Douglas Developments Nearly Complete

Its an exciting time for Douglas Golf Club, despite the short-term restrictions, the southside club is finishing the latest of its recent developments with the completion of the clubhouse refurbishment due soon.  Douglas has completed several projects in the recent years including the upgrading of the practice facilities as well as a new five-hole short game facility.  With golfers back on the fairways for almost three weeks, and phase two set to start next week, the season is finally underway following the Covid delay.

Like all other golf clubs, Douglas faced several challenges following the government recommendation to close.  While the catering and bar staff didn’t have an opportunity to continue working the course and admin staff worked through using new ways of work to keep everything going.  Douglas General Manager John McHenry has worked in the industry for over 20 years, but like everyone else this was a new experience for him.  He explained the process they have used from the shutdown in late March.  “Once the golf course was designated as a zone that needed to be maintained, the course staff (6) broke into two working pods, working split shifts of mornings and afternoons” explained McHenry.

“Each were designated their own working equipment, which they took responsibility for and cleaned down each day.  Staff Members were designated different times for the use of the canteen and there were strict protocols around the use of toilets and sanitary stations.  Work buggies were restricted to one person only and where possible all activities were reduced to one person operations.  The admin office (3) stayed open with some of the staff working remotely from home.  Unfortunately our restaurant and bar has remained closed during the Covid 19 period but we would hope to offer a staged opening of these over the coming weeks”.

With a unique opportunity to work on the course without members, the team in Douglas set about a programme of work that took advantage of the lockdown.

The new five hole short game area under construction in 2018.
Picture: Niall O’Shea

“As you can imagine with no one on the course, this was an ideal time to take a look at the course from a health & safety perspective.  We raised the canopy of some trees to allow more light and air into areas that were historically wet and slippery.  We removed and made safe trees that had already fallen and we also ground out stumps that we felt posed a risk to golfers.  We have also reshaped many of our fairways by way of promoting a better course strategy and have continued our plan to grow in tall fescue grass around the course.”  And the response from members was great as McHenry continued.  “We have had tremendously positive feedback on the condition and presentation of the course. Our greens are running true and fast and the membership are making most of the fine weather.”

The limited reopening of golf courses almost three weeks ago led to the predicted high demand for tee times for members.  Douglas decided to limit members to nine holes to maximise tee times and this has worked out well for those members inside the 5km travel restriction.  “We have resumed with social golf for the membership only; 9 holes per day and three rounds per week at 15 minute intervals.  We have installed significant Covid-19 signage around the course and have emphasised the need for the membership to adhere to the govt guidelines around the 5km rule.  We have found that members are thrilled to be back playing.  By and large they are playing car golf – arriving 15 minutes before their tee time and observing the 15 minute intervals.  They are happy that there is no congestion on the course and 9 holes have brought more members out playing.”

In addition to the course, Douglas also has a top-class range, short game areas, and a new five hole short game course which opened last year.  While it’s a members area, the new five hole course was put to good use earlier this year.  McHenry along with Junior Officer JP Hughes and Peter O’Keeffe arranged an exhibition match in March where the junior members took on Robin Dawson, James Sugrue and Peter O’Keeffe.  The event attracted over 100 junior members and many more members and parents as the next generation took on the Ireland’s top golfers.

“The club has been working tirelessly to promote more social engagement in the club.  We see the short game area as well as the completion of renovation works to our clubhouse as the next stage towards the club offering greater value and opportunity for our entire membership.  That includes junior clinics, exhibition matches, indoor and outdoor tuition, fitness and therapy classes – before we ever even get inside the clubhouse.”

It’s an exciting plan to broaden the appeal of the club.  Following many rounds of plans and discussions, the members agreed and work on the clubhouse got underway late last year.  Although there has been a delay, the finish line is clearly in sight.

“Covid-19 has meant a delay in the completion of the clubhouse renovations, but I am hopeful that we will be back in our Clubhouse by August.  It is what it is in terms of timing, but this is a very exciting chapter in Douglas Golf Club’s history and it is my belief that the finished product will be well worth the wait and will very much match our longer term social ambitions for the club.  We want to continue offering greater value to its membership and guests.  We have more of less explored every golf course opportunity and now the completion of the clubhouse offers us the opportunity to match those standards with multiple fine dining options that can take advantage of our panoramic city views, as well as Corporate and Membership meeting packages that allow for a welcome break away from the office.”

Decades of Experience

John McHenry has spent a lifetime in golf,.  From representing Douglas, Ireland and GB&I in a Walker Cup he then turned pro and spent over a decade on the European Tour.  He recorded a third place finish in the Murphys Irish Open in 1998 when Druids Glen hosted the event.  When his time on tour finished he moved into management.  He became the Director of Golf in the K Club, and a high point of this time was the staging Ryder Cup in 2006.  From there it was onto the ill-fated Champions Club development in Moy Valley, and after that he spent several years providing golf consultancy to a wide range of clients, as well as working for RTE and the Irish Examiner.

In late 2018 McHenry was appointed as General Manager in Douglas, his home club.  John was ideally placed to take on the General Manager role in Douglas.  He has been there for around 18 months and has settled into the role.  “I am thoroughly enjoying the job and I am grateful that the Club has allowed me the opportunity to express my opinion where I feel that I can add value.  I have a strong working relationship with both the Mens and Ladies Club and especially the Management Committee to whom I answer.  Douglas Golf Club is my home club.  I have been a member there for over 40 years and I am so proud that the membership have given me the opportunity at this time to be their GM.  As golf club’s go it is a very busy and ambitious club so my time there has flown and there are many more exciting times ahead of us in the not too distant future.”

It’s been a long road for McHenry, after almost 25 years in the business he’s one of the survivors. After a decade on tour and another decade based in Leinster, he’s clearly happy to be back working in Cork.

His interest in golf is still there and he has a huge passion for the game, even if he’s not getting onto the course too often at the moment.  “If I am being honest I have played very little golf, less than 10 games a year over the past 20 years, but that is not because I have lost interest in the game.  In fact there is still little that I enjoy more than escaping to the range and hitting a few balls but over that time my priority has been my family and furthering my career.  I would hope that I will able to find more time to get out on the golf course over the coming years, especially now that members of my own family are playing more regularly.”