Monday, July 28, 2008

Lisburn, Lambeg, Dunmurry

[Photo: Par 5 Lisburn 8th]

Now here’s something that gives some credence to the belief that golf has hit a stumbling block. In Northern Ireland this year, 700 golfers did not renew their club membership. That’s official. And they didn’t join anywhere else. They simply gave up their rights as members and are content to pay green fees as and when they choose to play. There are plenty of golf courses up here and the value is astounding, so rather than pay an annual sub of £700, they play during the summer for, say, £30 a round (or pick somewhere like Down Royal for £17 including food) and are quids in. It all makes for an interesting dilemma, and I can see that some of the lesser courses will struggle. What do you do to keep members?

[Photo: Par 4 Lisburn 17th]

There are two sides of the coin: either don’t put up annual subs (levy, anyone?) or increase your green fees in line with the sub. Think about it: if you’re asked to pay an extra 10% on your sub, but the green fees at your club stay the same, it becomes a double-edged sword. I know, I know, it doesn’t address how these ex-members maintain a handicap, but there are ways around that – and the GUI is not doing enough to stop it. Slievenamon, down south, is practically giving away handicaps with every packet of cornflakes.

Courses like Lisburn, Lambeg and Dunmurry (I managed all three on the one day) should not suffer – though for very different reasons.

Lisburn is quality – old school, if you like – and has a wonderfully relaxing and dark layout that keeps you enshrouded in trees all day. Considering the variety of courses played in recent days, there is one thing that really stood out: the quality of the tee boxes. Oh yes, I know that sounds silly, but when you step up onto the smooth, stone fronted, colorfully bedded 1st tee box, you feel so much more positive about the course. ‘Here’s a course where maintenance is important’ you’ll think (even if only subconsciously). It simply delivers an extra buzz, and the hydrangea bushes lining the front of the 13th tee box are almost too distracting.

[Photo: Par 4 Lambeg 3rd]

On several occasions I passed a green keeper who was meticulously smoothing out the bunkers – and there are lots of them, on average about five a hole. That’s a lot of raking and smoothing. It does make you realise how much work is required on a course. Compare this with the two green keepers at Down Royal – they must work 24 hours a day.

Lisburn will have a new clubhouse in 2010, which will complement the course perfectly. If I had one complaint it would be to sort out the dogleg 11th. The tee shot is tough enough without having the 16th green directly in your line on the corner of the dogleg. It’s confusing.

Lambeg falls into a whole different category as it is a municipal course. Then again, it was packed on a Friday, with kids and messers who just want to swing a club. It serves a huge niche and there are some very interesting holes – 3 and 4 would look good anywhere.

[Photo: The excellent Par 5 Dunmurry 4th]

Dunmurry falls into the Lisburn category. It has a smart clubhouse, good food and – as much as I hated having Darts on the telly for the whole night – a good atmosphere. The course is good too and guess what – nice tee boxes.

Combine all of this in one day with the need to buy a new trolley and find a new propane gas cylinder for the camper. I managed the former, but was stumped by the latter as the nozzles up here are different to the ones down south. So no fridge, which means no eating in the camper, which means clubhouse food for the next two weeks. Oh well!

[Photo: Par 4 Dunmurry 15th]

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