10 ways your golf club can move with the times

Headingley has been transformed in the past few years. Manager Jon Hall dishes out his top ten tips to explain how yours can follow suit…

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

In recent years Headingley has emerged from the pack to elevate itself into one of Yorkshire’s leading courses. In 2021 it hosted the men’s and women’s English Amateur which brought rave reviews from the players and England Golf alike and it has become a club that has refused to stand still.

Next year will see the unveiling of a world-class short-game area, the following year their driving range will re-open bigger and better than before. The course has been improved beyond recognition in recent years and it is a thriving club that is very much on an upward curve. 

Manager Jon Hall, a GCMA member, explains how the change has been effected.

1 Woodland management project of 2014

While the trees that we had were put in with good intentions in the second half of the last century we had become aware through experience and education that they were the wrong type of trees. Also, due to a lack of management, many of the copses had become too dense and were not conducive to encouraging fine turf.

We would always have to spend hundreds of man hours in October and November clearing leaves as it’s not pleasant to play golf with leaves everywhere and they were doing all the wrong things to the course. 

We sought professional advice from John Nicholson, who is a renowned tree expert and subsequently we removed something like 3,000 and the course now looks like it did 30 years ago. Inspired by our success, the same team have gone on to do similar projects at Sand Moor and Pannal which are nearby and peer courses to Headingley. The overall benefit is that the quality of Headingley’s greens is testament to this project.

Get involved in the debate.
To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete the form below.

2 The practice facilities improvement project 

Historically our practice facilities were poor and were simply not good enough for a course of our standard. Now by embarking on an infill project, we’re in the process of turning our long-game area into something that is very good and we’re going to make the short-game area into a first-class facility. Everyone loves a brilliant short-game area and when you go abroad you see them everywhere but, for a variety of reasons, there are a lack of them in the UK. 

There will be several different teeing positions with a high quality artificial turf, bunkers and target greens at varying distances ranging from 25-100 yards and it has been designed to accommodate a number of people practising at the same time. Every aspect of the short-game area has been factored in and the hope is that it will be one of the best in the North of England. It is anticipated that it will be available to use next summer while the long-game area will be completed in 2024.

3 Year-round golf

We pride ourselves on our year-round playability and we really do not like to close the course. This really is a mindset thing and, if the course is not good enough to withstand what the British weather has to throw at it, then we then have to change it to make sure that it is. We do not use winter greens and we don’t like using artificial tees or fairway mats. We have a very active membership who, in the depths of winter, will be out there playing and that’s the way that we love it. An ongoing project is to rebuild the tees every year so that we can cope with the demand. We’re currently in the process of extending our 1st tee which was too small, didn’t drain well and was too hard to maintain – that will hopefully all change in the years to come with larger and better maintained tees.  

4 Our greenkeepers 

We have a head greenkeeper Andy Stanger, who is very well respected and very knowledgable, and he has really accepted the challenge of trying to provide a golf course year round where there is a lot of traffic. We involve him in all the key decisions that we make about the course e.g. removing trees, improving drainage, building tees and bunkers etc. We like to think that year-round our greens would compare favourably to anywhere else in the area and we’re surrounded by some incredible local courses. In the past decade we have increased the greenkeeping staff from five to eight – three of our staff are enrolled in ongoing education and two have been with us for over 20 years so there is a nice mix – and we are investing in this side of the club. We will fund all our own machinery, nothing is leased, and we have a budget of £50k a year which is pretty good.


Membership of the GCMA unlocks a network of like-minded professionals, provides you with support in your professional and personal development, and provides you with a multitude of benefits. Whether that’s the tools that will help you to excel in your profession, or a wide range of services to support your wellbeing, signing up to the GCMA is joining a community. 

5 The elephant in the room

Irrigation, irrigation, irrigation. Next year we hope to start a two-year irrigation project fully funded from the surplus of our infill project. We will start phase one in August and hopefully complete the following summer. We’re taking a bit of a risk by doing it in the summer as this will impact on green fee revenue, but it will be worth it as the recovery is so much quicker and you can take all the heavy machinery across the course without causing damage.

The project will involve purchasing a completely new system – new water tank, bore hole, pump house, control system, cabling, pipework and heads. The system affords the greens staff huge control over how much water is applied to each area and is totally flexible according to the local weather and ground conditions. The ability to specifically target dry areas is huge after the summer we have had. What’s more our head greenkeper will be able to do it all remotely with an App on his phone. It’s very clever!

