How a 'Reevolution' saved Marsden Park from closure
Trudi Reeves has dedicated a career to saving lives. But her most difficult patient is not a person. It’s a golf club.
By any sensible measure, how she spends her weeks is madness. Three days, she’s a nurse – a diabetes specialist for a health charity.
Almost every other waking hour is spent trying to salvage half a century of history at Marsden Park.
The sword had been hanging over the Lancashire club for years before Pendle Leisure Trust finally pulled the plug.
It probably should have become a statistic – just another of those clubs forced into closure by changing times and the need to cut costs.
Emotions, though, tie stronger than money.
And for Trudi’s husband Neil, the feelings for this corner of Nelson run deep.
Marsden Park is where he learned to play golf – his childhood home found on the edge of the course.
It was his first job too, before his vocation as a PGA professional took him to Yorkshire and decades spent teaching everyone from beginners to European Tour pros.
Neil had been the Trust’s final throw of the dice – having been tempted back to rescue the club’s fortunes.
A lot was expected but the transformation wasn’t immediate, and the towel came in.
Suddenly, the Reeves were Marsden Park’s only hope. They put a proposition to the council to take over the lease.
“We didn’t really need to take it on, but when we knew it was going to close, I thought we might be able to help them out and keep it open,” he says.
“It has been the lifeblood for a lot of golf in our area. A lot of professional friends have come from Marsden Park. A lot of members at other clubs near the area have started at Marsden Park.
“We are not under any illusions. We are still a feeder club for others but we just want to get people playing golf. That’s what we are about – getting new people who’ve never played, playing golf.”
The takeover was due to start on April 1, 2017 and, in hindsight, the lead up to that first week was a portent to what was to come.
“We had ten days’ turnaround time,” remembers Trudi. “We needed to do a refurbishment of the clubhouse, the kitchen – everything. We needed to employ staff. We needed to install systems.
“They didn’t have any club systems in there. We had to totally rebuild the bar and the kitchen in that 10 days.”
Neil’s there seven-days-a-week now – “and then some. It’s from opening to closing”. When Trudi’s not in her ‘proper job’, she’s sorting out the paperwork and keeping the wheels moving in the office.
“I had absolutely no experience of running a golf club,” she admits. “I have run teams and have worked for the National Diabetes team and I’ve been improvement lead for a national team so I thought the principles were very similar. Improvement is improvement.
“It doesn’t matter what the content is. You can learn the content. But I didn’t appreciate how much content there was.
“I’m still learning and I will continue to learn because it has been massive in terms of complexity – in breadth and depth – and with a massive amount to take in.
“We had no run-in time. We just had to hit the ground running.”
It’s been a huge job. They rebranded as Reevolution Golf to try and appeal to a younger audience while repairing the chasm in membership that fissures whenever golfers whiff the scent of uncertainty.
They’ve also done it without a committee, a decision that didn’t please everyone, and have had to hold their nerve in the face of the criticism that brought.
But the venture has now become their lives and the challenges were only starting when they got the keys, as Trudi now knows only too well.
“The ups are great. The downs are dreadful. We started in the worst year for 25 years weather-wise.
“We were under water most of last year and there were all the trials and tribulations that presents – both financially and in terms of trying to improve the course.
“That wasn’t a really good platform for us to build on and this year, although it has been super, we’ve been as dry as a bone.
“We had to buy bowsers in. The greenkeepers were out until 2am watering the greens to save them.
“We’ve no irrigation system. But do you know what? The fantastic thing about our club, and I can’t emphasise this enough, is that I know we are family and this is a family club.
“So the greenkeepers come in at two in the morning to water the greens. They work behind the bar and they will come in on an evening.
“We do events and they will come and work behind the bar. The bar manager is also a singer, so he sings at those events.
“Everybody does everything. Nobody is too proud to roll their sleeves up and do stuff. Everyone pitches in.”
And something remarkable is starting to happen. Younger members have flocked to the club, attracted by its no-nonsense, no snobbery, reputation.
There’s no segregation at Reevolution Golf. Players tee it up together – regardless of sex or age.
There aren’t many rules and regulations, either, and that message as well as a warm welcome is hitting home.
There are about 180 members now, and the Reeves have set themselves the ambitious target of building that up to 300 in the next three years.
It’s welcome progress given the turmoil that has sometimes threatened to engulf the couple in the unforgiving world of golf club ownership.
Even so, life today is still by no means plain sailing.
“I don’t think we’ve got through the hard bit yet,” says Trudi. “I think we are still trudging our way through that. Realistically, it will take two or three years.
“It was a massive thing to do and if I knew then what I know now would I have still done it?
“Absolutely not. I must have been crazy to do it. Would I turn back now? No. Has it been worth it? Yes.
“We’ve got some great members and we have got a fantastic team. They keep you going. They have never let us down and they are all young and good fun.
“We are all in it together and it’s enjoyable being there.”