Uphall ‘future-proofing’ plans underway

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MEMBERS have been mucking in at a Lothians golf club to allow its greenkeepers to concentrate on a programme to “future proof” the course.

Like most other clubs in and around the Capital, Uphall has been affected by the ravages of the economic downturn on membership, visitors’ fees and bar takings, all compounded by some of the worst weather golfers have ever experienced.

But the West Lothian club have taken bold steps to tackle all of this head-on, notably a plan to “future proof” the course to deal with what is expected to be a long-term change in climatic conditions.

“The old regime of some coring a couple of times a year with an application of sand now and then was obviously not going to be enough to allow the course to stand-up to the change in the weather,” said Gordon Law, the course manager and long-time club pro.

“It was decided that a major on-going programme was needed if the club was to weather the storm, both weatherwise and economically.

“We need to get the product on the course right, otherwise people will continue to drift away from the game, so we embarked on the most intensive programme Uphall Golf Club has seen in my 22 years here.”

The programme started with two greens last year where USGA-standard drainage was installed and the difference was huge. This year, another seven greens have had the same treatment and early signs are promising.

None of this comes cheap, but the club see this as investment for the future.

“Behind the scenes, we have been supported by a core of long-standing sponsors and suppliers,” added Law, a former Scottish Pros champion.

“They have backed the club financially and through provision of equipment and raw materials, without which the programme of works would have been over a much longer period.

“This ranged from repairs to equipment and the provision of heavy plant to speed excavation and drainage works. One particular company, Gordon Bow Plant Hire, has provided significant support, which has been vital in allowing us to progress at the rate we have.

“Without this additional resource, goodness knows how long the programme would have taken and we’re very grateful to our sponsors and suppliers for such massive levels of support, which we hope to reward through a fine golf course in the years ahead.”

Members are also playing their part. To allow the greens staff to dedicate the vast majority of their time to major works, the rank-and-file golfers at Uphall have rallied to the call and taken over a number of more routine tasks, such as leaf blowing, sanding and removal of debris once the greens have been cored.

“Bridges have been renovated, painted and returned to good condition, all tasks which would have taken up valuable greens staff time,” reported Law.

“The lady members have also got in on the act, with course clean-up activities and things like new curtains being provided for the club bar area.

“The commitment from the members has been fantastic, with people out in all weathers helping out as much as they are able.

“For some guys, it’s almost been like back to their days of going to work, turning up day in, day out, looking to be allocated their tasks - I can’t thank them enough.

“It’s hard to quantify the number of volunteer hours, but my gut feel is that it’ll run into the thousands over the last six months or so alone - it’s certainly saved the club a small fortune.”

Asides from on-course activities, Uphall haven’t been standing still on other matters.Junior membership has grown 400 per cent in the last two years following the bold move to slash membership fees by 80 per cent.

“The junior section is the lifeblood of any club and numbers have risen to over 100,” revealed Law. “We have a programme of events for the coming season for the kids and, having produced Scottish internationalists and regional champions in the past, we look forward to developing their potential.

“It’s early days, but I’m optimistic that we’ll unearth a star in the years ahead.

“We’ve also had to look at how people have become used to paying for leisure activities and we’re now in our second season of offering a gym-style membership which minimises initial outlay and requires a 12-month commitment.

“In return for that, the member has all the benefits of the club, including competitions, national handicap, social functions and the feel of belonging to a proper club with the opportunity to become fully involved.

“It’s been really well received and I can see the day when it’s the accepted way of joining a club and playing your golf.”

There’s a lot of doom and gloom about in golf, but at Uphall, they look to be heading towards a bright future.