Our existing irrigation system was installed in 1980 and in 2001 we had plans to replace it but never did. Many clubs will now be in a similar position and have a system that is long overdue for a replacement and, for Headingley, this will be a great legacy from the infill project. 

6 Why visitors are important to us

We will always make a big effort to engage fully with our visitors. For us this is a very important part of the club’s progress and any visiting party will  always receive a welcome notice with information and their name on it. We like to tell them about the course such as where Dr Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt shaped it in the early part of the 20th century, any current or recent course projects and of course any feature holes to enjoy. We’ll also try and manage their expectations when any part of the course for any reason is sub-optimal – this is really important. 

In the past 10 years we’ve trebled our visitor income and so this revenue now represents a significant contribution to the club’s overall finances. It has also significantly boosted secondary spend in the shop, bar and kitchen. Going forward we’d like to steadily increase green fees rates rather than increase visitor numbers in order to optimise revenue without disruption to members. Currently our rates represent such excellent value so I am confident that, with ongoing improvements, this is really achievable. 

7 Hosting national events 

By hosting events such as the English Amateur it definitely puts you on the map and you can tell that by the type of visiting enquiries that you get. Nobody will tell you that they don’t want to climb the rankings and one of our goals is to get into the Top 100 for England and hopefully we’re making great strides towards that. If we carry on with our trajectory then we might just get there. I have people ringing me every week asking me who we have used for various projects and people want to know what Headingley is doing and how we’re doing it and that didn’t used to happen. 

Next year we will host the matchplay stages of the Yorkshire Amateur and that hasn’t happened for a very long time. Apparently the manner in which we hosted the English Amateur played a big part in hosting this and, again, we’re indebted to the members who played a massive role in making that week such a huge success – which subsequently saw us being nominated for England Golf’s Venue of the Year.

8 The pro shop model

We became aware that a number of other clubs had brought the pro shop in-house and we wanted to know if this would work for us. We knew that many proprietary clubs did this very well, Rockliffe Hall’s set-up being a brilliant example. The shop is very important as it’s most often the first port of call for visitors. Having made the change in 2019, it meant that we didn’t have a tuition offering but we hoped to have PGA pros still involved in the club. That didn’t happen because of Covid but in 2021 Mark Pearson approached us to set up his PMG Headingley Golf Performance Academy which is great for us as Mark is a very established coach in the UK and, with the advent of the new practice facilities, we think that Headingley has become a fantastic venue to teach golf at.

9 The committee

Despite having a fairly traditional structure the club has kept things moving forward because they have stuck to some key principles and have had some great people. Firstly, we have had a very good sense of what we are trying to achieve and what our priorities are (usually the course!). When key decisions are to be made, they always take a medium and long-term view, undertake detailed research and not rush the decision-making process. Financially we are always looking 5-10 years ahead and always budget cautiously in order not to create problems for the club down the line – and having a hugely capable treasurer for the past 30 years has helped no end! 

A good example of this would be the new practice facilities project. The research and effort that went into this was huge and crucially the committee appointed an ‘untouchable’ working group to see it through. For the English Amateur Championships a special committee was appointed three years before the event to deliver what was needed. They then successfully sought out the best talent we had to lead our volunteer army. I have been astonished and impressed by the passion, time and expertise given to the club by so many committee members down the years. Though they may feel it at times and may not have heard it before, the vast majority of Headingley members really appreciate what they do.

10 And finally…..the members

At Headingley we have a fantastic membership. They are a very active and a very social bunch which means that the club always feels vibrant, just ask the bar and catering team. We’re very lucky to have a great cross section of members from all walks of life. All of our sections are full and active and we play a lot of team golf in all the various Unions and organisations in our region. The club is very friendly and welcoming especially to new members who don’t know anyone so it’s rewarding to see many of the influx of new members in recent years make so many friends and settle in so quickly.

In recent times our members have witnessed a lot of upheaval (tree work, drainage projects, new tee builds and presently works to the practice areas) as the committee have tried to improve things, so things should soon settle down for a few years. That is our goal after the new irrigation system is installed. Like all clubs we don’t get everything right and some members will just not like what we have done at times but, on the whole, our members are very supportive and appreciate that we are going in the right direction. No fewer than 126 members volunteered when we hosted the English Amateur and that speaks volumes about this great club.

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Get involved in the debate. To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete this form and we’ll be in touch!


"*" indicates required fields

How would you prefer to be contacted?*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

By GCMA Content Team

More from GCMA Insights