Close House Hotel & Golf
A stunning, modern golf resort in the North East
The hotel building at Close House dates back to 1779, and the Bewicke family, who were prominent landowners at the time. As the name suggests, it was originally a closed monastery or similar, and there are records dating back a further 500 years. The current site was bought in 1960 by Durham University, with the ownership being transferred to Newcastle University three years later. Newcastle University grew in size and academic influence, and found that the site had become a money pit and, despite its grandeur, was costing too much to maintain on a year-by-year basis.
Graham Wylie was a graduate of Newcastle University and in the early 1980’s co-founded the massively successful Sage software company. The company grew and grew and today is a major PLC, employing 14,000 staff worldwide. Graham sold his interest in 2003, seeking to focus on other things in his life. As a leading scholar of Newcastle University, the vice chancellor mentioned that the Close House site was to be sold and Graham, mindful of its place in his own career, happily agreed to buy the facility and redevelop it, and then allow the university to use many of the facilities without cost. Graham bought Close House in 2004, transforming the largely run down house into an elegant hotel and restaurant the following March. In 2008, he added 12 more delightful rooms, and then in August last year the 12 courtyard suites were opened. The attention to detail is quite extraordinary. Close House General Manager, explains:
“The main dining rooms and cocktail bar have been painstakingly renovated, with fire places and cornices being hand built by world class craftsmen. The food is fantastic, and we are able to offer members, residents and guests superb food in the main hotel, and in the new 19th clubhouse in a more relaxed and informal manner. I have been in the hotel business throughout my life and this is by far and away the finest example of high quality accommodation, married to a thriving leisure resort.”
The venue is very popular for weddings and last year over 100 ceremonies were conducted on site. They are licensed to hold civil ceremonies as well as receptions. Despite the size of the complex, only one wedding is held each day. The ceremony can be held either in the main hotel or in the period orangery, with both benefitting from some of the most stunning views in the North-East.
Golf had been played at Close House for many years, but shared much of the land with the university’s rugby, football and cricket pitches, so golf could not be developed as a fully functioning part of the business without disrupting the university’s sports program. Graham saw this as no obstacle, and discretely purchased a substantial amount of additional land immediately adjacent to Close House. This was transformed into first class rugby and soccer pitches on the excellent, free draining, sandy soil. The Filly course (as it is known today) was then substantially redeveloped and redesigned with new tees and USGA specification greens. The Filly course is still very popular and provides an excellent test for most standards of player.
John Glendinning has been the golf manager from the start:
“Over the last few years, we have been able to keep the majority of our members and guests happy throughout the various changes that the facility has gone through. While the new Colt championship course was being built, we operated from the old cricket pavilion prior to the building of the new 19th clubhouse. It has been fascinating to be part of the development of the resort.”
Graham is fiercely proud of Close House and his North East roots and wanted to ensure that Close House was regarded as an exceptional venue by all in the region. The designs for the Colt championship course were started shortly after Graham acquired the site and Scott Macpherson was chosen to create the new layout. He spoke with GRN-OGRO:
“Close House is a place of beauty. With lofty views down the valleys, over the hills and of the river Tyne, the new Colt course is designed to embrace these existing natural delights, and to add to them. The course has been laid out with a soft hand, and favours an intelligent golfer. The contours of the greens and fairway angles will tickle the fancy of any golfers who play the course, but be enjoyed most by those who take time to learn the intricacies of the design strategies. This is a classically styled parkland course made for the enjoyment of all. I am tremendously proud of the course and tip my hat to Graham Wylie for having the vision to bring a top-class course to the North East, and his team for operating and maintaining it at the highest level."
Chris Evans and Children in Need played a part in Lee Westwood becoming the attached professional at Close House. Graham explains:
“We were listening to the Children in Need appeal on the radio, when Chris Evans announced that Lee Westwood would play 18 holes with the highest bidder for the charity. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity for us to open the new Colt championship course with such a great player. The date in question didn’t fit with the opening schedule, but we liked the idea. One of our members and good friend is Alan Shearer, and he contacted Chubby Chandler, Lee’s manager, and asked whether Lee would be available to open our new facility. Lee was a complete delight to be with, signing autographs and spending time to ensure that everybody had a great day. There are not many top-level sportsmen who take on their ambassadorial duties as professionally as Lee. He happened to become world number one in the week prior to when the course was opened, so we could not have timed it better. We are delighted that the relationship has developed, with Lee now representing Close House as our tournament professional, whilst he plays on the world stage. He has brought us lots of excellent press coverage and helped to excite the young local golfers, which is fantastic.”
The courses take their names from a combination of Graham’s love of horses and the legendary course designer Harry Colt. Colt was one of the first truly great golf course architects and his inspiration has been the key to the design of the new Colt layout. Graham is a successful and enthusiastic owner of many race horses, and so the opportunity to name the courses Filly and Colt could not be resisted. The Colt theme continues with the courtyard suites all of which are named after a famous Harry Colt designed course – Wentworth, Stoke Park, Sunningdale, etc.
Russell Smith was appointed to the role of Director of Golf recently. He had spent the last ten years at the Gleneagles resort as head golf professional and head of Golf Operations. His experience at running the superb Gleneagles resort made him the ideal candidate for Close House. He spoke to GRN-OGRO:
“The opportunity to help to establish such a superb facility was too great to resist. We have an exceptional new clubhouse, course and golf academy, and I am responsible for all issues that relate to golf. Close House is deliberately pitched as a top end resort, but one that is accessible to all. It is very important to us that juniors and families are welcome; we are a modern golf club, but much more than just a golf club. The members, both individual and corporate, share exclusive access to the Colt course with the hotel residents and the Filly course, golf academy, and short game areas are designed to encourage everybody to participate in golf at Close House. We have an exceptional junior program, four professionals available to teach individually and in groups, and one of the best golf ranges in Europe.”
The golf academy is simply stunning. It is one of the best practice facilities seen by GRN-OGRO in the last ten years and combines all the facilities you would need and expect with a touch of class. The Academy has its own car park and access from the main route into the complex. This allows it operate independently as a range and teaching facility and develop golf in the region. A successful golf range sometimes needs to be more commercially available than an exclusive golf resort, so the slight separation in the locations of these segments of the business is useful to both.
The golf bays are extra spacious, at just over 8 metres in depth. All of the indoor bays are fully automated with Power Tees, and the bespoke black bay dividers and carpet (supplied by European Golf Machinery) succeed in looking contemporary and elegant. There is a Range Servant ball dispenser, along with two major golf studios: one is fitted out for teaching, and the other for custom club fitting. Mia Technology has provided their Flight Scope radar system for high performance custom fitting, and a SAM Puttlab Analysis System for refining putting strokes. In the club-fitting suite, demonstration equipment is available for TaylorMade, Callaway, Ping and Titleist. The academy is served by a swish modern café bar, with Sky Sports and great views over the floodlit academy and the rest of the estate.
Beyond the range structure, there are outside bays, with grass tees available in the summer months. A major short game area, with varying types of bunker, provides all the options for refining your game, in practice or learning under guidance.
The junior golf membership package is very important to everybody at Close House, as it allows young players the chance to develop from beginner all the way through to golf at the highest level. While full adult membership is more expensive than most of the clubs in the region, junior golf is priced to encourage everybody to participate. The professionals work in tandem with the Golf Foundation and country unions to develop the game in the local area.
Close House is a top venue and a great place to visit. The quality is obvious, but there is a real warmth to the complex, with dedicated staff cheerfully ensuring that their guests and members have a great time.
More details at www.closehouse.co.uk
© Golf Features 2014