Castlereagh Borough Council took the decision to upgrade Gilnahirk Golf Club in 2001 and purchased a tract of land adjacent to the existing 9-hole course on the outskirts of Belfast. They are now in the process of growing in a new back 12 and building a superb new club house with bar, restaurant and office facilities. The opening is scheduled for the Spring of next year
The budget for the course was £1.1million and for the clubhouse £1.5million. An additional £400,000 has already been spent on new turf maintenance equipment, purchased from local Ransomes Jacobsen dealer, Brodericks Northern Ireland, who supplied the equipment from a schedule drawn up by course manager Allister Hamilton.
The new area of the course, comprising an additional 55 acres, has been carefully shaped and landscaped to provide a test for golfers of all standards. New ponds, wetlands and conservation areas have been established to support the club’s environmental policy. This was immediately successful when ducks bred on the recently constructed feature lake earlier this year.
The existing course will be integrated into the new 12 holes by reshaping some of the current holes in the style of the new. Also several areas have been renovated including the installation of a new drainage system and lengthening the 18th hole by demolishing the existing clubhouse, removing a rock ridge and moving the tee back to where the clubhouse once stood.
The course designer, David Jones, moved on from a 16 year European Tour playing career to golf design about 15 years ago and has also had a brief but successful spell on the Seniors Tour.
“Gilnahirk has turned out really well,” he says, “and in Northern Ireland is the first occasion where a local council has really tried to build a golf course to the highest of standards. This suited my design philosophy well since I firmly believe that ‘ordinary‘ golfers, for want of a better word, should not be disadvantaged by being unable to afford private golf club memberships.
“It was a very poor site, insofar as the soil conditions were some of the worst I have ever encountered, and the area itself was quite small and steep in places. However I am delighted with the end result, and thanks to the generous budget we have been able to create some quite spectacular holes which combine water features with a lovely parkland character.
“Peter Kay, Castlereagh Council’s capital projects officer, was a tower of strength. The consulting engineers, Kirk McClure & Morton are to be commended for their control of the site and finance, and our agronomist, Dr. George Smillie has helped to transform a wet and unappealing site into a fine course. Overall an interesting project for me, and I feel the result is more than anyone could have expected at the outset, and a course that Castlereagh Council can be rightly proud of.”
The Council has funded the project through its capital account and expects to repay the low-interest loan over 20-25 years. The management of the golf club will be kept within the Council. As part of its policy of promoting a healthy lifestyle Peter Kay said that the Council will encourage more people to take up the game, especially lady and junior golfers, and will offer a range of competitive green fees and season tickets.
“It will be the clubhouse that will set Gilnahirk apart,” he said. “It will have a restaurant as well as rooms for small conferences and seminars. We shall set out to attract corporate entertainment as well as visiting golf societies.”
“Come April next year we are confident that we will have one of the premier golfing facilities in Northern Ireland,” said Allister Hamilton. “We will be able to offer golfers the best municipal course in the province; a truly quality golfing experience from a progressive and forward thinking premier local authority.”