April 22, 2024
Investments

Royal Norwich gets £5m investment to save golf club


The deal follows a tumultuous period for the Royal Norwich Golf Club and comes just seven years after it sold its former site for almost £20m.

It had major plans to develop its new 350-acre site at Weston Longville but was forced to put these on hold after it ran into financial difficulties during the pandemic.

The club now hopes to revive these ambitions, with the construction of a spa hotel or lodges now back on the agenda.

John Kerr, its chief executive officer, said the club was trying to shake off its “elitist image” to create a “new kind of golf club”.

“There’s a view of golf clubs as being for older people smoking pipes and shouting at people they don’t recognise,” he said.

“But that’s not who we want to be.”

 

DEBT SPIRAL

The club sold its Hellesdon course for £17m in 2017, after owners said it was “no longer fit for purpose”. 

Cash from the sale was pumped into upgrading and extending a course at the Weston Estate, which re-opened two years later.

But Mr Kerr said the celebrations were short-lived, with Covid hitting just months after the launch.

With funds wiped out from the purchase and development, he said rising operating costs and falling visitor numbers sent the firm into a debt spiral, owing around £4m by the end of 2023.

Eastern Daily Press: CEO of Royal Norwich John Kerr has welcomed a £5m investment in the clubCEO of Royal Norwich John Kerr has welcomed a £5m investment in the club (Image: Royal Norwich)

He said: “It was the worst imaginable timing to be opening a new venue.

“Things had been going well, with memberships up and good visitor numbers at the restaurant.

“When the pandemic happened all that positive momentum was taken away, and we had two troubling years of trying to keep the business operational.

“We were never going to be peoples’ first choice to go back to after the lockdown because we hadn’t had time to build that reputation and were competing with long-standing venues.

“We effectively had to start again from scratch.”

 

DOG-FRIENDLY COURSES… AND NO SHOUTING AT STRANGERS

However, following a £5m investment from a “philanthropic investor” - which wiped out the debt - Mr Kerr said the company was finally ready to begin putting into place plans more than a decade in the making.

The site already boasts an 18 hole and a six hole USGA golf course, but the firm hopes to add more facilities to further diversify its offering.

The aim, he said, was to create a “new type of golf club”, which cuts through golf’s “elitist” image to appeal to families, Mr Kerr said.

Eastern Daily Press: Royal Norwich Weston Estate at Weston LongvilleRoyal Norwich Weston Estate at Weston Longville (Image: Royal Norwich)

He added:  “There’s a view of golf clubs as being for older people smoking pipes and shouting at people they don’t recognise. But that’s not who we want to be. 

“It’s been a tough balance to strike because the beauty and prestige of the venue can be intimidating.

“We’re putting things in place to counter that.

“All our facilities are open to non-members, and we’re offering family-friendly things like ‘kids eat free’ on Saturdays and during school holidays, and dog-friendly courses.

“It’s our commitment to these things that really pegged the interest of our investor.”

The club is among the most exclusive in Norfolk. Full membership – which includes access to the onsite gym – is £1,995 per year, or £300 for under 18s. 

Mr Kerr said the club currently had around 1,200 members.

It was formed in 1893 and acquired its ‘royal’ status from George Duke of York who went on to be King George V.

More recently, the club had Prince Andrew as a patron. However, he left the role in 2019 as he stepped back from public duties amid controversy over his links to the billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

 

SPA HOTEL ON THE WAY?

With what Mr Kerr described as “considerable capital” now behind the venture, the CEO said Royal Norwich was ready to begin putting into place plans more than a decade in the making.

Although still in the early planning stages, he said he was looking to create either a spa hotel or lodges on its Weston Estate, funded by this recent financial boost.

A woodland walk will open this summer, which Mr Kerr hopes will encourage people to visit the site, even if they have no interest in golf. 

He added: “Now we’ve got investment out the way we’re working out best opportunities to help us realise the vision for an inclusive, family venue.

“This money has given us an incredible amount of working capital to play with, and to continue the work we’re doing to expand what we’ve got here on site.

“Golf is an incredible sport for mental health – it can be played all the way through your life span right into your 90s.

“We want to be the country club of choice for everyone here in Norfolk, no matter their situation.

“That means diversifying our offerings so there’s something everyone can enjoy, and afford.”

The Weston Estate already has two self catering cottages on site, as well as a gym, which opened last summer.

Its restaurant, The Stables, doubles as a casual eatery during the day and a fine dining venue in the evening, and is also available for wedding hire.

Last year the club also added a padel tennis court to its offering.

 





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