Swanston Academy caps off 15 year turnaround
Just 15 years ago, Swanston Golf Club was facing a bleak future. With the collective ever-decreasing number of club memberships in Scotland – coupled by a personal lack of facilities – they were behind the curve.
Make no mistake, this was a golf club struggling, just like the majority of them fifteen years later. Administration seemed the only viable option. Step forward, the McClung family, who owned the nearby Swanston Farm.
Recognising the importance of the golf club to the area, Colin and Alastair, the two McClung brothers, jumped in and took on the debts of the club, despite not having a strong interest in golf.
“The debts weren’t significant,” says now club captain Graeme Miller. “but there was a rental payment to be paid to Swanston Farm Limited that Swanston Golf Club couldn’t’ meet. So, we were effectively out of business.”
The McLung brothers decided that to keep the club as sustainable as possible the 18 holes on the course wasn’t enough. Extra holes in a field to the south of the original course was followed up by a stunning clubhouse. It was the first step in a long project.
“In 2006 when all the new development was finished, Colin wrote to me and asked if I would like to come back to play” Millar, who had left Swanston to join Newbattle Golf Club, said.
With the McLungs having forked out millions of pounds for the original development, he realised he wouldn’t be able to create his golfing vision on his own.
“In the planning process I met a guy, by chance, called Scott Gourlay,” Millar explains. “Scott was the head pro at Craigmillar at the time, and had a club-fitting and building business, which I had heard from a lot of professionals was second to none in Scotland. A lot of pros were going there.”
“The facilities at Craigmillar were a shed, an indoor facility for hitting shots against a barn door on a screen, similar to the thing you see on Sky Sports, but it was in a shed. We met, and I suggested we have the same thing up here.
“We built it because we needed the facility and the only way that we were going to grow the membership here was to give them the full circle, all the facilities.”
Just as the construction drew towards its end, there was a spanner thrown in the works. Scottish Water decided they wanted to put a pipeline all the way through the land, putting the club once again under some financial pressure with the facilities unable to be opened.
“I might not have built it had I known (about the Scottish Water issue)”, Millar admitted. “But we were too far in the process.”
“When Scottish Water or any government decide that they want to do something you are very much at their mercy. So, we lived with it.
What are the aims of this project? “To simply grow the game,” Millar says. “This academy can do only that.”
With more cutting-edge equipment to come, funded by new memberships, Swanston’s brave decision 15 years ago is paying dividends.