Just nine months into her tenure as general manager, Fiza Errington is quickly making sure the golf community and wider population identify Spring Valley as a friendly, innovative and creative Sandbelt club.
Spring Valley has always been welcoming but the place is absolutely buzzing these days. As an anonymous visitor, it is difficult not to notice the genuine connection between members and the workers. This hasn’t happened by accident. One of the first things Errington did on her arrival was send all her front service staff to a workshop run by livewire American, Gregg Patterson.
She chanced upon Patterson at a Golf Management Australia conference a few years ago. For 34 years, Patterson was general manager of Los Angeles Beach Club and Resort, the biggest leisure-based membership club in the US. Now he is an in-demand speaker and writer. “He is brilliant, crazy and exhausting all at the same time,” Errington says.
“Everyone here loved him and came back blown away. We have even adopted Gregg’s ‘secret handshake’ idea with which staff have to greet each other when they see one another for the first time each day,” she says. “Some were a little reluctant at first, but now they all do it. It’s a bit of fun. You might not be having the greatest day and it just says, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’ We are first and foremost a members’ club and staff have to be happy and motivated to connect with members.”
Errington is passionate about growing the game. She has been immersed in golf since she first played as a nine-year-old growing up in Perth. She wanted to be a professional and got down to scratch. She didn’t make it but wanted to stay in the game. She has done it all, from ‘range rat’ picking up balls as a teenager for pocket money while a student, to managing Golf WA successful women’s teams which included Minjee Lee, Hannah Green and Whitney Hillier. As well as that, she has worked for ALPG, spent two years as golf retail manager at The Els Club in Dubai and four years as general manager of Beacon Hills in Melbourne’s outer east. It is hardly a surprise the energetic mother of a one-year-old boy won the job at Spring Valley.
Acutely aware of the challenges facing the industry, Errington immediately set about awakening the club from its slumber. Marketing and membership initiatives have led to the creation of a fresh, new logo to celebrate the club’s 70th year and the addition of 130 new members.
There has been a drive for younger members but not at the risk of alienating the many loyal stalwarts of the club. And all this against the backdrop of a superb, genuine Sandbelt course designed by the venerable architect H.V. (Vern) Morcom and playable 12 months of the year.
“We’re a relatively young club, opened in 1948, and may not have the profile of the more established Sandbelt clubs,” says Anthony Smith, Spring Valley’s director of golf.
“We have held a number of events here over the years, including Victorian Opens, and on all occasions the layout has stood up pretty well. Nobody has ripped it apart.”
There is an elite training facility attached to the club, used by many great players. The same facilities are available to members with three teaching professionals on hand.
The club also boasts a wonderful junior program.
The 6,161-metre, par-71 layout is a typical Sandbelt gem with superb bunkering, carpet-like fairways and fast-paced greens, which run at about 11 on the Stimpmeter year round.
Smith hastens to point out the adjoining landfill site, which on very hot days used to spoil the ambience of Spring Valley, closed last year.
The course itself demands accuracy from the tee and with your second shots. It is a stern test for both the high and low marker to enjoy. It rewards good shots and is not ridiculously penal on the poor ones.
The 10th hole, a 134-metre par 3, is a ripper. “It is a very demanding par 3 and our signature hole,” Smith says.
The hole demands a precise short iron shot downhill off the tee with only the most accurate shots finding the target. Cavernous bunkers guard the green, so making par is extremely difficult if you miss it. This hole is in elite company as one of the great par 3s in the Sandbelt group of courses.
Smith also loves the finishing hole at Spring Valley. It is a strong par 4 measuring 377 metres. From the tee the positioning of the drive is all-important because the second plays uphill to a green surrounded by Morcom’s characteristically beautiful bunkers.
The 13th, a dogleg of 348 metres, is yet another hole that demands an accurate tee shot. Shorter hitters also have to contend with water being in play off the tee.
It is amazing how many players dunk their first shot in the water as the ducks sunning themselves on the tee or swimming in the dam appear to look on knowingly.
Spring Valley Golf Club
Where: Heatherton Rd, Clayton South VIC 3169
Phone: (03) 9562 3811