It’s a ‘hole’ new ball game for members and returning visitors down at Bury St Emdunds’ Tut Hill course this month.
Tim Lobb, partner of five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson’s Surrey-based Thomson Perrett and Lobb Golf Course Architects, has helped to transform the landscape at Bury St Edmunds Golf Club.
The latest part of his plan for the Tut Hill championship course, drawn up more than three years ago now, has seen 11 holes completed in the multi-year plan, with the remaining seven due to be finished over the next three to four years..
The main change has centred around the golfer’s nemisis: the bunkers. They have been reshaped and reworked on four holes in the last month, while some have been removed altogether and replaced with new ones.
The pathway to the greens, which themselves have also been relaid by expert contractors in double quick time – typically in just five days – has also led members to think they are playing a different course.
A Woodland Management Plan by expert John Nicholson, has seen some trees removed to keep the woodland healthy and enhance the holes.
“The course is now getting to where I want it to be,” said Bury St Edmunds Golf Club’s general manager Mike Verhelst.
After seven years making Stoke-by-Nayland one of the top courses in the country, which saw the PGA European Challenge Tour – the feeder tour to the PGA European Tour – use the venue on the Suffolk and Essex border in Stoke-by-Nayland for its first English event (the English Challenge) back in 2010, Verhelst is quickly making his mark in west Suffolk.
Now in his fifth year at Bury, he is changing the landscape at the golf club in more ways than one, with the addition of a getting-girls-into-golf scholarship recently launched, which the club’s manager and staff are just as proud of implementing as the revamped course.
Matt Alderton, Bury St Edmunds Golf Club’s PGA professional leading the project, said: “We are always keen to lead with new ideas and initiatives at Bury and the Scholarship for Girls is no different.
“There is a national shortage of girls taking up the game obviously leading to a future problem for ladies’ golf.
“We decided to do something about it and the Scholarship for Girls was born.”
The scholarship is an ongoing programme of coaching to allow girls to learn and play the game with other girls of similar abilities.
“During the sessions there is a really good atmosphere and in a relatively short time we have seen some good improvements with lots of potential still to develop,” said Alderton.
But it is a Bury St Edmunds business that is literally the driving force behind the innovation.
“The scholarship has been sponsored by Carrs BMW and without this help the regular coaching would not be possible so we all would like to say a massive thank you,” said Alderton.
Back to the course, where I saw first-hand contractors in a hive of activity. Mike said they worked 8am to 8pm without stopping for lunch.
Though work only began on October 23, everything had been completed.
It is clear Bury is not a golf course prepared to stand still and rest on its reputation.
But Verhelst was keen to keep the future tied to the past, with the current redevelopments never straying far from the original 1924 course masterplan.
The biggest change, though, is without question one that will be backed by the whole membership.
For years the sixth green has become the problem area at this time of year, always becoming waterlogged to varying degrees.
Verhelst said the club had tried a couple of techniques to resolve this, both of which were unsuccessful.
It led to an agronomist being paid to come and take core samples, the result of which was that it was obvious that the green had to be relaid if the club was not to have the same and worsening problems every year.
The green has now been relaid and reconfigured, all within a five day period, and will be ready for play from late spring next year, all being well.
Members and visitors will then find the new green, built to full USPGA specification (the worldwide standard) is larger, has more contours and no sand bunkers.
Things are changing fast at Bury St Edmunds Golf Club. In terms of an increase in females coming into the game and the challenging aspect of the reconstructed holes, it certainly appears to be very much for the good of golf continuing to flourish in west Suffolk for generations to come.