Water Park Club is in full swing

GOLF: A chance meeting with entrepreneur Peter Clapperton took Sarah Woodage (nee Wilson) into the world of golf design.Sarah, who had always focused on becoming a golf professional after leaving school, taught Peter how to play the game at the Colchester Golf Centre at Ardleigh.


A CHANCE meeting with entrepreneur Peter Clapperton took Sarah Woodage (nee Wilson) into the world of golf design.

Sarah, who had always focused on becoming a golf professional after leaving school, taught Peter how to play the game at the Colchester Golf Centre at Ardleigh.

When Peter, who owns a golf course at Clare, decided to buy the freehold land at the Suffolk Water Park at Bramford and develop it into a golf facility, he asked Sarah if she fancied becoming involved.

Sarah started work on August 1, 2001 and for the past year has worked tirelessly on the project that comes to fruition when it officially opens this weekend.

So busy has she been that Sarah has managed just one round of golf in the past 12 months, but she has no complaints.

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With the help of Peter's investment and the actual physical work he puts in, Sarah can now see the rewards for her hard work.

"I didn't know I was going to be driving a dumper truck," she said, but that's exactly what she was doing when I called to see her last week.

"It's been a very hard year, but it's been well worth it," she added. "How many professionals get the chance to design a course and look after the development of everything that goes with it. I've certainly learned a hell of a lot in the past year."

Married to Roy, a tiler who has had his input at this new venture, Sarah also has a three-year-old daughter Charlotte that she has had to fit into her busy schedule.

There's no doubt the new Suffolk Golf and Water Park is an impressive set-up, and Sarah says it will fill a void in Suffolk golf.

There are 18 bays and two teaching cubicles, one of which will be computerised. Payment of a bucket of balls can be made by cash or credit card and there are some power tees where the ball automatically appears after the previous one has been hit.

The range will be floodlit and players can hit the ball as far as they want without endangering anything or anyone. In fact, there are signs up for 200 yards, 250 yards and Tiger territory!

In addition four proper-sized greens have been constructed on the range, and all of them tilted.

Running alongside the range is a nine-hole short course. Sarah said: "I designed it out of the natural landscape, but it has features you can find on a normal course. The yardage for each hole is between 50-100 yards, but it's ideal to improve your short game."

Hopefully by the autumn, the nine-hole short course will be floodlit.

Currently under construction is a nine-hole course featuring five par fours and four pars threes that should be open within the next two years.

It is being constructed around and alongside the lakes, but all in a mature setting. With a par of 32, it should present a good test of golf, especially one hole that has been designed like the par three 17th at Sawgrass in America with the green completely surrounded by water.

The Suffolk Golf and Water Park also has a spacious and very impressive fully-stocked professional's shop with a custom fitting centre, and adjacent to that is a bar and restaurant.

Outside is a large putting green and chipping and bunker area.

Sarah stressed: "We will never have a membership here, it will be strictly pay and play. What we are confident of is that we will be the best place to learn to play the game.

"We will provide all the equipment for beginners and there will be no dress code.

"What we will be doing is to teach newcomers the etiquette of the game, and everybody will be given a pitch mark repairer and told exactly what's it for."

To help the beginner, a light-hearted three-minute video will run in the professionals' shop.

Sarah is the director of golf and former Ufford Park assistant Shane Warren has joined the team as the head teaching professional. Two other PGA professionals will be joining this new set-up shortly.

Daniel Warren, Shane's brother, is the bar manager having had previous experience at Hintlesham.

This coming Saturday and Sunday the Suffolk Golf and Water Park will be open for business when free lessons will be given to all children who turn up, and these will be on-going for anyone whose has never played the game before.

Sarah, who will also be teaching besides overseeing the whole business, plans to try and get local schools interested.

Now 36, she has been a professional for the past 18 years, starting off at the former Ipswich Driving Range in Bucklesham Road that was run by long-serving Suffolk professional Johnny Johnson.

She then worked as an assistant at Lamberhurst in Kent, Rushmere and Northwood in Middlesex before coming back to East Anglia to run the Colchester Golf Centre at Ardleigh for seven years.

Now she has taken on what she describes as "an exciting new project" that should prove a big success.

While nothing in life is guaranteed, Sarah deserves to reap the rewards after all the hard work she has put in over the past year.