Investing in the 19th hole

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Once upon a time, at a golf club annual general meeting, and wild horses won't extract from me a hint of which continent this meeting took place in, a glowing report was presented to the assembled members about the strength of the club's finances. Like a finance director briefing a group of analysts, the treasurer made reference to the strong cash position, which was indeed the result of good management and therefore a matter for congratulations for the captain and committee.

Lo and behold, the next item on the meeting's agenda was a proposal to upgrade the locker room. Now a cynic might think this proves that nothing burns a hole in the pocket of a golf club committee faster than a cash pile.

In the case of this particular club, however, that conclusion would be wrong because while its course was widely and rightly admired as being in excellent condition, its showers most certainly were not. Everyone agreed it was time to bring the clubhouse into the 21st century and that there were no more urgent priorities.

Then it was pointed out that if the builders were going to be around why not create a little more space for those days when the club was busy? This could easily be done by merging the two existing locker rooms for members and visitors into one.

Minor doubts about the loss of privacy for members were quickly alleviated. After all, if the visitors to a club aren't good enough for the members' locker room, they are the wrong visitors. Before anyone could say "good shot", the bill for improvements had risen from tens of thousands to a third of a million. Reasons of confidentiality prevent me identifying the currency but it wasn't yen.

Assurances were given that this would not prejudice the club's ability to fund big projects in the future. The meeting approved the proposal in minutes without a dissenting voice.

In my view the club deserves praise for this decision. Not that I am a sucker for any grandiose new scheme. Far from it. Nothing is more dangerous than a captain or committee who wants to leave a permanent memorial and in the process squanders the club's money. But the quality of the facilities at some British clubs sometimes lags woefully behind the standards taken for granted in the US.

Getting the course itself to the highest standard and maintaining it must always be the first call on any club's resources. But, having done that, there are plenty of other things clubs should provide. A decent locker room with modern showers, and preferably a bath too, is obviously one. Top quality simple food, reasonably priced, is another. A first class easily accessible practice ground is a third. Details such as making sure everyone's shoes are cleaned should be routine.

I am not talking about great luxury or grandeur, this is about the service that clubs that pride themselves on having a quality course should offer.

An atmosphere of informality and staff who try to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves also help but even the most welcoming staff are no substitute for modern facilities. If a little cash has to be spent, so be it. After all what's a third of a million between friends if it gets you a decent shower?

I do not think any of the pundits who analysed the prospects for golf's new Big Four, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els in advance of last week's Masters predicted that at the end more than 20 strokes would separate the highest placed of these from the lowest. Equally improbable was the fact that none of the other three came within eight shots of Tiger. But most remarkable of all was the way Chris DiMarco hung on in the final round.

The drama of the play-off and the return of Woods to the winner's circle, albeit in a manner that showed him less than invincible, is the best curtain raiser to this year's big championships.

tim.yeo@ftnetwork.com

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