How to use clubhouse space more efficiently

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 16:00

As can be seen in Stuart Phipps’ article in the May 2011 issue of Golf Club Management, refurbishing the clubhouse is ambitious, expensive and can be risky – even for the wealthier clubs that Stuart advised to take advantage of the competitive climate to invest in improvements. Getting it wrong will plunge a club into debt courtesy of under-planning and over-spending, as several well-known clubs have found to their cost. Yet, when done well, the impact on the bottom line can be as dramatic as that when members, guests and visitors see it for the first time.

The aim of improving any clubhouse is usually disarmingly simple: to get more people – members, new members, guests and visitors – to want to come more often, spend more money and make the club more a part of their modern, busy lifestyles. But what is the evidence of the benefits? And how does a club get it right and, more importantly given the risks, avoid getting it wrong?

Reigate Heath

Reigate Heath Golf Club has a nine-hole course and, until recently, an old, small and tired clubhouse. In 2010 the committee explored other clubhouse refurbishments and examined presentations from several suppliers. The members learnt that a refurbishment should generate an increase in bar sales of around 15 per cent, a big ask given the current state of the economy.

To create space, an interior design and space-planning expert (DHID) was called in to create a larger bar and lounge within the existing footprint. Following a detailed specification, estimates were obtained from recommended suppliers. Cash flow projections proving the viability of the exiting business to fund the major investment were communicated to all members; two major consultative evenings with members, designers and project managers took place; an EGM then gave almost unanimous approval for the go-ahead; and the members raised over 80 per cent of the investment required. The clubhouse refurbishment went ahead in December 2009 and was completed in April 2010 – on schedule and under budget.

Club manager Richard Arnold saw the impact immediately: “Everyone who saw the results was blown away. We didn’t have one single criticism. The hard evidence is in the bottom line. Membership applications picked up and stayed healthy. We soon had a healthy stream of enquiries for social occasions. Bar takings in the second quarter in 2010, that is the first one when the ‘new’ clubhouse was being fully used again, were up 15 per cent on the comparable months in 2009.

“This rate of performance has continued into 2011, and the second quarter is up again, seven per cent on 2010, while the first half of 2011 compared to 2010 is up no less than 35 per cent. We’re now full in terms of playing memberships, and the social memberships are on the up as well. The new clubhouse interiors – and exterior as we restored the balcony and replaced all the windows with timber, double-glazed ones – both won us an award and are a huge influence on many more members and visitors wanting to come here more often.”


Meanwhile, Cuddington Golf Club’s (the host of the GCMA’s first ever meeting in 1933) clubhouse epitomises the elegance of 1920s architectural practice, but the interiors were a series of intimate spaces. Ninety years later, the operational demands had changed completely to handle large numbers for society days, functions and so on, while still trying to achieve the original aim of providing relaxing spaces and facilities for members and visitors. While functional efficiency was a priority, Cuddington’s committee wanted to modernise, yet enhance, the ‘clubbiness’ of the place. The first impressions on members and visitors had to score very highly.

Cuddington chose David Hales Interior Design and architectural partner Mitchell Evans to provide a complete solution from design through structural and engineering inputs to interior finishes and sign off. With a £1 million budget, Cuddington wanted a top quality solution, on time and on budget, by May 2011.

DHID (which had worked at Reigate Heath) and Mitchell Evans soon worked out that 20 per cent extra space, and therefore 50 additional covers, could be gained by extending the dining area. Cuddington can now handle 150 people sitting down, essential for competing for larger functions’ business.

Flexibility has been provided with sliding doors and panels, so that the kitchen and dining areas can be separated from the bar and lounge for ‘relaxing’ spaces when functions demand. By re-positioning the catering area to be able to service both the dining areas and the relaxing areas, and by opening up all the small spaces while preserving a choice of intimate spaces through the position and design of the furnishings, Cuddington’s clubhouse has become operationally much more effective with lower staffing costs as only one person is now needed to serve from a servery instead of several waitresses.

The bar is now at the centre and is easily accessible from the dining, as well as the relaxing, areas; the Spike and the main bar can now be operated by one person, minimising the staff servicing costs compared with Cuddington’s previous make-up.

In addition, honours’ boards have been elegantly reduced in size and mirrors run at head height below the boards to enhance the ambience. Stylish and stackable banquette seating was also designed to reduce the amount of individual seating required. Elsewhere, all the lighting in these areas is energy efficient, the carpet is spike-proof and coffered ceilings house the lighting and climate control systems so that Cuddington’s members bask in air conditioned comfort even when all the lights are being used, while walnut panelling around the bar has been designed and made exclusively for the club.

