers a free taster session to start and then follows it up with a structured course of lessons. This has proved to be very popular thus far and the hope is that the participants will want to become members of the club.

The Girls Golf Rocks programme is such a brilliant concept. It came about through our golf secretary, Erica Wellings. She put forward Eden as venue to host the Girls Golf Rock and our application was successful! Our practice facilities at Eden are very extensive, including a driving range, putting greens and a designated chipping and bunker area and so we were able to offer a very good structure of lessons for the girls. The benefits have been great for both us and the girls – there has been lots of interest and lots of girls wanting to join in which is brilliant! With having a great junior girls cohort anyway, a lot of them have volunteered to help with the coaching sessions, which has helped younger girls to see golf can be an accesible sport for all ages and genders.

You offer nine-hole memberships. How popular are these and do you see alternatives to 18-hole golf as a growing trend for golf clubs in the future?

I have always felt that the biggest difficulty for recruitment into the sport was the length of time it took to play a round of golf. It’s great for those that have retired, but for anyone with a young family or in full-time work, four hours is a big commitment.

We started introducing nine-hole competitions about 10 years ago and then latterly with the luxury of having the additional nine-hole course felt it would be a good idea to include a nine-hole membership aimed at those who perhaps felt they were no longer fit enough to justify a full membership or those who didn’t have the time to play 18 holes. This has proved to be very popular indeed.

Have you considered offering other golfing alternatives such as footgolf, adventure golf and speedgolf?

We have looked into it and I think for some clubs it’s a great idea and works really well. At the moment we are focussing on Get into Golf and the Girls Golf Rocks schemes but never say never!

What is the club doing to enhance profitability of its food and beverage operation? The 1Up restaurant at the club is branded separately – why?

The food and beverage side is very important to all golf clubs and so is the customer service. We rebranded a few years ago to ‘Eden’. This was to highlight that whilst the main emphasis is on golf at Eden you can dine in the 1UP restaurant, or even use the ‘Garden at Eden’ facilities to get married, host a private party, a conference or a corporate event. This is through our on-site marquee which is set in the private water garden overlooking the Hadrian’s course.

Our clubhouse is not a traditional interior. It has a very modern look and feel and we are delighted with our new image.

We are just as keen to attract non-golfers into the clubhouse as we are golfers so giving the restaurant its own identity was seen as a step in that direction.

We can dine up to 50 in our restaurant and 500 in the marquee.  The flexibility of our dining facilities is unique for a golf club and that enables us to hold large and lavish events. We have had the privilege of hosting bands such as JLS, Little Mix and this year the British Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and Sarah Fox for the St James’s Place Charitable Foundation. Catering on this scale is like a military operation and you are only as good as your last event, so service and quality is absolute key.

You won the award for ‘Large Hotels, Leisure & Tourism’ at the 2019 Cumbria Family Business Awards. Congratulations! What did you do to win this?

We were delighted and honoured to receive this award – it was totally out of the blue.

We were nominated by a company that we have worked with and it was a great thrill to be put forward. We were very flattered that they thought us worthy of a nomination. We are very much a family business and proud of that fact.

My husband Alistair’s late father was very involved in the setting up of the course and his mum still takes a keen interest.

Both our children worked during school and university holidays either as part of the greens’ staff or on the catering team.

This June we were named runners-up for the Large Hotels, Leisure & Tourism national round of The Family Business Awards.

The environment has been a big issue lately, what does Eden do to protect its local habitat?

The wildlife at Eden is incredible and plays a big part in what we do here. Our course manager, Malcom Lathan, is very conscious of the environment and prefers to follow the biological route instead of chemical route for course management. He has his own organic potions he uses instead of pesticides and fertilisers and is hoping in the not too distant future that we will be a totally chemical-free course.

The layout and make-up of the course create the perfect environment for wildlife with woodland and small lakes as well as some long grass areas creating a great mix of habitat. We put great efforts into encouraging our red squirrel population (which are generally on the decrease) and it’s great to see them do well. Likewise our hares on the course are another species finding it hard at the moment, but they are also thriving!

A few years ago we covered a story about a cow being found on your course after it had been swept along by flooded water for 18 miles. What actually happened?

Both the course and clubhouse were hit by Storm Desmond in 2015 – it almost completely wiped us out which was both heartbreaking and scary.

After the water disappeared Alistair was doing a course walk to assess the work we needed to do and he came across some fresh hoof marks along the fairway. He followed them until they led him into some woodland on the course and there was a young heifer sitting under the trees clearly traumatised. When she saw Alistair she stood up and followed him off the course to a nearby field until he could trace the farm from where she had come.

She had come approximately 18 miles down the river and was also in calf. Happily, she was safely transported home and calved down safely some months later. A happy ending for all involved!

 

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire August 20, 2019 21:42
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1 Comment

  1. Phil August 17, 16:21

    Good read this good yo hear that staff are listened to with new ideas

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