Ferry is heading for final landing

Press Releasein Golf

One year on from seeing the first shots played on their own golf course and Mark and Elaine Overton are halfway to completing their dream.

The golf shop and driving range owners have spent five years putting together a new course on the banks of the Mersey, at Cross Lane Farm Cottage in Cuerdley.

The first nine holes opened last year and work continues apace on the 120-acre site that keeps Widnes and Warrington apart with the aim of completing the full set of 18 by the summer of 2009, two years later than had first been envisaged.

The couple, who have run their True Fit business in the shadow of the Fiddlers Ferry power station for the past 10 years, have seen their ambition of turning the adjoining farmland into Merseyside's newest course slowly take shape.

The finishing touches are now being put to the 6,400-yard design under the stewardship of director of golf Darren Chapman and head greenkeeper James Cope.

It has not all been plain sailing since planning permission was first granted, with Chapman explaining: "It has taken time to contend with the weather, problems with contractors and getting the right landfill in."

The work has been taken in-house since Chapman's arrival from the nearby St Michaels in Widnes, which has seen the site transformed.

The statistics make impressive reading with up to a million tonnes of earth used to raise the course significantly above the neighbouring fields.

Tens of thousands of trees have been planted, including more mature ones to give the setting an early release from the feel of being a new course.

Thousands of gallons of water have been introduced in the shape of a dozen ponds that will help the course be self-sustaining.

Hundreds of miles of drainage and irrigation has been laid to ensure the course is open all year round.

The bill, too, is likely to run into the millions for the ambitious couple.

Although Mark has 20 years experience on the club manufacturing side, the couple prefer to go ten-pin bowling as a way of relaxing.

But they have been determined to create an accessible course that will be both challenging and enjoyable for players of all abilities.

There is great emphasis in today's climate on making sure the environmental impact of any new course is a positive one and Chapman is confident they will be successful on that front, too.

"With any water on the course draining into the system of ponds we would hope to be self sufficient in the face of a drought," explained Chapman. "We also have our own bore hole.

"Also we are trying to encourage wildlife onto the course and it is no surprise to see hares, herons or geese."

Chapman admits the overall length will not challenge the 7,000-plus yards needed these days to stage championship events, but says putting on big events is not the focus of the development.

We want this to be a course that will challenge the low handicappers, but will also be a fair test to the higher handicapper players," he explained.

"There are a couple of par fours where the big hitters may fancy driving the greens, but there are plenty of hazards to catch them out and it is easy to run up a card wrecker.

"However we are not looking to penalise players by having acres of deep rough where balls can be easily lost.

"We want players to come off feeling relaxed about their game of golf."

Banking along the fairways is designed to create an individual feel to each hole, while greens are to USPGA standards and the subtle contours will add to the variety on offer.

"We don't want to make the greens too fast, but like the rest of the course we want them to be a fair test," added Chapman.

The par-70 course will reach 6,491 yards and will complement the centre's vast shop, club fitting facilities and 24-bay floodlit driving range.

Given the financial headaches being faced by golf clubs in a world of credit crunching, Chapman has plans to introduce a tiered version of membership at Fiddlers Ferry.

The first level will see players pay a small annual subscription but then a green fee as they play.

This will give them the advantage of being able to enjoy the benefits of having a club handicap and playing in competitions without the commitment to a substantial membership fee which might not represent value for money for them.

The second level would see a larger fee but reduced playing prices, while the largest membership fee of the three would give the golfer unlimited access at no further cost.

In terms of adding additional facilities at the course, such as a members clubhouse, that will be driven by the demands of the new membership.

Already around 10,000 rounds have been played in the first year, with Chapman observing: "We used to do 30-35,000 at St Michaels, perhaps 40,000 with a good summer, and that is the kind of usage we are aiming for."

The junior golf is high on the list of priorities, too, with coaching already taking place every Sunday and initiatives reaching out to 24 local schools.

It is not the first time the area has had a golf course.

In 1895 Mersey Golf Club was formed on the boundary of the site.

Unfortunately a fire in the 1960s dealt a fatal blow to the club, which then folded.

The True Fit team are now closer than ever to re-creating a golfing haven, with a nine-hole Academy already in the pipeline once the 18-hole course is completed.

Source:-Liverpool Daily Post

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