GOLF: Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Roger Hyder, director of Beauport Park Golf Club, is back where he started his professional career. In his early 20s he was senior assistant pro here before being headhunted to the East Sussex National in Uckfield. Now, having made a successful career over 30 years as manager, consultant and troubleshooter to prestigious golf and leisure clubs across Surrey and Kent, he has taken up a challenge that is clearly dear to his heart: restoring the fortunes of the Beauport club after its brief and ill-fated rebrand as Hastings & St Leonards Golf Club.
He came in last September when the previous leaseholders bailed out in financial meltdown. The clubhouse was shut down, the greenkeepers fired and the course briefly closed. It was the worst possible time to take over, with winter approaching and no effective income collectable from members who had paid their year’s subscription the previous spring. But Roger, who has remained resident locally despite a career on the move, retained fond memories of the club and its spectacularly picturesque course. He decided he could run it despite continuing to fulfil a day job in a regular management role at a members club in Canterbury. And he has found that many golfers, past members and others even from clubs supposedly in competition, also have a soft spot for the course and have readily lent him a helping hand.
Driving off the tenth tee at Beauport
PICTURE: Dave Young
“Second club” membership
Beauport was in the past a feeder club for other local clubs like Cooden and Highwoods – not the smoothest of greens or the fairest of fairways, but a course which taught players to hit straight (or woe betide the forest of trees and dense undergrowth either side) and earn their handicap the hard way, before some graduated to less demanding conditions. Roger is hoping to entice former members back by introducing a “second club” membership category at a heavily discounted annual fee of £250, so that if they are already full members elsewhere, they can play Beauport on the side. Even the President of the Sedlescombe club down the road, Ron Winchester, has joined for the new season on this basis, while head coach at Cooden, Shaun Creasey, is now providing sessions at Beauport too.
Roger is also seeking to replenish membership levels from junior ranks by offering very favourable rates not only for under 18s (£140 for the year if you’re 12 or over, £75 including some free group coaching for under 12s) but tapering only gradually upwards between ages 18 and 35. Social media presentation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is also a key ingredient to market the club to a younger clientele.
For the first time since the 1980s the club is employing four greenkeepers. “The course is coming on nicely”, he says. Members’ competitions resumed from the beginning of this month. The clubhouse remains shut, and there has been no resumption of bar or restaurant facilities, but the local spa hotel Bannatynes has provided some mobile catering on event days.
Future plans are centred around a planning application being prepared by the freeholder, Brighton property dealer John Summers, to replace the existing clubhouse buildings with a swathe of up to 19 holiday apartments. This would then release funds for a new facility to be built from scratch on the footprint of the existing pro shop complex, providing two bars, a restaurant and function room, locker rooms and an upgraded driving range bay. Previous applications made to the local authority – Rother District, not Hastings Borough – for permissions for housing development around the fringes of the course have been given short shrift, and Roger admits that there are bound to be challenges, given the status of the park within a designated AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). “Oh yes, and we do have our own great crested newts”, he says with a smile. However he believes that Rother will want the club to survive, and can be persuaded that the benefits outweigh the risks.
“There are huge health benefits, both mental and physical, of playing golf”, he points out in salesman mode. “An average round uses up 1,000 calories. And golfers live on average seven years longer than non-golfers”.
Fundamentally, though, Roger knows what his immediate predecessors clearly did not – that the success of golf clubs, like other social institutions, depends upon fostering a sense of shared community. “Golf clubs are like family”, he says. “They become a part of life. You want to feel welcome and be acknowledged”. He quotes the Cheers TV theme song:
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna go where everybody knows your name
Longstanding members seem to concur. One, Peter Watkins, tells me: “The whole atmosphere has changed since Roger has been in charge. It’s a golf club again, and everyone is looking forward to the future.”
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