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Leeds Golf Centre is no.1

Joe Feather and Nigel Sweet of Leeds Golf Centre

OH, WHAT a night! February 22nd was an evening to remember as Yorkshire scooped two top prizes at the England Golf Awards which highlighted all that’s great about golf in England.

Leeds Golf Centre, which offers golf for all, was named Club of the Year and Drax’s Liam Ridgill, who has done so much for his club, walked off with the Young Ambassador of the Year award.

Guests at the glittering, black tie event at the Royal Lancaster London applauded Leeds Golf Centre for its open- door policy which is designed to grow the game.

The centre’s aim is to get more people into golf – and to look after them once they’re playing. Their efforts pay off with a growing membership and the judges commented: “Leeds Golf Centre demonstrate an enthusiasm for developing golf across all ages and abilities and successfully cater for what their customers want.

“This is a continually improving club with some great initiatives to get more people playing golf, resulting in a big increase in membership.”

So, what’s the secret of their success?

“We are open to everyone, that’s what is special about Leeds Golf Centre,” said operations manager Nigel Sweet, a former Yorkshire champion and now a senior professional. “We want to get more people into the game of golf.”

Another factor is the team’s love of golf. “We’re all golfers, we all have a vision for golf and we are all passionate about it – and we think golfers know what golfers want,” said Sweet.

The centre, which includes Wike Ridge Golf Club, has an 18-hole course, a 12-hole par three course and a driving range – and there’s plans to make it even better. The owners are set to invest £9m in developments including a two-tier driving range and 38 lodges providing golfers’ accommodation and the project is forecast to create 30 new jobs.

Meanwhile, the work goes on to grow the game. Juniors are a big focus for the centre; the professionals take the game to schools and offer coaching opportunities to those who would like to learn more. As a result, there are many enthusiastic young players and every Sunday about 50 youngsters turn out for the weekly Tiger Cubs competition on the short course; some are members, some just pay their £3 to take part.

Adults get their share of attention too. The centre has worked hard to understand its customers and developed options to keep people playing more often, such as weekday roll-ups, 9-hole competitions, member/non-member events and weekend competitions for women.

Under the guidance of professional Joe Feather, a programme for novice golfers has proved hugely popular, offering an eight-week series of two- hour lessons which ends with a short-course competition – and a prize for the winner of a year’s membership.

Other coaching opportunities are designed for groups such as students and people with disabilities. The centre also works closely with the Prince’s Trust, helping people aged 11-30 who are unemployed or struggling at school to transform their lives.

In addition, Leeds Golf Centre cares about the environment with features including water recycling, a remotely activated sprinkler system, lakes which provide wildlife habitats, electric golf buggies and eco-friendly lighting throughout the club.

The award means Leeds Golf Centre goes one better than last year, when it was runner-up in the Most Welcoming Club category.

The bridesmaid’s tag this year went to another Leeds based golf club, Garforth. But they have much to be proud of with a great record as a community-based club and involvement with local schools, charities and organisations.

Garforth recently organised an open day to support local charities which attracted over 2,000 people and it regularly hosts gala dinners and charity days, as well as showcasing golf at local schools and community centres. The result is a vibrant mem-bership enjoying the benefits of a five-year development plan which has hit its target for male members, is attracting new women golfers to Get into Golf and has seen junior numbers rise from five to 48 in less than a year. Investment in the new lounge and 19th area has attracted growing numbers of members, guests and functions – and playing levels are at their highest ever. Golfers are determined to enjoy the course all year and, even in the short winter days, they are accommodated with a two-tee start and innovative playing formats.

Next to be recognised was 23- year-old Ridgill, who is helping to change the image of the game in his role as the youngest ever captain at Drax Golf club, near Selby.

“It’s fantastic to be recognised,” said Ridgill. “But I only do what I do for the love of the club and the members and the guys I play golf with. It’s as much an award for them as for me.”

The judges recognised his enthusiasm, professionalism and innovative approach to attract people to the game and commented on his captaincy: “This is a great achievement that shatters the preconceived idea of golf only being for middle aged gents.”

Ridgill is delighted to be changing perceptions around golf, saying: “There’s this historical stigma around golf that it’s for people who are retired but it’s a good sport for everyone to be involved in.”

He first started playing golf at eight and was introduced to the sport by his grandfather, who is a founder member of Drax – and who has steadfastly refused to be captain, even declining an invitation to be his grandson’s vice! After a break to try other sports he returned to golf aged 14 and, before long, was junior captain. Next, he became involved with the club committee when he was 19, taking responsibility for promoting Drax via social media and its website.

Successful promotions have included an offer to new members of 15 months’ membership for the price of 12 if they joined within a three-month period. This attracted 16 new members this winter.

One of Ridgill’s aims as captain is to build up the junior section and to retain players in their late teens and early 20s. Initiatives at the club to support this include student and intermediate memberships, while each adult member is given two associate junior memberships for children or grandchildren.

And what’s special about Drax Golf Club? “It’s the members,” said Ridgill. “We’re a tight-knit club and you get to know everyone. We’ve got a great set of members and we all pull together. It’s a strong community.

“I hope that this award will help me assist England Golf in raising awareness amongst the younger generation and continue to grow the game,” he added.

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