Penny Streeter, who was born in Zimbabwe when it was still known as Rhodesia, has enjoyed a mixed and varied career and has been hugely successful throughout. She has led a fascinating life: she initially ran a flourishing healthcare recruitment agency in the UK before moving to South Africa to continue in this sector. She had become frustrated with running the business in the UK, and by opening up in South Africa, she was able to quickly dominate the market with her experience and expertise.
She bought a beautiful house on a vineyard in South Africa, but was dismayed when the owner of the vineyard passed away and the estate began to crumble around her. So she stepped in and bought the whole vineyard, which included an olive oil company and a strand of the business involved in the production of lavender. Hospitality is very much involved with any vineyard operation and soon she branched out into the hotel business as well.
The acquisition of Mannings Heath Golf Club was part of a strategic plan, but also a great opportunity to acquire a foothold in the UK once again. Soon after the sale was concluded, nine holes of the Kingfisher Course, which was previously the shorter course of the two 18 hole courses at Mannings Heath, were closed and ploughed up to create a vineyard. A bold decision indeed, and one which will take five years to reap any actual wine, but one she feels extremely passionate about.
The Streeters were very conscious that this decision might have an adverse affect on their members and the use of the club in general, but reaction to the changes has been very good by and large. It has also helped that the core price of golf membership has not risen very much, despite substantial investment in both the course and the clubhouse complex over the last year.
These are exciting times for Mannings Heath and its new owners. Golf Features recently visited the site and caught up with Adam Streeter, Penny's son and the general manager of the new complex:
"We have had a very supportive and sympathetic reception from the membership and we greatly value their trading custom. Obviously we are making quite dramatic changes to the golf courses, but all of these involve improving the members’ experience and upgrading the facilities in general.
“We have introduced new categories of membership, such as sole membership of the Kingfisher course, which is now a nine hole course, but still kept in beautiful condition. This we have pitched at £495, which allows local golfers to play inexpensively, whilst membership of the whole complex on a seven day basis is £1585, which includes use of both the courses and all of the clubhouse facilities.
“We think this offers good value for money, bearing in mind the improvements and the quality of both courses."
There are over 400 members at Mannings Heath and so the new offering is indeed proving to be popular. The course is available to green fee players at certain times and also for corporate events and golf societies: this was not the case before the Streeters took over the business, and is another example of how they are modernising the club.
The main Waterfall Course is very well kept and set in a hilly and wooded heathland. The design of the championship course was influenced by Harry Colt, and there are a number of blind shots, so local knowledge is indeed in advantage.
Gary Player named the 11th hole in his top imaginary 18 holes of the world, whilst the 10th hole – a wedge from high above to the green far below – is often talked about in the clubhouse at the end of the round. Green fees peak at £75 at weekends, down to £35 for the Twilight rate. The green fee rates on the Kingfisher Course are very reasonable at £22 and £12.50 after 2pm.
There is a very pleasant 19th Century cottage on site. Fullers Cottage sleeps nine, with four double bedrooms, and this is available for all sorts of different events. It is popular with golf breaks, but also with hen parties, small groups and visiting business people.
In the future, there are great plans to turn the Mannings Heath complex into a winery as well as a golf course. Potentially this will involve the production of wine on site, although many hurdles have to be overcome before this can become a reality.
They have just planted 30 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on the old section of the golf course - these newly planted vines will not be ready for production for four years, whilst the first vintage of Estate English sparkling wines will only be available in 2023. Until then, the focus will be on promoting the Benguela Cove wines from the parent company in South Africa.
There has been a substantial amount of upgrading work done in and around the clubhouse. The original clubhouse was demolished many years ago and was at the end of what is now the 16th hole on the Waterfall course. The traditional manor house that is now used as the clubhouse is grand and imposing, sitting perfectly within the site, affording magnificent views across the golf course and beyond.
The clubhouse has a Tudor feel to it, despite the building dating back only 100 years, and has brightly painted light walls on the outside. Inside, there is glorious oak panelling, beams and doors. New conference and banqueting rooms have been added and upgraded and the 19th hole is modern and ritzy, with great views over the first tee and the putting green. Some traditionalists may see the 19th hole at Mannings Heath as a little garish, but it has been executed with panache and is a perfect showcase for the delicious wines, beer and food offered to customers. The furnishing is modern and there are some great artworks on the walls. The intention was to blow some of the cobwebs out of the traditional view of golf as Phil Platt, the Food & Beverage Manager explains:
"We are keen to make sure that everybody has a fantastic experience when they visit the golf club. Golf is becoming a much more modern game and, whilst we observe many of the traditions on the course, we are keen to give people the very latest offerings of quality when they are relaxing in the clubhouse. We have been getting busier and busier, so people obviously are enjoying the new experience."
Business is brisk and Mannings Heath has become a fabulous destination to visit for all sorts of reasons. The golf is good and the ambience in the clubhouse and patios are delightful. The terrace outside is currently being extended to provide seating for up to 120, along with a built-in BBQ and bar for those long summer nights we are enjoying this year.
There are all sorts of other events taking place at Mannings Heath, including a one-day winter wonderland, which takes place just before Christmas and includes stalls, a huge hog roast and a fantastic firework display put on by the club.
Overnight everything is cleared away and normal golf resumes first thing in the morning as if the event of the day before never happened. This is the same for all major catering events as the club operates every single day of the year, including Christmas Day. There are often parties going on well into the small hours, but golfers would never know when they come for their early morning teetime.
The merging of wine and golf is proving to be very successful: a tasting room is open 7 day a week where wines from Benguela Cove are available to taste and then purchase to take home. The wine is on sale at very competitive prices in the pro shop – certainly an unusual sight!
Next month Mannings Heath plays host to a PGA EuroPro Tour event, which will be a great opportunity to showcase the delights of the golf course; the event is being sponsored by Nokia, who clearly see it is a great opportunity to be involved.
As a clear sign of confidence in the area, the Streeter family have also just acquired Leonardslee Gardens, once one of the most visited tourist attractions in Sussex. The Gardens, which include huge lakes, a grade one listed rock garden and a host of curious leisure opportunities extend over 240 acres and are just a few miles away from Mannings Heath. It will be interesting to see how they are developed over the coming years.
Mannings Heath Golf Club and Wine Estate are very keen for other golf facilities to sell their wine and have developed a special trade price list, which provides further savings.
For details contact the team on 01403 210 228 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further details on this excellent golf complex, please visit www.manningsheath.com.