Club profile: Ponteland Golf Club

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 17:09

Club profile: Ponteland Golf Club

Ponteland Golf Club, sited just outside Ponteland village, 10 miles west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is something of a success story in the north-east of England.

It has bucked the trend of many clubs in the region, having managed to not only survive the recession unscathed, but also remaining prosperous throughout, showing an acute business acumen which has allowed it to complete large scale redevelopments without the need for increasing club membership or resorting to finance options.

“We’ve remained pretty strong over the last two years,” stated club secretary Chris Espiner. “We’ve kept our membership at a healthy 500, having previously capped it at 480 allowing for new members.”

The years 2010 and 2011 were always going to be tough for golf with the fall-out from the recession yet being proactive and continuing to spend has borne fruit for Ponteland, which has books that look positive for the coming year.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to keep our facilities as up to date as we can over the last few years, strongly believing that the best way to attract and retain membership in tough times is to offer the whole package, not simply expecting the course to bring in the numbers alone,” Chris added.

The club has always targeted a local demographic, drawing most of the membership from the immediate area, yet still managing to carve out a status as one of the best clubs in the region, something Chris believes has been furthered in the last few years due largely to the amount of improvements made both to the facilities and the branding of the club.

“We’ve been working hard to remove the barriers of perceived exclusivity associated with golf,” explained Chris. “By actively working with the local community and local schools we’re striving to make golf more accessible to everyone, not simply the markets the sport has traditionally served.”

As a former head teacher, Chris is well placed to tap into the potential of youth golf, playing a pivotal role in pushing the club’s subsidised membership schemes, available to both junior members up to 22 years and senior members over 80.

“The junior market is a valuable one to explore, not only because it’s potentially lucrative but also because it supplies clubs with the adult members of the future,” Chris insisted.

Ponteland runs a number of summer and holiday schools where schoolchildren from the local area are invited to come and sample the sport. Since launching the schemes, the club has witnessed a boom in junior take-up, which now stands at 200 members – a figure that has been increasing year-on-year.

Testament to the club’s youth initiatives came recently when the club was awarded GolfMark status – an accolade that commended the club’s commitment to youth golf and its efforts to widen the sport to a greater audience.

The commitment to the membership formed part of the reason why the decision to upgrade club facilities arose. “We strongly believe in offering quality. By not spending, we’re simply cheating our membership,” stated Chris categorically. “The make do and mend approach only works for so long. There comes a time when you just need to reinvest, and we had reached that stage.”

The plans for the construction of a new clubhouse were submitted but these were bunkered when building regulations arose which highlighted a high risk of flooding.

Undeterred, the club continued its redevelopments through a programme of construction beginning back in 2007, which has now been completed, comprised catering facilities, full refurbishment of the clubhouse, and new male and female lockers rooms.

The male changing rooms had not been touched since 1956 when the originals were first installed following donation from a coal mine near Northumberland. “Our current head groundsman’s first job when he joined here was to paint the lockers, which gives some indication of the last time any work was done,” said Chris.

The ladies’ lockers were begun first, and had been unchanged since even earlier than the men’s – the 1940s. The old wooden lockers were in desperate need of replacing, and as the number of female members had risen quite substantially in recent years, the club felt their’s was a more pressing case.

The total £150,000 capital investment on the various developments at the club have come through hard work and not a little imagination, said Chris. “We’ve come through this recession largely unscathed, thanks to our hard work in promoting the social side of the club. In tough times you have to be canny and look at what else your club can offer,” he added.

Social nights, functions and an expert chef have been part of the ingredients to the club’s success, with the Variety Club of GB, Children in Need and the Rotary Club numbering some of the most high profile non-golfing events put on in the last year.

“We have an excellent catering service here, something which is now getting a name for itself as one of the best in the region, thanks largely to our head chef Alan Marriner.”

The more than 150 social members who only use the club and not the course are proving a valuable source of revenue, he added. “These members are a real asset to us, they’re a 100 per cent profit maker, don’t cause damage to the course and simply want to use the club for socialising, which we think is a great thing.”

As with the subsidised membership on offer to younger and older membership, Chris feels that many other clubs are missing a trick by not offering it, with non-golfers bringing in extra revenue and opening up the club to a much wider audience.

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 17:09
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