It will be a long time before the full impact of the pandemic on the golf industry is counted but some clubs have refused to wait around or stand still despite course closures over the past year.
Greenisland Golf Club is one such club that has evolved and invested to keep the show on the road, or the ship in high seas. The Belfast club has been busy transforming their kitchen into a catering service and no job came more interesting than feeding the crew of a ship that had docked in Belfast harbour for repairs.
“We’ve recently taken our catering in-house away from a franchise model and it’s been going really well for takeaway,” explains Johnny Greer, House Convenor at Greenisland GC.
“There’s a member of the club who works for P&O Ferries who got in touch with me to say they have a ship that’s in the dry dock for a week, it’s out of service and they have to close down their kitchen to do routine maintenance. It turned out to be in the region of 50-60 meals a day, lunch and dinner for the week. He eats with us regularly so he knew the stuff we were putting out was good. We put a menu together for them and they were chuffed with it.”
Not only has the initiative helped keep the club’s head above water but given the smooth sailing of the operation, Greer is hopeful that more business should come off the back of the success.
“P&O Ferries have eight or 10 ships on different routes across the British Isles,” he adds. “This one was Belfast to Cairnryan but throughout their two-year cycle they go in for this routine maintenance – come out of the water two months at a time. I’m hoping that we might get a few more of them when the next ones come in. The next one’s due in the middle of May and they’ve hinted that they might use us again. Providing that quality at reasonable costs should stand us in good stead.”
Greenisland Golf Club made a bold decision to take on their own in-house catering in the middle of December and it’s a move that’s paid dividends ever since, even surpassing expectations, allowing the club to dip their forks into more adventurous cuisines.
“We never envisaged the takeaway would take off the way it did but it’s attracted new members as well – the power of social media has been amazing for us,” Greer says. “We’re offering collection or delivery, Thursday to Sunday. We’ve put in a pizza oven and we’re putting out over 100 pizzas a week. It’s proved very popular.”
Meanwhile, a different kind of dough has been rolled out elsewhere in the club, ensuring the food is matched by the facilities at the 9-hole gem. Greer was furloughed from his own job at American Golf last year, allowing him, with the help of some other members, to invest their spare time into projects that have taken the club to another level. Among them, a TrackMan Studio has been installed at Greenisland, gifting its members access to technology that most clubs can only dream.
“Me and a few other guys got together and in a few months we did a whole paint job of the clubhouse, inside and out, and installed a simulator,” Greer says.
“We had a room that used to be an old snooker room years ago but it was a space not being used. We took a proposal to the council and they passed it. Because we were volunteers there was no labour cost with it. We put the net in, the mat, artificial grass, the works, and because I work in golf retail, I’m very friendly with Michael Malone who works for Trackman and he was a great help getting the system in place. We’re still waiting to launch it to our own members once restrictions lift at the end of this month but it’s sitting there ready to go and it’s another string to the bow.”
It’s a string to the bow that many clubs around the country much more powerful than Greenisland could only wish for but it’s a particularly sweet addition to the set-up at the club given its struggles in past winters with flooding on the golf course.
“This facility should do no end of good for us,” Greer says. “Given how wet the course can get, we’ll be able to fill it constantly and it’s another string of revenue as well. We don’t actually have a PGA pro on-site but working with American Golf, I know a few of them in the local area who would coach a number of our members. They’ve said when they come up to give a lesson, if the lesson costs say thirty quid, maybe five or ten of that would go to the facility so it’s a win for us but hopefully it’s a win for everyone.”
Although the indoor studio will provide welcomed respite from winter weather, Greenisland aren’t resting on their laurels when it comes to battling the elements to ensure their course plays well all year round.
To combat the wet conditions, the club, in conjunction with the Woodland Trust, have almost completed the planting of a whopping 15000 trees on a patch of land they own at the foot of the Knockagh mountain escarpment, not just a big boost to the local environment but hopefully a solution to the dreaded drainage issues they have encountered in recent years.
“About eight years ago we had to take a load of trees out above the course-line because of a disease that got into them but we found the course was getting wetter without them,” Greer explains.
“We got in touch with the Woodland Trust who were able to get the club a grant to plant these new trees. The work started about eight weeks ago. We had a digger up on the hill clearing the ground which was quite impressive. It’s clay based ground where we are so it’s always been wet in the winter but this can only help the future of the club.”
Indeed, the future of Greenisland looks to be in safe hands given the appetite for improvement from its team of volunteers, led by Greer, throughout the course of this pandemic. Many hands make light work but many volunteers make light the costs of such undertakings. Greer had been quoted around £5,500 for the painting of the clubhouse alone. Through his commitment, and that of others, they completed the job counting the costs of just the materials.
And the work didn’t end there. Between the catering service, the studio, the painting and the tree-planting you’d think the Greenisland members had done enough but the volunteers tackled on-course improvements too, reconstructing all the bunkers alongside the green-keeping team, digging them all out and putting new liner in before sourcing white sand from Wicklow to ensure consistency throughout the golf course.
“It wasn’t a huge job because we’re only a nine-hole course but it was a good two-week’s work,” says Greer. “But what a difference getting the right drainage in the bunker and sand etc. We also improved our walkways and paths. They were mostly gravel tracks but I got in touch with this guy who does imprinted concrete. So, concrete went down but they put a cobble-effect on it to make it look like a pathway.
“We have a sponsorship programme at the club where people can sponsor holes and tee-boxes and that enabled us to renew a good few of our pathways – not all of them because of covid interruptions and that, but our long-term plan, say the next 3-5 years is to get buggy paths installed the whole way ‘round the course so if there ever was a stage where buggies weren’t allowed on the course, players relying on them could still get out while obviously sticking to the paths.”
Whatever about sticking to the paths, Greenisland Golf Club looks to be firmly set on a road to success, inspired by an appetite for volunteerism that has been the cornerstone of the game of golf in Ireland since the beginning. Once restrictions allow, a trip to Belfast won’t be complete without a visit to this 9-hole classic. At least you know if all else fails on the fairway, you’ve got one of the best clubhouse feeds in the country waiting to soften the blow!
For more information on Greenisland Golf Club, visit https://www.greenislandgolfclub.co.uk/