Golf Retailing’s Secret Golfer is out there, travelling the length and breadth of the UK playing a variety of golf courses, paying a green fee like (almost) everyone else. Except that our Secret Golfer is not like every other golfer, because this intrepid, anonymous wanderer is reporting back to Golf Retailing on the overall experience at each club; on customer service, on the pro shop, the practice facilities, golf course, clubhouse and cuisine. The Secret Golfer arrives at each course without any preconceptions, does not accept invitations, does not ask for courtesy of the course, and is totally bribe resistant.
The Secret Golfer’s first stop was in East Lothian, three miles south of Open Championship venue Muirfield, for a twilight round at Haddington Golf Club.
Introduction to Haddington GC
Haddington Golf Club may be little known outside of East Lothian, particularly due to the string of renowned links courses in the neighbourhood (Muirfield, Gullane, Renaissance, Archerfield and North Berwick are just the top of the list) but this parkland course has quietly gone about its business since way back in 1865, lying within the limits of what was once the Amisfield Park private estate, and with the River Tyne flowing by.
Not every golf course in the UK can have a pro shop that is well stocked and offers a dynamic and engaging retail experience – the UK golfing spend would not sustain it – and Haddington’s pro shop is not one of them. The shop is one of the smallest I have ever stepped into. The shop’s limited dimensions make layout all the more critical, but being cluttered and a bit disorganised, this retail space was not put to its best use. Unfortunately, the floor space was dominated by a huge box containing an assortment of socks for sale. This clearance box is the last thing a pro shop should be offering golfers, but here it is the first thing that greets the golfer and it does not encourage a purchase. While the member of shop staff offered a friendly greeting – unlike many pro shops – the Haddington pro shop felt a bit like a jumble sale, rather than the HQ of a golfer’s game improvement aspirations that it should be.
There was very little hardware on offer in the shop, and professional John Sandilands told Golf Retailing this is due to local off-course golf retailers offering prices the Haddington shop can’t match. “It’s hard to compete on price when you want to stock a single TaylorMade driver,” says Sandilands, a member of the Foremost Group, “when the shop down the road stocks 50”.
With a concentration on soft goods and consumables, the Haddington offering is dominated by FootJoy footwear and gloves, and balls from Titleist, Callaway and Srixon.
A quick trip to the bar prior to a 5:30pm tee time revealed a comfortable and functional clubhouse. The atmosphere was quiet, which is to be expected prior to a mid-week twilight round, and the bar staff matched the pro shop in terms of offering a friendly welcome. The bar menu was decent if lacking imagination, but did offer good value for money.
Haddington’s putting green is conveniently located near the clubhouse and first tee, and it was in very good, well-kept condition. The club also offers a well-proportioned long-game practice area, although golfers are required to retrieve their own balls. As most self-retrieving practice grounds often are, this one was empty. A pair of practice bunkers and a chipping green completed the facilities, all of which were well maintained, making a strong impression on the first-time visitor.
The picturesque golf course is set in a 130-acre estate, surrounded by an ancient stone wall, with the River Tyne running along its north boundary. The course reaches 6,335 yards off the white tees and a par of 71, and it features two par fives, decorated with numerous water features and changes in elevation.
Like the practice facilities, the course was well maintained and offered an enjoyable variety of holes, and the greenkeeping team has done an excellent job in keeping the greens so well during a spell of weather that must have verged on a drought by East Lothian standards.
The course’s primary form of defence came from deep, lush rough that in places would not have looked out of place in a US Open. When a ball wanders away from the short stuff it was hard to find at times, and then almost impossible to play back to the fairway. As Haddington is not a long golf course, a good score demands accuracy off the tee more than length, but this healthy summer rough might prove a bit too tough for the less accomplished player.
Haddington is a good parkland alternative to the links courses for which this region is renowned. It rests in the shadow of its illustrious coastal cousins, yet it offers an enjoyable round of golf, it has a welcoming and relaxed feel and it offers good value for money.
The pro shop was the main disappointment at the club, but with so much local competition in retailing, in persistently slow economic conditions, and with overall golfing footfall still low, it is difficult for a club of Haddington’s size to invest in the shop, and debatable whether a larger shop would generate sufficient income.