The improved clubhouse was handed over on time and on budget and the membership and visitor feedback has been very positive with many societies and groups keen to sign up for their functions to be at Cuddington next year.


Another club that went down this route is Nairn GC in Scotland, which also extended one of its lounges, plus revamped its junior room and upgraded its cloakroom facilities.

“We consulted with our members and the feedback we got was the Newton Lounge was simply too small,” explained Graeme Govan, Nairn GC’s marketing convenor. “It was clear the bar had to be upgraded to accommodate the growing demands placed on it by members, guests and visitors. It was a clear-cut decision.” Designed by Gerry Thomson from THR3 Design in Glasgow and using IronHorse as the contractor, the Newton Lounge, which overlooks the Cameron course, was substantially extended and now benefits from a bespoke bar and made-to-measure furniture. The venue has also been fitted with two large televisions and a specially-made carpet incorporating the club’s colours of purple, black and gold. The junior room was similarly upgraded.

With Nairn set to host the Curtis Cup in 2012 and celebrate its 125th anniversary in the same year, the club believes the improvements are a timely investment. “These are exciting times for Nairn,” Graeme noted.

“The improvements are part of a much wider scheme that should be completed ahead of next year’s celebrations. As with all aspects of the club, the rationale is to deliver the best possible service and facilities to our members and visitors, and I think these changes will go some way to doing this.”

By then, the club’s Whitelaw Lounge, which enjoys spectacular views across the links and the Moray coast, will also receive a similar upgrade.

Many clubs have looked at the success of Reigate Heath, Cuddington and Nairn and want a piece of it for themselves.


Wildwood Golf & Country Club, next to the Dunsfold Aerodrome – home to Top Gear – in Surrey, for example, is going to carry out extensive renovations to its existing clubhouse and build a new 100 bedroom hotel plus 40 lodges and a spa, at a cost of £30 million, now that planning permission has been granted. The plans also include for the course to become a centre of excellence for junior golfers.

Edmund O’Reilly Hyland, director of Translloyd Developments, which operates the club, explained: “Wildwood has always suffered from not being able to offer its visitors and members more. Currently the local area loses hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in hotel, restaurant and tourism income because visitors to the course are forced to head to Guildford and Horsham due to a lack of facilities in the area.

“By investing we will not only be adding value for the members, but bringing additional income to the local community. Rather than just being an outstanding golf course, Wildwood will now be an outstanding golf resort. The redevelopment will also increase the appeal of the venue for weddings and corporate functions.”


And London Golf Club, a European Tour destination and host venue of the 2008 and 2009 European Open, has also unveiled plans for a new 130-bedroom hotel and spa, along with a European Tour regional office.

The development has been innovatively created in the style of a traditional Kentish village, and will nestle in terrain overlooking the opening holes of the Heritage Course.

George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, said: “With the development of a striking hotel and spa within convenient proximity of London, London Golf Club is set to position itself among the world’s elite golf resorts and we plan to host major European Tour events in years to come.”

Charles Fairweather, chairman of London Golf Club, stated: “This is a significant leisure development for London and is set to become an important destination for the European Tour, as well as to golfers from London and the UK. We are proud of the design work that has gone into creating an intimate, village-style resort that will nestle in the landscape, stepping down the contours to minimise visual impact. This is just the beginning of the first phase of development. The long-term strategy for London Golf Club is to create a world-class destination and venue that will host the biggest and best sporting events over the next 20 years.”

Planning consent has been secured, with help from planning consultant DHA Group and Mackenzie Wheeler Architects & Designers, from whom a spokesman said: “We knew from the outset that it would be inappropriate to adopt a conventional approach to the design of a hotel in this location. It was also important to take advantage of the natural contours of the site. We have therefore broken down the building mass more usually associated with a hotel guest wing so that there are smaller units, each orientated slightly differently to its neighbour to provide an uninterrupted view of the surrounding landscape, with roofs at different heights. This creates the ‘village’ feel and building materials will enhance the overall effect.”

The total floorspace of the development is 18,306 square metres and will include a speciality restaurant and meeting and banqueting accommodation.

Austen Gravestock, general manager, said: “An on-site hotel is an essential prerequisite to the London Golf Club becoming one of the premier golfing venues within England and Europe. However, providing one in this beautiful green belt location was always going to be a challenge.

“The solution was to design a scheme which looks more like a Kent village than a hotel, and has minimal visual impact on the surrounding countryside.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick September 13, 2011 16:00
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