Several years ago, GRN Consulting were asked to do a report on the viability of the Chadwell Springs Golf Club for its owners, McMullens, the Brewers. McMullens had owned the asset for a number of years, but the business was not profitable. As with most reports we write, GRN Consulting didn't mince their words. The existing club was being endured by a maximum of 200 older golfers who were not very receptive to sharing the course with others and their ideas of growing the game, would have made Rory McIlroy look like a visionary! The course too was not suitable for golf. It had many blind holes, both tee shots and approaches were not visible to the player as he or she struck their shot. The greens were also positioned close to edge of the property, so ball escape issues were becoming more of a problem.
The course had originally been an 18 layout before it was cruelly divided by the A10 dual carriage way. This meant that Chadwell Springs had a long decline. When GRN Consulting see facilities of this type, they must always be careful to acknowledge the sensitivities of the existing users of the course, even if their tenure is to be irrevocably changed. McMullens were very good in dealing with the existing membership with compassion and understanding and held several meetings to explain the coming steps, which would result in all of the members having to seek alternative golfing arrangements.
The existing nine hole course and dreadful old clubhouse were to be replaced with a nine hole par three course , a nine hole golf pitch and putt course, a 22 bay, floodlit golf range and some outstanding short game area with two vast putting greens. The demolition of the old clubhouse was to make way for a new family orientated pub, with the ability to serve several thousand main meals each week . In order to create such a completely different golfing landscape, Woodland Environmental were engaged to help design and build out the project. Woodland are specialists in building new golf ranges and courses and remodelling existing courses which is quite a speciality. They use, where possible, a decent amount of imported material, which is inert and therefore safe to use for landscaping purposes. This material is often from major building projects and is a very real cost for any developer looking to build a new development, as the removal of inert material can cost many thousands of pounds. Woodland, who have all the necessary Environment Agency accreditation and are well equipped to handle the process.
All the soil on the golf course within the working areas of the agreed design is stripped off and stockpiled for restoration on the new landform, lorries then arrive on site and tip their loads of pre-qualified and chemically approved clays and soils in a highly organised manner in accordance with Environment Agency requirements.
Woodland then place and reshape the landscape with some major bits of machinery and then replace the sites original topsoil and seed the area. They also add substantial drainage work and full irrigation systems so the course or range they leave behind is of the highest order. Woodland director, Chris Murphy spoke with Golf Features:
"Obviously we are delighted with the project. It has gone from being an old fashioned golf course in need of updating to a superb modern facility, which offers a great range of golf activity to players of all abilities. The site was well located and so we were able to get a good 'tip rate' for the incoming material, which enabled the project to progress and us to build a quality facility for our client.”
The commercial arrangement between Woodland and McMullens has worked very well resulting in more funds being available for additional improvements greatly benefitting the long term outlook for the course and its maintenance costs.The grow in is going very well and it will be a real asset to the local community once completed.
The golf range and pitch and putt course will be ready to open as soon as the pub is finished in January with the main par three course opening in the Spring of 2017 or early in 2018.
Throughout the period of transition, McMullens kept two key members of their team in place: head PGA professional Dave Smith and head Greenkeeper Paul Harper.
GRN Consulting, together with Dave and Paul designed the delightful pitch and putt course. This was built in-house by Paul, with help from Dave and several additional helpers. The course will also accommodate FootGolf so as to give maximum flexibility and allow the centre to be used by the widest possible audience.
Dave Smith, who is a very respected teacher and club fitter has been plying his trade and acting as the bridge between past and present golf facilities, is hugely looking forward to his new role as director of golf. He spoke to Golf Features:
"It is great to have been able to see the new complex emerge before our eyes over the last few years and Paul and I are obviously particularly proud of the pitch and putt course, which has been a real labour of love. The range will provide me personally with one of the best opportunities in the region to develop my coaching and broaden the sport in Hertfordshire. I have spent most of my career here and so it is very exciting to be on the verge of the new centre opening. I think there will be a lot of hard work to make sure that all runs smoothly, but it will definitely be worthwhile."
Dave will be leading a team of teaching professionals who will provide golf tuition to all elements of the community, with a strong outreach programme to local schools and community groups. This is precisely what McMullens want, as the success of their pub will be made by its interaction with the whole of the local community. Heydon Mizon, McMullens Retail Director :
"Chadwell has been an exciting project for us. Whilst we have built new pubs before, building a driving range and developing a golf course has been a first. It is a great solution to get the best use out of the space and opportunity and provide a business that can trade well the entire year.”
In order to comprehensively re-jig a golf course to the extent of Chadwell Springs, a major planning application is required and these are neither fast or inexpensive but the results far outweigh these costs in the context of a brand new facility and increased customer numbers
Woodland directly employ their own team of planners and architects to assist golf course owners throughout the planning process and to date have not been refused a planning permission.
There is a considerable amount of revenue that can be gained from re-landscaping a golf facility and the best advice is to check out the back catalogue of the companies you are considering. Woodland amongst others have a good number of beautiful courses and golf centre's which are a true testament to their work. Most golf operators are quite happy to give the low down on their experiences with their project. There are some horrific nightmare scenarios which can doom a project and the long term hopes of the golf operator as well. DO NOT rush the process ask around and do your research. The good companies are happy to show their work and refer you to past clients - the shifty ones will give you excuses instead of references.
The amount of money available from importation varies from month to month and is dependent on local competition, the amount of big building works being carried out in the area and the amount of commercial activity within a given area.
Some of the sites close to the M25 and more importantly within the M25 have been taking over £120-130 per load (large lorry) as an average and with several hundred such visits per week, the income can be substantial. In less well populated areas and in a business cycle with less construction rates can be less than £50 and with a fewer number of visits. Such operations are not nearly so viable.
Be very aware of the landowners final obligation to the project - the owner of the freehold is ultimately responsible for cleaning up any contamination issues and these can run to huge amounts of money if you are using a dodgy 'muck shifter' or a lorry company who will have their own best interests at heart before yours.
It is occasionally possible to make money from a project and get a rebuilt facility included, but far more often it is likely that the opportunity to rebuild something really special is the best option for the committed golf operator. A quality operator, such as Woodland will work well with your greenkeeping team and determine the best way to take over the project, and grow it into a really successful course,including adjusting maintenance regimes and cutting equipment. This practical working partnership is vital, so that you can get the right specification for your golf facility. There are always levels of irrigation, for example, which may or may not be suitable. Full fairway irrigation, as well as tees and greens all being possible but this could become too great a burden for the ongoing costs of the golf operation (and the water resources) but again with the right advice and design such as Woodland did for Chalgrave Manor Golf Course a reservoir and borehole set up could be achieved through the revenues raised in the remodelling leading to reduced costs in the future.
Check and check again the probity of your proposed contractor. There are only a few good ones in the country who will happily give you their full list of clients and past projects.