Westhoughton goes to 18, despite the newts
GCM summer 2004

BOLTON, England - Westhoughton Golf Club, a private members' club dating back to 1934, is growing in a new nine holes to increase it to a full 18. "To do this is very attractive economically in terms of economies of scale." Explained Tony Slaven, Development Committee Chairman who continued. "This lower cost per hole, per member equation was the driving force behind the extension." This, naturally, being over and above the immediate benefits of offering and enjoying an 18 hole course over a nine-holer.
Westhoughton is a proactive club that manages to combine hard business sense with a friendly, laid back atmosphere that is so often lacking in private members' clubs. The committee and executive members of the club come across as thoroughly enjoying what they do and clearly have the best interests of the members at heart - this is most definitely not an ego trip for anyone.
Initially the decision to look at a further nine holes came about when three other local clubs made the move to 18 - Wigan being the latest and perhaps the most successful, "To be honest we haven't a clue how many rounds are played a year - there's only a handful of visitors and mostly it is members that play here." Said Slaven. "We are hoping to mimic Wigan who, in the first 12 months following their expansion - had 100% of their available visitor's tee-times booked." Proof positive that most golfers prefer to play an 18 hole course as opposed to a nine. Following on from the Wigan experience, Westhoughton also chose Contour Golf as their preferred constructor for the works.
In order to pay for the works the club has introduced a levy of 50.00 per member, which equates to a phased increase over three years from 400.00 for nine holes to 500.00 for 18. "We had a bit of an exodus when the extension plans were announced and membership dropped from 240 to about 220 although the works were voted for unanimously at every step of the way." Explained Slaven who said further, "We are now standing at 255 full members and we have a target of 300 eventually with the ideal number being around 320."
It seems that this is a modest target when the resulting new nine is finally unveiled for play either late in 2004 or early in 2005. Architect Jeff Shuttleworth has excelled himself in a bold yet sympathetic design and it is apparent that the committee enjoy a fantastic relationship with the ex professional footballer (Bolton Wanderers). "I was involved from the outset some seven or eight years ago." Said the quiet Shuttleworth, "I was happy to support the project for 12 months with no cash involved until we got the 'full-steam ahead' and put the contract out to competitive tendering."
Shuttleworth's background in professional sport and teaching gave him the confidence and understanding to take an objective look at golf course design and say "Some of these golf courses are not up to standard and I can do it better. So I started making models of existing and proposed courses - I worked with Tony Jacklin and designed a nine hole course in Istanbul." Seven or eight years with Peter McEvoy followed with the Powerscourt project in Ireland being numbered in his portfolio.
This artistic ability has benefited all concerned with Shuttleworth and his sketches of proposed golf holes are a boon to the course constructors as Ingrid Eichler of Contour confirmed, "Jeff's pictures are second to none and they are such a help when it comes to visualising and implementing the design." This 'happy family' at Westhoughton is very much mutual as Slaven explained, "We chose Contour because we wanted input - we had a full specification - but wanted further expert input. What struck us as we walked the site was the flexibility and understanding that Contour offered. They really helped us with ideas and suggestions and we have come to view Contour as a partner - their suggestions have impacted favourably on the eventual cost of the project."
But there were problems - two and a half of them in fact, in the shape of the protected species - the Great Crested Newt. Evidence of this species was found in a small area of the site and a DEFRA licence had to applied for and a substantial ring fencing of the site undertaken in order to analyse the extent of the newts that were there - two newts were found intact and a further half a newt damaged by the DEFRA fencing programme! "This was our only difficulty really." Said Eichler, "The investigation delayed the start, added costs and meant that we had to work within the confines of the DEFRA licence once it had been granted."
Yet this was not a major difficulty as Slaven confirmed, "The whole job was 'bob-on'. Perfect weather, everything just perfect and a fast job - from June 16th to September. We never had any concerns that the job wouldn't be finished on time."