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Bush Hill Park

‘It was a crazy time’: How Bush Hill Park became England’s best golf club

Bush Hill Park achieved a remarkable amount when many clubs battened down the hatches during lockdowns. Now the London course has been recognised with England Golf's Club of the Year award
 

This is quite a shopping list, so bear with me as we make our way through it: new bunkers, an on-course toilet facility and a halfway hut.

Five undercover practice bays and a new chipping area for members. A takeaway service that sold 2,500 portions of fish and chips and curry.

More than 100 food parcels delivered to members, who were either forced to self-isolate or couldn’t get out to a supermarket to shop.

Take a breath. We’re not finished yet. Perishable food and drink that was donated to a homeless charity. An enhanced social media campaign that sprawled out into the community. 160 new members and a new women’s affiliate programme that put 26 players on a pathway to full membership.

Oh, and Bush Hill Park celebrated its 125th anniversary and became a limited company at the same time.

All while negotiating a pandemic and three lockdowns. Is there any wonder the London club was named England Golf’s Club of the Year last week?

If the last 12 months or so have been a whirlwind for general manager Stewart Judd and his team then so have the past few days after Bush Hill Park edged out Derbyshire club Stanedge, Cumbria’s Dunnerholme and The Nottinghamshire Golf and Country Club to the premier accolade at the England Golf Awards.

What’s more, Judd hasn’t really worked out quite how it all happened.

“It was a crazy time – absolutely crazy,” he admits. “I was probably working every day. We had volunteers. We had a board who were trying to drive things as well.

“I have asked myself the same question of how we did it, but I think it’s a can do attitude and probably being in survival mode. Perhaps it brought something else out. I don’t know. But we did huge amounts.”

Judd was brought in four years ago to a traditional club with a declining membership. His brief was to shake things up and get people back through the doors.

He was making good progress but then coronavirus changed everything – and gave Bush Hill Park an unexpected bolt.

Bush Hill Park

“The club was really brought together and it was the community aspect of it that I focused on. While we were in uncertainty, I focused on what was certain – the membership and the community that is there within the club.

“We set up a virtual clubhouse via our Facebook community page, where our members signed in and were sharing funnies and stories and golf tips. I was still taking photos at the club and sharing them.

“We did a food delivery service. Members were using our food and drink suppliers to provide basic groceries and we delivered 100 food parcels to members, who were either shielding or couldn’t get to the club or didn’t want to risk the supermarket. We had volunteers who would go out and do deliveries.

“And when we opened in May [2020] golf really bounced back and we had a massive influx of new members.”

Probably because people noticed. They noticed what the club was doing for those who needed help and they noticed that the traditionally bolted gates were open – the ‘private’ signs gone for good.

“Our gates are open. Our doors are open,” adds Judd. “We’ve done quite a big mail drop around the area to offer social membership. We grew that from around 100 to closer to 350 now. The club has got more of a vibe about it and we’re trying to do more social activities.

“It’s putting us in the community, supporting the community so it supports us back.”

They’ve probably achieved more in the past year than some other clubs might have in five but what Bush Hill Park have learned over that tumultuous period – which for many clubs went from fearing closure to putting in waiting lists – is that there is no time to stand still.

Having revitalised the club, Judd intends to put the hammer down to ensure the opportunity presented isn’t frittered away.

“We’re trying to achieve more of a balanced membership profile. Within the Women in Golf Charter we’ve set ourselves a target of another 50 female members between now and 2025.

“We’ll continue to drive that and we want to continue to improve things in the clubhouse. We refurbished our bar, the year before last, and made it much more contemporary and modern looking. We want to try and keep that rollout going in the clubhouse – with potential to improve changing rooms and our restaurant area.

“It’s just carrying on improving things in the clubhouse and developing things out on the golf course. We want to keep improving our practice facilities.

“We’ve put the new bays in and practice green and chipping area, but we’ve got a space where we can put in some more holes and the aim is to have an academy course.

“Golf clubs can get a bit caught up with tradition and tradition is a reason not to change, whereas we try to celebrate our heritage but keep looking forward.”

And so Club of the Year is probably only the latest rung on a long ladder for Bush Hill Park. But the prize has proved a welcome fillip – a nod that they are on the right track.   

“It’s recognition – for the members and the club,” Judd says. “My inbox has gone crazy with thank yous, congratulations and ‘what a fantastic achievement for the club’. It’s recognition of one of the toughest years we’ve had in our 125.”

Have you played at Bush Hill Park? Let me know how you found it in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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