What could happen if Carlsberg did golf days? TIM TAYLOR finds out
Slaley Hall has always enjoyed an enviable reputation and around the turn of the century the fashionable golf resort hosted seven straight years of European Tour events. After welcoming big names such as Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie to Northumberland, Slaley was short listed for the Ryder Cup.
Fond memories remain. A former County Durham golf captain John Kennedy qualified as an amateur for the 1998 Compaq European Grand Prix, as did Justin Rose. John recalls: “I had the good fortune of meeting Seve on the practice ground. He was amazing company, even taking the time to wish me luck in the tournament.”
So I welcomed an invitation from the owners, QHotels, to be one of the media players joining movers and shakers from around the UK in a corporate golf day showcasing a £1m refurbishment. So many fun things happened, especially to me, this was a case of: “If Carlsberg did golf days . . .”
Although Slaley is only a 30-minute drive from Newcastle, you’re deep in the heart of England’s least densely populated county, where a long, stately drive leads to the tranquil splendour of an Edwardian mansion set in 1,000 acres of rolling countryside.
The lasting image from TV coverage of the European Tour years is of The Sleeping Giant, the signature ninth on the Hunting. This is a contender for both the most beautiful and most difficult hole in the North.
Flanked by rhododendrons, the lush fairway is bordered by a narrow brook on both sides as it cuts a narrow swathe through a forest of mature, towering pine trees up to a high, small roller-coaster green overlooked by a natural amphitheatre.
The other outstanding championship course, the Priestman, is noted for its water features and panoramic views of the Tyne Valley.
Other wow factors for me started with taking up the option of free tips at the academy from the PGA Teaching Professional, Steven Fawcitt. Steven offered such good advice in terms of starting to cure my out-to-in golf swing I deliberately missed half of “Tricky” Rob Brown’s entertaining trick shot show to practice a six-iron drill before the tournament.
That set off a rewarding chain of events starting at the sixth on the Hunting, a long par three over water and the Beat The Pro hole. My long handicapper’s swing improved to the extent I beat the very pro who had just been teaching me, earning a bottle of wine. I also won nearest the pin.
The prize for all the nearest the pin winners was free membership of Slaley, including the facility to use golf membership points for spa treatments.
By a happy coincidence, at around the same time as the golf day my daughter Jo, who lives in Western Australia, flew to my home in Chester-le-Street for a fortnight’s visit. She subsequently made two free visits for treatments at the Slaley spa with my wife, Ann.
Jo has an expert’s eye for detail. During her time in the North East, she was the first manager when the spa opened at the nearby Matfen Hall hotel.
She told me the swimming pool, the jacuzzi and the steam room at Slaley were at perfect temperatures. The top quality treatments Ann and Jo enjoyed resulted in some quality time together.
Incidentally, Slaley activities include quad biking, segways, a 4×4 off road driving course, archery, clay pigeon shooting and paint balling.
Anyway, back to the golf day and a cracking turn from Ian Irving, the very funny stand-up comic at the glitzy presentation dinner. Ian is a past captain of the Variety Club Golf Society.
At pre-dinner drinks, I chatted with Paul Butler, the CEO at the North East Automotive Alliance. I took the opportunity to seek a second opinion of Slaley, where Paul has been a corporate member for 14 years.
He said: “I like having access to the other wonderful hotels in the chain across the UK for meetings and to entertain clients on the QHotels courses and I have been impressed by Mottram Hall, Oulton Hall, Belton Woods and most recently Forest Pines – all of which are to a very high standard.
“Slaley holds a fond place in my heart and overall the package is unbeatable. I visit whenever I get the chance, be it with my children to use the leisure facilities, to play golf or to relax and unwind in the hotel.”
My own summing up of the Slaley experience? Burn my clothes mother, I’m in heaven.