Norwich Family Golf Centre

A state of the art golf centre in a prime location, on the edge of Norwich

Alan Barnard started a very basic driving range on the outskirts of Norwich in the late 1970's, with mats on the grass and a caravan to store and sell balls from, named the Norwich Golf Centre. The demand quickly grew, and a very basic 9 hole course was built on the Norfolk Showground. Membership flourished, the course improved, and it was obvious an 18 hole course was required. This was built 20 years ago with a brand new clubhouse called Glen Lodge, due to the farm it was built on.

Bawburgh Golf Club was formed under the watchful eye of Alan and John Barnard and has progressed steadily ever since, with nearly 700 members now on the books. Bawburgh is the hub of a very successful food and drink operation, with weddings in the summer months and private functions all year round. Robert and Jo Barnard have become involved over the last few years and have kept the momentum going. Like the rest of the family, they come from an agricultural background. The range was well located, but was becoming a tired facility, and was closed last year when the new Norwich Family Golf Centre opened. The contrast between the two facilities could not be greater. The old range, despite being well used, was so dated and tatty that it was hard to have any synergy between the range and the elegant Bawburgh complex. Around five years ago, Robert and Jo started to look in earnest as to how to best develop a superb, new modern golf centre that would be a match in quality for Bawburgh Golf Club.

The Bawburgh team traversed the country and looked at dozens of golf ranges and pay and play facilities for inspiration. What soon became clear was they would also add to their existing 18 holes with a new 9 hole layout, which would be independently run from their new golf range, yet share the efficiencies of one greenkeeping and management team. The new site for the Norwich Family Centre emerged after discussions with Easton College, a close neighbour of the Bawburgh Golf Club, and the Norfolk Show Ground, their landlords. The showground was keen to use the space of the old golf range for additional parking and events, so rebuilding the old driving range in situ was quickly discounted.

A new road system was planned giving better access to Easton College and the site that is now Norwich Family Golf Centre. The outfield had been quarried for valuable gravel, and so to reclaim this site as part of a leisure activity was very popular with other planners and environmentalists. Bawburgh's plans grew in scale and from one of the shabbiest driving ranges, they have developed their operation to be one of the finest golf centres in the country. The relationship with Easton College, with whom they share the major new access road, is very good. The college offers a variety of courses including an EGU backed golf foundation course. The two-year BTEC diploma and Level 3 NVQ in golf studies is proving very popular and there are currently 16 students enrolled on this joint course. The qualification can be used as a foundation for a main degree and is proving extremely popular with young, aspiring golfers, who are seeking a second string to their bow in the event that life on tour does not work out for them all.

The centre can now accommodate up to 60 golfers hitting full shots at any one time. There are 28 covered bays, 16 Power Tees, a family viewing area in the centre of the complex, and on either side of the range, a Huxley Golf synthetic teeing strip flanked by further grass bays beyond. Also in the range are three major covered studios, complete with roller shutters and all the latest high-tech equipment. Two are used by the professional teaching team, and the other by Peter Field’s retail operation for custom fittings and equipment trials. The Power Tees are very popular, and have the latest vibration hoppers with flush fitting ball lids. The bays are all generous in dimensions, beautifully lit and carpeted in smart two-tone grey and blue.

The short game facilities promise to be truly outstanding and will fully open later in the spring. Bunkers, pitching and chipping areas and a large putting green, complete with swales and hollows, nestles behind the centre and provides the backdrop to the café bar with its luxurious patio area. It is particularly satisfying for GRN-OGRO to report on this site, as Robert had appointed GRN as consultants from an early stage. Colin Jenkins made the following observation:

“Robert and Jo must be congratulated on the way they have completed this superb golf centre. We were delighted to have the opportunity to assist with the original concept and design and it is a real pleasure to see so many people enjoying the facilities.”

The tuition at the centre is supplied by Simply Golf Academy. Mark Spooner and Peter Bower, who have recently been joined by Tony Varney, previously of The Norfolk Golf Club, run the academy. Between them, they teach a large number of individuals and groups, and there is an excellent junior program, which is growing in numbers each week. Inside the centre, space is divided between the Peter Field Golfing Superstore to the right and elegant café bar on the left.

Peter Field is also the PGA professional at Swaffham Golf Club and has been for many years a dominant retailer. He has taken on the retail opportunity with gusto: the 3000sq foot retail area beautifully displays all the latest equipment from all the leading brands. All the products are stocked in depth and his staff are well trained, knowledgeable and attentive. Trading has apparently been excellent in the first few months. The retail shop also has a substantial storage area, office space and of course the custom fitting bay – all that any retailer could want. It is not surprising that he seized the chance to expand his operation.

