AN unusual approach which put members in charge is beginning to revive the reputation at one Oxfordshire golf club.
Hinksey Heights may possess some stunning views across Oxford, but not long ago it faced significant problems after a chequered recent history.
A troubled time under former owners culminated in a 2012 court case, when professional Dean Davis was fined for burying fertiliser and oil at the course.
With things going from bad to worse, the membership was on the verge of collapse.
“We had a situation where 75 per cent of the members would have left if things had continued, including us,” said Russel Matthews, one of three men working to revitalise Hinksey Heights’ fortunes.
He was elected to a new board in February 2013, along with Martin Wilkinson and David Milne, when owner Addy Greswell decided to hand over the day-to-day running of the club to those who knew it best.
They quickly unearthed a variety of difficulties, with just one greenkeeper maintaining the 27 holes, which had areas of poor drainage.
Matthews, 67, from Summertown, said: “Every time you looked at something in depth you found an issue, but I’ve had the philosophy of if we are doing something we will do it right or not at all.
“It’s not about sticking plasters.”
It was an unenviable task, but gradually the trio have made progress, committing at least one day a week each to the task.
Around £70,000 was spent upgrading the irrigation system last winter and the greenkeeping staff is now up to five, closer to what is required.
- Hinksey Heights’ three member directors (from left): David Milne, Martin Wilkinson, Russel Matthews
As strides have been made with the course, improvements can now be made in other areas and new caterers were appointed last month.
Wilkinson believes the support of Greswell, who also sits on the board, and the rest of the members has been vital.
The 67-year-old from Headington said: “Every four months we have a forum where we face the members and tell them what we have been doing.
“Everybody has helped out with particular skills and some are very forthcoming.
“One of our members is a chartered accountant, so helped put our accounts together. “It works extremely well with the owner and the more we have got to know each other the better it has got.
“There was an element of suspicion on both sides, but I think we have developed a confidence in each other.”
The model means each year one of the three positions comes up for election.
Milne’s was the first post to become available, but the 69-year-old from Abindgon was re-elected.
He acknowledges the biggest task now is convincing golfers outside the club that times have changed.
“We have one of the best layouts in Oxfordshire, most people recognise that, but we have still got this reputation,” he said.
“We have a very friendly and attitude and have tried to be all-inclusive.
“It doesn’t matter who you are once you come through our door – that’s a great feature.”
A series of offers and open days are planned to show off the new and improved club.
Matthews said: “All we can do is get people up here, then the hope is the quality of the course speaks for itself.
“It shouldn’t be called Hinksey Heights, it should be called the Phoenix Golf Club, because it’s risen again.”
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