How Glasgow Golf Club rose from the ashesMay 2, 2019 Courses and Travel
When their historic clubhouse was destroyed in a blaze, one of the world’s oldest golfing institutions could have wallowed in sorrow. But, as Steve Carroll discovers, Glasgow Golf Club did nothing of the sort
The 6am text woke general manager Chris Spencer with a start. Fresh back from holiday, he’d only been back in the house a couple of hours, but the words on the phone immediately shook off any thoughts of slumber.
“It was from the clubhouse manager to say, ‘The clubhouse is on fire, you might want to come in.’”
Some 40 firefighters had been working through the night of September 20, last year, at the home of Glasgow Golf Club in Killermont.
A blaze had taken hold in the kitchen of the historic building late in the evening and large parts of the three-storey Georgian design were in ruin.
“It was a huge shock,” Spencer said. “For the members, a lot of whom have been at the club for 30, 40 and 50 years, there is a huge emotional attachment to the place.
“It was the same for the staff. A lot have been here for 10 or 15 years, so there was an equal amount of shock there to see the place they had looked after, cared for, and provided a service to members within, now burning away with half a dozen fire engines there to put the fire out.”
Spencer was on the scene within an hour of that fateful text.
“I was there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and all the following week,” he explained, recalling the immediate aftermath.
“We lost a lot of what was in the dining room and kitchens – because that was where the main fire was – but as soon as it had been spotted, and a series of phone calls were made, the fire brigade, the captain, the vice-captain, clubhouse manager, and the three staff who were there, started pulling out as much as they could.
“They knew it was quite serious. That was in areas where the fire hadn’t taken hold yet but as soon as it became too much then it became too much.
“Our archivist has detailed records of everything we had and where it was located and he’s been quite important in the assessing of the damage.
“We contacted the insurers on the Friday and they kicked into process. Nobody was hurt and that was the important thing. The staff who were on duty reacted beautifully.
“In hindsight, could we have done things any better? I don’t think we could have.”
The course, unaffected by the fire, was closed until the Wednesday as salvagers and contractors came on and off site.
But when the tee was reopened, Spencer knew the club had to be ready to welcome members – who may not have seen the scale of the damage – back onto the property.
“All the bar and catering staff were kitted out in hi-vis jackets, with the club crest on, and were in the car park when we opened.
“So the members, when they were coming in and seeing their beloved clubhouse – to an extent – in ruins saw some friendly faces who could speak with them, tell them what we knew about what had happened, what we were doing and how we were doing it.
“From a morale point of view, the best thing we did on that Wednesday morning was to have staff on duty to meet and greet people.
“Initially we installed a sentry box, or ‘bothy’ as the members call it, to provide a focal point for them, serving complimentary tea, coffee and soup and as a result kept the club community alive – rather than them coming and playing golf and then going off to a café in the local area.
“They’ve been sat in temporary locker rooms or if the weather was mild outside for a cup of coffee, a catch up and a chat. It’s been an important part of it – as well as the physical things of making the building safe, getting the temporary roof on and so on.”
As members began to get used to their new reality, thoughts soon turned to what would become of the burned building.
A cottage has become the admin hub, with a general office, a space for Spencer to work, as well as a meeting room and facilities for the rest of the staff, making it as effective as possible.
Temporary toilets and changing facilities were quickly erected and, before Christmas, plans were put in for a temporary clubhouse that will serve as a more fitting home while the long road to restore the clubhouse is walked down.
“Our original location for the temporary clubhouse turned out to be in a flood plain and so we were unable to obtain planning permission,” Spencer added.
“We have subsequently found an alternative location. In the meantime, a marquee has been erected to take over from the bothy to provide a warmer environment and a wider range of food and drink.”
Scaffolding went round the stricken clubhouse and a temporary roof was put in place – at some cost – to protect what remains of it from the worst of the elements.
Spencer added: “The installation of the roof was a major landmark. The members saw positive work on their clubhouse and the ruins tidied as much as we could. We’ve probably lost most of the floors through either water or fire damage but the actual structure of the building is still there and only a small part – the more modern areas – have been demolished.
“We carried out a survey of the members to ask what they would like to see as an initial start. We recruited a design team that are working with a sub committee set up to make sure we do things in the right way and that we can future proof it. We have a small team of members with relevant experience we can call upon to supplement the sub committee.
“The insurers are looking at a valuation of reinstatement as a like-for-like. We’ve got the opportunity to move things and change things around if we wish to make it more operationally better.”
It is an unfortunate irony that club officials had actually spent some time looking at the way the clubhouse was used, and how it could be improved and made more fitting for a modern audience, before the fire struck.
But out of this tragedy may yet arise an opportunity.
He said: “If we decide to do make further developments in the future, in terms of footprint, at least we are bearing those things in mind as we decide what to do and then how to finance it. It will be interesting to see what happens to get it reinstated and get it reopened in as quick a time frame as possible, but without rushing it and making some horrendous mistakes.
“It also gives the club the chance to look at policies and procedures. There are a lot of things in the melting pot.”
Other positives have also arisen from such a traumatic experience. Spencer knew he had a good team to lead. But, as the cliché goes, it is only when faced with a crisis that you find out most about yourself and those around you.
“We spoke to the staff in the first week after the fire and said ‘we want to retain you, you’re contracted, we need to take your experience into the temporary clubhouse, but you need to be prepared to do lots of other things’.
“Everybody has bought into that and it has made everyone really tight. That has been one of the benefits – under the circumstances.
“The staff have been helping the greenkeepers out. They have been raking bunkers, divoting, picking up turf and logs. One of the supervisors is trained as a bricklayer and so he has been doing some building work.
“From my point of view, I don’t think we could have reacted any better than we have. When I arrived and looked to see what was going on, the clubhouse manager had done a lot, the captain had done a lot and we had to kick in the logistics. That’s what we do as golf club managers. Let’s get things running.
“I’m proud of the way everybody has reacted. We did everything we possibly could to alleviate what has been a sad and upsetting situation. I can’t speak highly enough of my staff and team for doing that.”