Backing onto the range is a conference room, with access straight onto the bays. This is perfect for elite squad coaching, product launches from golf equipment companies, and any other corporate function. Also involved from the outset were European Golf Machinery, based just a few mile away in Ipswich, they have supplied all the range equipment, including balls, mats, baskets, ball pickers and the highly sophisticated ball management system. Tony Nelli of EGM, explains:

“In order to deliver balls to the dispensers, which for customer friendly reasons were located centrally, we needed to design and build a ball management system that could deal with large numbers of dirty golf balls, pre-soak them, wash them, store them in a storage hopper, and then deliver the balls using a major elevator and gravity fed channel to the double dispenser located in the reception area. We are particularly pleased with the ease of operation that we have been able to give to Robert and his team. The customer is able to collect pristine golf balls in a quantity to suit their needs and the range staff can collect clean and restock the balls with a minimum of fuss and interference.

The gravity fed system requires the balls to be elevated to a height of about 6 metres as they pass over the retail area, hidden from view, before feeding directly into the dispenser’s vast storage hopper. We find that these gravity fed systems are much more reliable than blowers using compressed air. Robert called on our services early, and so we were able to design this easy system, which fell within his budget and will allow him hassle free operation in the years ahead. When designing ball management systems, we like to be involved at an early stage, as it is at this point that we can design efficient ways of delivering golf balls to the customer, rather than have to work around an existing design – it saves the customer thousands of pounds and this is perfectly illustrated at Norwich Family Golf Centre. It is also a pleasure to help and our advice is free.”

The cost of range balls is good value: 50 balls selling for just £3.50. The EGM based loyalty system gives an extra 10% balls for those topping up their ball credit in £20 units. Everybody is welcome to use the range, and you can join as an associate member and receive an additional discount on range ball prices and food and drink at the bar. All of the Bawburgh’s existing members automatically benefit from these discounts and can use the 9 hole course and short game facilities free of charge. The recent closure of the Norfolk Golf & Country Club to revert to arable farming was very sad news but Bawburgh have gained 30 members, a new professional, two green keepers and two beauticians operating at the Bawburgh’s Glen Lodge clubhouse. Bawburgh has also introduced a new points membership for £295. This allows those who do not have the opportunity to play often, full access to the club’s facilities on a limited number of visits. This style of membership was introduced to mirror the De Vere membership, which is available in the area at De Vere Dunston Hall.

The differing styles of membership are run in conjunction with each other to give the golfers the option on how they wish to participate at Bawburgh. Some operators are frightened to give their members these options as they fear that members may all opt for a less expensive system and seriously disrupt their club’s cash flow. Robert has no such qualms, and explains:

“Our membership is very loyal and most of our weekend tee times are booked as we have an enormous amount of repeat business. We can see that the golfing times are changing and we want to be able to offer the maximum flexibility to all of our customers, and we do not wish to exclude anyone if they find that they no longer play sufficiently to warrant full membership.

"This was also our thinking with regard to developing the Norwich Family Golf Centre. We were able to build this superb new facility, which allows dozens of different types of golfer and leisure seeker to enjoy our centre, some will become fully fledged members at Bawburgh, while others may dabble occasionally with the sport. All are welcome, and we can accommodate large numbers in a relaxed family environment. We are a family-run golf centre, with our daughter Krissy having joined the team last year in a marketing capacity, and we are proud to call the new facility Norwich Family Golf Centre, as it highlights the fact that everyone is welcome here.

“Our new 9 hole, par 36 course, which opened in July 2010, is the ideal transition point for new golfers to learn the game before they consider golf on an 18 hole basis. On the 9 hole, we have light dress regulations and are quite happy for new golfers to enjoy the course, well aware that they may not have reached the pinnacle of their ability yet. Slower players are merely asked to let faster players through.”

The café bar shares staff from Bawburgh and is a breath of fresh air for golf catering. Trendy seating, with chrome leather and natural wood providing a variety of different options is available for all customers. There is a high quality menu, with all food cooked and prepared on site and available throughout the day. Stuart Meale is the new bar manager and has been kept very busy since the opening. Two giant TVs, with screens in excess of ten feet wide, are centre stage in both the bar and conference room: these prove extremely popular when Norwich City FC are featured in a Premier league game. European Tour professional Andrew Marshall has just agreed to represent Norwich Family Golf Centre. He spoke to GRN-OGRO:

“It is rare to find a golf range that offers such high quality facilities to all of its customers. The centre is light and friendly, and with top quality balls and a great short game area, I will be spending as much time here as I need when I’m not on the Tour.”

A very large number of golfers in the Norwich area agree with Andrew and it is not surprising that the centre is already hitting record numbers. For more details, please visit:


© GRN-OGRO 2012