OXFORD Golf Club has welcomed 70 new members in the past year, taking its membership to 500 with plans to increase it a further 20 per cent by 2020.

Located in Hilltop Road, Cowley, Oxford’s oldest golf course is steadily being transformed, under the stewardship of Stephen Nicholson, one of the country’s youngest course general managers.

The 31-year-old joined the club last year with a challenge to develop the business side of the club, which began as the Oxford University Golf Club on the site in 1875.

Mr Nicholson, who graduated in golf studies, conducted members’ surveys and produced a strategy to develop the club while retaining its traditional values.

A membership recruitment campaign saw more 20 to 25-year-olds join, attracted by taster golf sessions and offers including nine holes and a drink for £12. The club developed partnerships with businesses and organisations including Jurys Inn, Oxford City Stars, Johnson’s Cars and Bicester Village, to create membership benefits.

Mr Nicholson said: “Oxford Golf Club is a fantastic course, with excellent greens and is set in a beautiful, convenient location. People can’t believe we’re so close to the city.

“The club is steeped in history and people enjoy their golf here but there is plenty to do to get it where we want it to be. For a period the club was loss making and we’ve worked hard to reverse that situation. We’re now one year into a three-year plan to ensure the club is sustainable.

“This covers everything from our brand, to improving our visitor experience covering the clubhouse, catering, membership offers and social events. Including members in a consultation process was really beneficial.”

The clubhouse is undergoing a makeover and last month SKY TV and BT Sport was installed. A new catering team was recruited, and an improved menu launched. A wider choice of drinks was also introduced at the bar.

“Golf is a great sport and really does help keep you fit and enjoying an active social life,” said Mr Nicholson. “The new caterers are fantastic, the food is nutritious and tasty, the kitchen is open longer and the staff are really friendly, which is equally important.

“It’s encouraging to have younger people joining, they’re the future of the club and we’re working hard to find ways to attract and retain new people.”

The club has introduced social events based on the sporting calendar and themed food nights to encourage more people to use the club socially. Curry nights and Sunday lunches are popular with membership and visitors.

The clubhouse is open for hire for businesses, organisations and individuals to use for parties, functions and celebrations.

Mr Nicholson added: “The Oxford Bus Company used our space for one of its Christmas parties and members are using it for family birthdays and other celebrations.

“It’s a great space with a lovely view over the course. Visitors are welcome to come and have a meal here or watch sport on the TV, you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy our venue.”

Part of the club’s business plan is to become more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. It has taken steps including introducing energy-efficient light bulbs and hopes to install solar panels.

Maintaining the quality of the fairways and greens is a daily task.

Oxford Golf Club recruited master greenkeeper and consultant agronomist Greg Evans to help improve the playing surfaces and general look of the course.

“Our greens are fantastic, and we’re confident the rest of the course will continue to improve as our maintenance plan is executed,” added Mr Nicholson.

“Greg is highly regarded, and we’re fortunate to have him. It’s no coincidence we were one of the few courses in Oxfordshire that was open following the recent horrendous weather.”

Oxford Golf Course was designed by Harry Colt, a legendary course designer, and the club is considered to have one of the best layouts in the country.

The club’s head professional is Joe Pepperell, brother of European Tour player Eddie. He is visiting local schools to engage children in golf and is offering later times for private lessons at the club to improve accessibility. Mr Pepperell is supported by fellow professional Martin Woodbridge in the coaching team.

Mr Pepperell said: “We’re looking at creating an academy package for youngsters, including membership, lessons and equipment, to ensure once they have a taste for golf we can help to make it viable for them.”

Mr Nicholson added: “Golf has been played here for nearly 150 years, our job is to make sure it’s here for many years to come.”