Out of the bunker, back on the green

April 30th, 2024Out of the bunker, back on the green

To many people, the Hepburn Golf Club is one of the district’s hidden gems. Tucked away off the main road, it’s an oasis for kangaroos as well as those out for a bit of a hit in the open air.

To many people, the Hepburn Golf Club is one of the district’s hidden gems. Tucked away off the main road, it’s an oasis for kangaroos as well as those out for a bit of a hit in the open air.

But it has struggled and now, after operating for almost a century, the club has become privately owned.

“We realised a year ago that we were losing money and members,” says its final president, Daylesford’s Vic Delosa. “We were facing insolvency.”

The club has been acquired by Golf Services Management (GSM), which is committed to spending a substantial amount on the course over five years. GSM runs courses across the state with a 6000-strong data base and is owned by the son of a 1980s Daylesford Primary School principal.

Vic says many people were doing a lot of work at the club, but they were getting older, tired and drifting away.

“There is an enormous amount of work in what is a $400,000 a year business and we didn’t have enough financial or human resources to turn it around.”

Over summer, Friday nights at the club showed its potential as it drew golfers and non-golfers to a First Tee evening of some glorious singing, the fun of a raffle and even indoor putting. But the club needed about 15 active people to run marketing, the clubhouse and more.

After a year in talks with GSM, the club members voted nearly 100 per cent for the change. “Clearly GSM needed to own it,” Vic adds,” because if they can’t turn it around, they can sell it to hopefully re-coup their investment.”

GSM’s owner, former professional golfer Ian Denny, was Hepburn’s junior champion in 1968. Says Vic, “I don’t think this would have happened if he didn’t have the passion and enthusiasm that comes with being a local boy.”

Among the six Victorian courses GSM runs is St Andrew’s Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, which is now ranked as Australia’s best public course.

Vic says the clubhouse and its surroundings will be improved, as well as the course, which needs work on its paths and drainage to make it more playable in winter.

Members will be offered a 25 per cent discount in fees for five years. Full membership is currently $695 a year. “The emphasis will move from competition to social golf, but not one at the cost of the other.”

We talk in the clubhouse beneath big honour boards listing decades of club champions and officials, those who scored a hole-in-one, and much more. TV screens may replace these and the club is in discussion with the Daylesford & District Historical Society to be custodians of any historical material for which the club does not have a home.

Outside, holidaying young boys are having a round, sharing one bag of clubs as the third to hit off misses his tee shot.

GSM, says Vic, is a marketing expert and will make the most of the course as one of the region’s hidden secrets. “Many people don’t even know of it.”

Golfers love visiting other courses, according to Vic, opening a largely untapped market. One idea is to offer a shortened “round” of five holes from the 14th to the 18th, taking about an hour.

Other long-term suggestions are accommodation pods where golfers can stay, and perhaps a food and drink business in the clubhouse.

“This is a win for the community: members play a better course that is better managed at no extra cost, and the council is happy and has offered to promote it.”

That is not to overlook what Vic says is the greatest asset of the club, course superintendent Darren McColl, who has been there for 37 years. He works with Paul Thomas, who has put in 18 years. They regularly work a 50-hour week. Now, more help may be on the way.

Words: Kevin Childs | Images: Contributed

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