New Mills Golf Club reviewed by Kathrine Payne


New Mills Golf Club review by Kathrine Payne

 

The New Mills Golf Club, situated in Shaw Marsh, is a 104-year-old ‘institution’ in New Mills. I was feeling a little apprehensive about visiting the club and interviewing its members, having no idea what our story would be about, and having a pre-formed (and quite clichéd) impression of its members - serious old men in golfing jumpers. We were set to visit on their annual Charity Day, in memory of Alan (Mick) Jones, a loyal member of the club who contracted a long illness from which he sadly died a few years ago. Mick resided in The Ashgate Hospice around the time of his death, and that was one of the charities benefitting from the day.

 

After tucking in to some well-presented chips – surprisingly nice –, although apprehensive, we set about interviewing members of the club to try and get a feel for what was going on, and any information we could use for a story. We soon discovered that big changes had been happening in the past year in the club. As well as having a new Steward and Stewardess, John and Liz, who have begun to reshape the bar and restaurant, the club has changed its managing committee and the ‘Top 5’ higher tier management – these three sections make up the clubs management. We asked Ray Farrell, who had been a member for over 20 years, what he thought of the new management, to which he responded, quite reluctantly, “It works well, but it could work better.” Apparently the general management committee make little of the decisions in the Golf Club – it’s mostly the ‘Top 5’ – and this doesn’t seem to be pleasing some of its members. On the other hand, Ray stated that over the last year, because of the management, the club had gained some more volunteers to help with the “outside” element of the club. “We’re not a wealthy club, so we rely on volunteers,” said Ray Farrel.

 

The second thing we quickly realised was that the club has two parts to it: The actual golfing element, and then the social side of the club – things such as bistro evenings and Charity Days, which I previously wasn’t aware of. When we spoke to Julia Field, who has been socially involved with the club for at least 20 years, she was incredibly enthusiastic about the new Steward and Stewardess, describing them as “very nice”, as well as mentioning their “delicious” food. Julia explained how the social scene had changed in the last year; there have been many new events and an improved restaurant for the club. We queried what events Julia would like to see in the future, to which she responded that a “music evening” - with a Latin or Jazz band playing Salsa - seemed like an exciting prospect. The social transformation of the last year seems very much down to the new Steward and Stewardess. Frank Bullough, a life-member of the club, states that not only are these new events perking up the atmosphere, members are now meeting and interacting with each other more than they used to.

 

For outspoken Frank, who has seen the club’s journey over 4 decades, these are not the only changes he has witnessed. Frank seems to be a real character within the club, and it’s at this point that I realise that, although he is a typical ‘life member’, he’s no way near the kind of man I would have expected. Rather than being a grumpy, complaining fault-finder, Frank is funny and happy to tell us more about the club’s history. He describes to us the new 9 holes that the Golf Club established around 6 years ago, and this seems to be just as much of a major event as what’s happening at the moment.

 

Events like the charity days are useful in helping to raise the profile of the Golf Club, as well as helping the actual charities. Terry Johnson, who joined in 1969, and describes the current feel of the club as “lovely”, says it is a “tradition” to help local charities, and that charitable work is “part of what they do”. Another charity benefitting this year is The New Mills and District Volunteer Centre, on Union Road. Frank told us that, for years, he has been the man behind the charity side of things, by “running around New Mills,  knocking on doors” collecting “bits and bobs” for the charity raffle, and is still very passionate about the Golf Club helping out local charities. It seems the club really isn’t out only to help itself, and its members seem genuinely interested in helping out local charities – my previous opinions of its members were by this point well and truly crumbling.

 

One problem that we did identify was that the Golf Club seriously lacks both younger and female members. Terry, though, was insistent that the course and club is perfect for both young and old, as it’s very welcoming and the course itself isn’t too challenging. He said the real challenge was “keeping the interest” from young people, after they had shown an initial attraction to the club. Hopefully the changes that are being made to the club now will help to attract a younger fan base, and bring a livelier, fresher atmosphere to the previously quite stuffy impression of the golf club.

 

Margaret Palmer, the club secretary, is also part of the top tier management team. She has been a member for 33 years, her husband is the current President, and she has only recently become part of the ‘Top 5’. We heard from her that next year’s ‘Equalities’ Act’ will force big changes in the club. Whereas previously they were able to offer appealing discounts to senior sections or those who had been members for a long time, this act won’t allow these discounts to happen. Margaret therefore believes that the Equalities Act will be a bad thing. As she says this, I can’t help but feel a little bit reminded of my previous impression of the club. Although I can see her point, I think the club at this point should be ushering in a new perspective and a new approach to the way they treat members, otherwise their image will remain the same. On the new Steward and Stewardess, however, Margaret – like so many others – has only good things to say. She states that they are “very enthusiastic”, and have changed the club “all for the better”.

 

Having heard such good things, I was pleased to be able to talk to Liz Longworth, who took the role of Stewardess in April. It was interesting to talk to her about the trials she faced in changing the Golf Club’s image. When we asked her what the first thing she noticed when she got here was, she replied that it was “very quiet”, and that she immediately wanted to cheer the place up a bit. She said from then, she saw a “huge opportunity” to bring people into the club, and generate more business. I wondered if the club members would have been very set in their ways, and it was clear that that was exactly what Liz had experienced, especially, she says with the “older members”. Liz states that she has had to be “very persuasive” (which is apparently easier when there’s food involved). Liz prides herself on fresh locally-sourced food and a “spotless” kitchen – which she even said shewas happy for us to ‘inspect’ right there and then. Apparently, she goes to the market herself to source the food, and hopes that the fact she built her last business on a reputation for fresh, homemade food will help her now. We asked about future plans for the Golf Club’s social scene, to which Liz explained that she has many events planned, all to generate customers, enthuse and “cheer up” current members.

 

The new Steward and Stewardess have begun to make the necessary changes to bring in a much needed new ‘face’ of the New Mills Golf Club. I personally feel that the club will continue to struggle with finding and keeping new, younger members until everyone in the club is on board. The stuffy, quite unwelcoming image that they currently give off to the young people of New Mills could not be further from the truth. As we discovered, the club isn’t in fact full of self-righteous old men, but in fact a friendly and welcoming group of people, who, although quite set in their ways and traditions of the club, welcome change and new ideas – they just need to prove it. If the members could make as much of an effort as the Steward and Stewardess have, then soon everyone would have as good an impression of the Golf Club as I have now.

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