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Inside the golf club that spent more than £1 million during lockdown

When coronavirus closed the gates of businesses all across the UK, one Staffordshire club took a brave decision to carry out a complete refurbishment
 

It was a time of cost cutting – for belt tightening, expenses managing and staff furloughing.

Those near two months that golf clubs in England were shuttered through lockdown earlier this year, with little or no income arriving, forced many to rein in lofty expectations and ambitions.

But with the world standing still as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, one club decided it was the perfect opportunity to plough more than £1 million into a complete refurbishment.

Branston Golf & Country Club turned what was meant to have been a five-year plan into a five-month race to totally transform the interior of their Staffordshire facility.

When they committed to a long-term investment plan following a management buy-out last December, new owners Steve and Francesca Sharp, Ben Laing and Abbey and Marcus Litting probably hadn’t thought they’d have realised all their development dreams during their first summer in charge.

But with the clubhouse empty as the business closed its doors, they saw the opportunity to get the work done without causing their members any disruption.

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“The coronavirus pandemic was devastating at all levels, the losses people have faced over the last six to seven months have been inconceivable,” said managing director Laing.

“When we were told to close our doors in March, we made the decision to make use of a time that we knew the club would be empty.

“We wanted to create a place that our members could really look forward to returning to.”

“A lot of the work we completed would have been very disruptive,” added marketing manager Susie O’Neill. “So we saw the lockdown as an opportunity to push forward and enhance the club while minimising disruption to our members.”

What had originally been envisaged as a part refurbishment covering the reception and public areas, work that had begun before Covid-19 changed everything, now became an extensive project.

They widened their reception area, modernising it and installing digital screens and stylish sofas.

They constructed a “whole new clubhouse experience” – tearing it into a shell of its former self and remaking it with a conservatory area and private dining booths as well as enhancing the view over the 18th hole.

A new sports bar and terrace room restaurant will soon be able for booking by non-members – something Branston Golf & Country Club have never done before.

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And they kitted out their driving range with Toptracer, while completely refurbishing their changing facilities and adding a new sauna and steam room to their poolside offering.

“The logistical challenge was mainly sourcing materials during lockdown and finding the right tradesmen to complete the work,” added O’Neill.

She continued: “It’s (Covid) been a challenging time, especially as we have many different parts to our club and so we have been affected in many different ways.

“Our conferencing and banqueting venue (called The Pavilion) is still closed for weddings and events but we have been creative and are using the space for group exercise classes.

“We still have many members, especially in health and fitness, who are not ready to return due to Covid but on the back of the refurbishment and general improvement in the facilities we have also seen some strong sales in both golf and health and fitness.”

That refurbishment has not just brought acclaim from members – whose response since their return to the club has been “overwhelmingly positive” said golf manager Tom Storrar – it’s also meant new footfall that has left club chiefs confident about the future and convinced the refurbishment was worth the brave risk.

“We have had to make some tough decisions and have reviewed our cost base to ensure we have an efficient business that gives us every chance for the future,” concluded O’Neill.

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“Having invested and improved in each part of the business we are excited and confident about the future as we cater for so many different types of customer from families and young professionals right through to retired individuals and couples.

“We are also nervous about what Covid-19 might bring in the autumn and winter, and how it will affect periods like Christmas, but we are being positive and pro-active with our business investing in improving the club as well as people.”

  • To discover more about Branston Golf & Country Club, visit their website.

How has your club recovered from coronavirus? Have your say 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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