At one time it was the epitome of old-fashioned stuffiness – you were only allowed in if you were rich, wearing a suit and tie and were mad about golf.
But times are changing at Harborne Golf Club – after 116 years the club in the affluent Birmingham suburb has finally moved into the 21st century.
Its biggest change has been scrapping its separate bars for men and women. Each had their own entrance but they have merged and both sexes can mingle freely in the 19th hole.
Another step forward has been to open up the clubhouse to non-members and to take bookings for weddings, christenings, office Christmas parties and conferences. The stiff formal dress code has been relaxed and replaced by a new “smart casual” policy. But mobile phones must be either switched off or put on silent and no scruffy jeans or baseball caps are allowed.
The changes came about when the club invested £250,000 for a major refurbishment.
General manager Adrian Cooper said: “Previously the men’s and women’s bars were divided by a wall and each sex had their own separate entrance. But during the refurbishment we decided to knock down the wall and create one big lounge open to both sexes.”
Right from when it opened in 1893 the club has always admitted women and today 57 of its 300 full seven-days-a-week members are female. Two members are high-fliers in the golf world. Felicity Johnson is ranked 25th in the Women’s Money List on the European Tour while Alison Nicholas is the captain of the Solheim Cup (the women’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup).
The club has also become more commercial. Previously the only functions at the Tennal Road club held infrequent formal ones for its members.
Now it does a thriving trade in outside functions, such as weddings, christenings, wakes, Christmas parties and conferences and has even installed a wireless facility.
Mr Cooper said one customer – a non-member – was so happy with the facilities he held his wedding, christening, child’s first birthday and his 40th birthday at Harborne. But club president Peter Jordan says the club still retain its tradition. “We want to retain our members and also attract new ones,” he said. “We are trying to maintain a balance between tradition with the exclusive feel of a club, with modern facilities, which are what the members want.”
Despite all the changes the most important aspect of club life – the 18-hole course – is as magnificent and well-maintained as ever. Measuring 100 acres, it is a green oasis surrounded by the residential areas of Quinton, Harborne and Edgbaston.
The club is run as a co-operative owned by the 624 members who pay between £698 and £978 in fees a year.
To insulate itself against the recession it has frozen its membership fees for the 2009-2010 season and scrapped the joining fee (usually about £200) in February.
Chairman John Finnegan said: “We don’t know how the recession will affect us as our subscriptions aren’t due until April. But the word from other golf clubs is that membership is falling as people try to save money and the first thing to go are costly golf club memberships.”