North Foreland has traditionally lived in the shadows of nearby Open-hosting venues. But, as general manager Chris Dowrick explains, that’s all changing
They don’t have the Open or the exclusivity of Royal St George’s. They don’t have the history of Royal Cinque Ports or Prince’s. “No one drives past our doorstep,” Chris Dowrick remembers he told the interview panel at North Foreland.
Pointing out that problem might have been a risky strategy for a man looking to get the general manager’s job.
But the honesty clearly struck a chord with the club found on the eastern tip of Kent. Since Dowrick arrived last July, the battle has been joined to transform the image of a course that has lived in the shadows of giants.
Though you might need a reason to come to North Foreland, it’s not a place easily forgotten once found.
For those in the know, it’s always been highly regarded – blessed by some breath-taking scenery. Think greens that run to the edge of white cliffs, a tee that stands in the reflection of an ancient fort and a memorable finish, and you get the drift.
The Main Course is renowned for its fast-running fairways and firm putting surfaces, while the Northcliffe Course gives beginners a great setting from which to start out and allows the more experienced to hone their short games on holes ranging from 50 to 140 yards.
“We’re in with the big boys and we’ve got to market ourselves in a different way,” Dowrick says. “We don’t have the history with the Opens but we’re a great middle ground. And I think we represent real value for money.
“The course is playable all year round. We’ve got stunning views. We’re really lucky to be on the clifftops looking down and we have some beautiful views of the sea.”
The opportunity to the spread the word arrives in July when the Claret Jug pitches up 13 miles down the coast at Royal St George’s.
Postponed last year because of coronavirus, the event could turn into a massive celebration of golf in a nation finally getting to grips with the pandemic.
The whole region is crossing its fingers it can welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors and, for Dowrick, it’s a huge chance to let everyone in on the North Foreland secret.
And so the club have been hard at work. A five-year plan to remodel bunkers was fast-tracked, following the rerouting of the 13th hole last year.
This time, four new bunkers and 100 square metres of green have been added to the par-4 14th – the feature a staggered trio of traps that blend into a line off the tee.
The shapers were also busy on the 15th, a hole that sits right in front of the clubhouse, to fill in old bunkers, add new ones and increase the size and depth of others.
“We put in some cross bunkering on the 14th, making it more challenging for the lower handicapper, but we’ve also managed to focus on the green,” adds Dowrick.
“We managed to lay 100 square metres of turf. We’ve made it more receptive as, because of the cross bunkering, invariably people are going to be going in there with longer irons.
“We’ve made it fairer by raising the level at the front and adding that new turf.”
What’s more remarkable about the changes is they were done around a timetable of lockdowns, furloughs and incredibly busy play when North Foreland were open – and Dowrick was keen to praise the membership for their understanding in such strange times.
“There’s been a lot of expectation and I think the hardest thing we’ve been juggling with the bunker renovations is that golf hasn’t been normal.
“Members have been used to having no tee times and being able to play in their swindles and we’ve got a situation now where they’ve got tee times and they can’t book in their groups.
“The bunker renovations meant they couldn’t play the course necessarily as they wanted and it’s important we’ve been able to communicate well with the members.
“I’m very fortunate I’ve got a great head greenkeeper, who’s already been here four years, and he’s really taken the course from strength to strength and he’s got the members’ trust.”
These latest enhancements are part of a vision Dowrick hopes will help North Foreland crack Top 100 England ranking lists.
He explains: “This is exactly what the course needed on the back nine and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the club, despite the financial constraints the past year has given us.
“When people are looking at coming here, heading the right way in the rankings will really help drive the business forward.
“But it will also recognise what the members have long known. We are a great course and it’s time we started emerging in our own right.
“We know the Open is coming in July. We’re trying to get ourselves into the consciousness of visiting golfers and we’re already seeing some great results.
“We need to put North Foreland on the map. When I got the role, I had quite a few texts, saying ‘wow the website is great but I have to be honest, I’ve never heard of it’. That just shows the opportunity that we have.”
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