Bury Free Press columnist Chris Boughton profiles The Suffolk Golf Club
With all UK golf clubs and courses still closed and no results or events to report on I have taken the opportunity to look back at the recent history of The Suffolk Golf Club.
In October 2015 a new owner took over what was then called the Suffolk Golf and Country Club, in the Lark Valley at Fornham.
Eight months later, Free Press sports editor, Russell Claydon, visited the golf club and met up with director of golf Steve Hall and president Peter Plumb to report on the major investment programme that was already under way.
Four and half years later and the club, now called The Suffolk GC, has undergone a major transformation.
There is now a new impressive golf clubhouse located on the site of the old putting green, by the first teeThere is also a new greenkeepers’ facility in the lower car park complete with a fleet of new machinery.
The golf changing rooms have been upgraded, including new lockers and a wet room.
The course has also been transformed – the irrigation has been radically improved, as have the fairways and greens. Drainage work continues and Hall says; “It is functioning better than it ever has.”
When I spoke to Hall last week, he said that improvements to all aspects of the golf course will be ongoing and re-iterated what he had said to Russell Claydon in 2016: “Along with the improvements to the facilities the golf club will retain its down-to-earth, positive, relaxed and friendly atmosphere.”
Hall and his assistant Adam Trett have done an impressive job managing and implementing the changes at The Suffolk, despite a challenging nationwide golf business climate.
The golf club’s membership has increased by a net 44 per cent since 2016, including new members, juniors and returning members who left during the dark years of under investment and neglect.
The views from the clubhouse, across the golf course (set in the Lark Valley) are stunning, as they have always been.
A wider view across the golf course can also now be enjoyed from the rooftop bar which is attached to the All Saints Hotel.
The clubhouse is connected to the refurbished golf changing rooms via a covered walkway.
Hall said: “After several years of neglect and decline, the Suffolk Golf Club has been transformed with major investment over the past four-and-a-half years, including substantial changes and improvements on and off the course.
“As well as the new clubhouse, there is a new greenkeepers’ building and the changing rooms have been refurbished with new lockers, showers and toilet facilities.
“Five tee boxes have been rebuilt and the plan is for three more this year, virus permitting.”
Hall, who has been head pro at the club for nearly 23 years, through good and not so good times, added: “There are no airs and graces at this club and we are more concerned with golfers’ behaviour than their dress code.”
The course is generally regarded as one of the prettiest golf courses in the county but has had a difficult past.
Originally built and run by a local farmer in the 1970s (then called Lark Valley Golf Club), it first fell into neglect whilst briefly owned by a Japanese business which built and then closed down the clubhouse and operated the golf as ‘pay and play’ from a portacabin.
Former newspaper magnate Eddie Shah then took over, returned it to a ‘members’ course and invested heavily in the site, building a hotel with a pool and a gym.
He also changed the layout of the course which enabled golfers to finish at the 9th hole by the clubhouse if they wished.
At the same time, he also invested heavily in drainage for the course which, considering it lies in a water meadow, was vital.
At this time the site was rebranded as the Suffolk Golf and Country Club to sit alongside the Essex Golf and Country Club at Earls Colne and the Norfolk Golf Club at Rymerstan.
All three clubs formed part of Shah’s Messenger Group (named after his first freebie newspaper). The Wilshire Golf Club was added later.
The subsequent owners of the Suffolk included Swallow Hotels and Oxford Hotels and Inns.
Since October 2015 the Suffolk has been owned by a local businessman and the golf club and golf course have improved dramatically.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus is currently threatening all businesses, but let’s hope the Suffolk and all our excellent local golf clubs survive this challenging time.
Hall and his assistant – PGA Pro Trett – have led by example during the improvement campaign and in the spring and summer, when the grass in a water meadow can grow very rapidly, it is not unusual to see them driving grass cutting machines to assist the greenkeepers.
Plumb is still the club’s president and continues to offer wise consul and the current proud captains are Gordon Markham (Men), Tisha Mortlock (Ladies) and Stephen Christopher (Seniors).
The jointly-nominated charity for their period of office is Parkinsons UK (locally and nationally).
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