Christine Burton and her husband Graham Blum know how golf clubs operate.
Christine was an accomplished player who spent three years on the Ladies European Tour before becoming the first female club professional in Wales; Graham is the resident greenkeeper at North Haven Golf Course in Adelaide that the couple run under their company, JAG Golf.
Their daughter, Kristalle Blum, was the inaugural winner of The Athena in 2021 and is making her way in professional golf so when they took over the operations at North Haven in 2016 their plans came from a place of care and understanding.
They understood that at a public golf course, the perception that any member of the community might not feel welcome had to change.
They understood that this would cause consternation within the existing small but passionate member base who might resist change, but they knew it was necessary.
“Golf clubs to Graham and I are our home and our family,” says Burton, North Haven’s Golf Operations Manager who also coaches at nearby Penfield Golf Club.
“That’s how we treat every single one of them we’ve ever worked at and hopefully the people that come in feel that.
“Consequently, it’s about the experience they have when they get here. If we can put on things such as the Hangover Cup – a par-3 18-hole event on New Year’s Day – that’s gone from 24 players the first year in 2017 to being oversubscribed with 48 this year, it just creates this wonderful atmosphere around the club.
“When we took over, not everyone liked what we were doing. But even if they leave you get so many new people coming in that want what you have created.”
In the past two years the biggest growth sectors within the North Haven membership have been in women and the 25-to-40-year-old male category.
The appeal is not so much the nine-hole course lovingly cared for by Graham to the north of Adelaide that sits by the edge of St Vincent Gulf but the people found within.
“They just never realised what a club and what golf could offer them,” Burton says of the young men who have hung up the footy boots in favour of a 5-iron.
“You’ve only got a short lifespan as a player in footy but they have found something that has been able to take its place. They didn’t realise how competitive it was and they’ve loved the competitive side.”
The latest engagement initiative was Graham’s baby and again proved popular with the North Haven membership.
A popular event at golf clubs throughout the UK, the inaugural Greenkeeper’s Revenge Day gave North Haven’s golfers the competitive outlet and fun environment that they crave.
“The Greenkeeper’s Revenge certainly got more interest than I was expecting,” Burton conceded, Graham setting up all manner of weird and wonderful challenges including one hole in a bunker, a green littered with pull buggies and even one hole protected by a toilet seat.
“We’ve started a nine-hole women’s comp. The women could always play with the fellas in their normal comp day but they didn’t have anything just for themselves.
“That’s certainly proved popular. Even though we might only have a dozen women, we had no women, so a dozen’s great. We’ve gone from having no members to 35 women members in the past two years.
“We’ve just got to keep pushing it. We’ve just got to keep pushing the barrel, and every time you feel like you’ve hit your head up against brick wall, you just step around it and go again.”
• If your club is in need of some fresh ideas talk to your resident PGA Professional about ways in which the club can foster a fun and inclusive environment for all levels of golfers. Visit pga.org.au/find-a-pga-pro/