No one from the North East of England who attended the British Masters in 2017 will forget what they saw in a hurry.
In an area starved of top-class professional golf tournaments, it was outstanding to see the likes of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia joining Lee Westwood at the European Tour event at Close House.
The Newcastle course, of which Westwood is the attached pro, staged a memorable week and the club’s profile was boosted immeasurably.
But time moves on and Close House have been striving to build on that event and invest in the facilities that have made them a hugely popular stay-and-play venue.
One of the more recent innovations has been the installation of Toptracer – the shot tracking technology system that will be familiar to anyone who watches TV coverage of the PGA Tour – into their academy.
We asked managing director Jonathan Lupton why they’ve spent the cash and what will bring for members and visitors.
How did this all come about?
My first role at Close House was head professional and the academy was the first area I developed. It’s something that I love. I love the building and everything about it. I have been looking for a USP for it.
For a while we were the only place in the region that had PowerTees and that was a nice selling point for a bit. Could we do something a bit different that would generate a little bit more footfall and revenue? We thought we needed something to bring people in from a little bit further afield.
Around the Open, I contacted Toptracer. I got in the car and drove to Glasgow to secret-shop it myself. I went up to Mearns Castle Golf Academy with Jonathan Greenwood, our general manager, on a Bank Holiday. There were 25 people in 20 bays on a Monday afternoon.
We looked at each other and thought ‘we’ve found what we need to be doing’. We had one of the most enjoyable hour’s practising.
What difference has it made to the Academy?
If you’ve got Toptracer and you’re on a range, with a decent range ball, you actually see that the golf ball is doing what it says on the screen and you buy into it more.
It can be fun, it can be informative, it can be whatever you want it to be. I understand the benefits of skills testing from my coaching background. I can wholeheartedly say that if people come to the range and do the skills tests, and do them properly, their games will improve. But, as much as we’ve tried, we couldn’t get it to work. With this we have the ability to make it measurable, informative, fun and it’s so far so good.
We’re still in the opening bubble but it has been good. We’ve had more footfall. We’ve had higher revenue through the range. Obviously it comes with a cost and we’ve got to make sure that (use) continues over a period of time.
How Paul got it Dunne at Close House
There won’t be too many times in Rory McIlroy’s career where weekend rounds of 64 and 63 didn’t see him walk off with the trophy.
But the 2017 British Masters was one of those rare occasions, as the Northern Irishman’s surge in the final two rounds was met with fantastic resistance by Paul Dunne. He shot a course record 61, including chipping in at the last, to win a tournament that had exceeded expectations for Close House.
It brought record crowds for the event, which will be hosted by Tommy Fleetwood at Hillside later this year, and was the crowning achievement for the Colt course.
It’s worth remembering that the Scott Macpherson-designed course was only opened in 2011.
It was the crowning achievement of a huge investment by the Newcastle software tycoon Graham Wylie in the country estate, which was once owned by Newcastle University and which dates back to the late 18th century.
Among the club’s more notable members today is former England striker Alan Shearer.