The complex has three full-length loops of nine holes, a further nine hole par three course, a well appointed floodlit range extending to 30 covered bays, two separate function rooms and a well developed food and beverage operation. There is also a Foremost golf shop, stocked with all of the latest equipment and doing a brisk trade, staffed by a team including four golf professionals. The head professional is Gary Jacom who has been friends with Alan Walker, the owner of the centre, for nearly 40 years.
Last year an adventure golf course was built at the complex. It is called Garon Castle Adventures and is themed around all of the features in surrounding Essex. This is a very clever idea, as it is classed as an educational opportunity and therefore can be offered to schools from many miles away as part of their curriculum. This is a great idea for schools too, as playing adventure golf whilst having a history lesson is far more compelling than a fusty old classroom and a text book. The adventure golf course is very busy in the summer months and has excellent trade at the weekends on the finer days of the British winter. It has its own clubhouse and reception with a separate car park, so a visit to the adventure golf course does not block or hinder the regular golfing trade. For those interested in developing their own adventure golf course, many of the ideas found at Garon Park have been carefully honed over years of clever management and experience.
The adventure golf course was built by City Golf, who have been responsible for many excellent courses around the country. Their UK representative, Gary Jenkins, spoke to Golf Features:
“We were delighted to have been chosen for this exceptional course. It plays very well in terms of adventure golf, but the historic local theming has been great fun and allows people of all ages to find out more about their local area as they take part in their round of adventure golf. It’s an idea that is becoming more and more popular and we love providing the bespoke features that bring this vision to life. Alan and his team were a pleasure to work with and they are bound to do well, as their professionalism ensures that customer care is of the highest level.”
Garon Park was in a muddle 10 years ago. It went into administration after a series of poor decisions by the previous management. Alan, who had previously designed the complex, was asked to step in and help. He bought a substantial share of the business and has increased his stake in the years since. Just four years after this business being a non-viable money-pit, it won England Golf’s golf mark award as the best golf centre of the year. This was quite a turnaround and one that Alan and his fabulous team are rightly proud off. He explains:
“Ten years ago, when I took the reins of this business, the quality of the core golf product was nothing like it is today. The greenkeeping machinery was worn out and not capable of producing a good quality finish to the golf course. No one area was terrible, but the collective failings combined to make the course unpopular and underwhelming to visit, from a golfer’s point of view.”
The site, which extends to over 240 acres, is immaculately maintained with superb greens and closely cropped tees and fairways, so it is not surprising that membership is still growing and there are now over 580 season ticket holders at the complex. The 27 hole layout gives so much flexibility for customers - and also for maintenance - that it is possible to accommodate a large group without regular players being inconvenienced in the slightest. In addition, a winter composite 18 holes can be played, which allows the greenkeeping team to take out nine holes and work on them exclusively at quieter times.
The clubhouse is light and bright, and provides excellent views across the course. It has two separate function rooms and is a regular host of weddings, wakes and other events, which complement the normal golfing trade. But it is the golf that is foremost in Alan’s heart. Golf has been his whole life and it is clearly his main focus at Garon. He elaborates:
“Since I was a young lad, I have been fully committed to golf: as a player, coach, retailer, designer and consultant. It’s also been a privilege to own a few cracking golf facilities along the way. Here at Garon Park, I am most interested in driving the quality of our golfing product up in anyway I can. I think that keen golfers are happy to pay a little bit more for a facility that is presented to them in perfect order, rather than just in a passable order. Everybody who works at Garon Park has bought in to this philosophy and it’s great fun coming to work every day.”
Alan Walker started his career as an amateur golfer at Chingford Golf Club in Essex. He passed his PGA exams in 1974 and was assistant at Wansted Golf Club to Reg Knight until 1976, when Reg left to become the professional at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Alan got the job and was very young for the position, becoming the club professional at just 22 years of age. He stayed for eight years and really caught the retailing bug; from there he opened the Warren Park Golf Centre, which was one of the busiest golf ranges in the country. It allowed him to ply his trade as a PGA golf professional with a near perfect setting for him to be the dominant retailer of the area. In 2000 he sold the business to JJB sports and started off in a different direction.
He became a golf course architect and designer and undertook a number of major projects. Alan has designed the courses and practice facilities at Benton Hall, Garon Park, Rivenhall Oaks, Hayden Grange and most recently Ingrebourne Links. He has also acted as a golf consultant in all sorts of different capacities. Few people have had such a wealth of experience in owning, operating and also designing so many golf courses and centres over the last 40 years. Alan expands:
“It’s been so much fun. I couldn’t possibly have enjoyed my career more and done so many interesting things in golf. It has allowed me to travel and meet fascinating people all over the world. I still love the excitement of getting up and coming to work in the golf industry.”
Alan was heavily involved with PGA throughout his career and served, first as a committee member in the south region where he was appointed Chairman; then when the East region was formed in 1987 he was appointed as the first Chairman of that region which took him onto the Executive Committee, with him then taking on more senior management roles within the PGA, becoming a board director and vice captain, and then in 1999, Captain of the PGA. This involved flying on Concord to the Ryder Cup and representing the PGA at a whole host of extremely prestigious events throughout the golfing calendar.
With such a strong association with the Professional Golfers’ Association, it is not surprising that Alan, and the other four professionals at Garon Park, have a very strong bond. All of the professionals are able to teach free of any percentage charge at the golf centre and all are keenly involved in the retail side of the business. The shop is immediately adjacent to the reception area in the clubhouse and is crammed full of all the latest equipment. Golfers have to travel a very long way to find a better stocked retail outlet than Garons Park, and it is not surprising that his turnover is continuing to grow despite most professionals having a bleaker outlook on their prospects for the future.
Now in his mid 60s Alan is looking forward to playing some more golf, but retirement is a very long way away. It would be hard to find a better run golf centre then Garon Park.
For more details on this excellent golf complex, please visit the website: