FIFTY-FIVE years ago employees at a chemical plant in Newton Aycliffe started to play golf on a course constructed as part of a sports and social club.
A few changes in ownership later, a little bit of tinkering and improvements on the greens and tee boxes, and there remains a lovely test of holes that many people will not even know exits.
After taking a left turn along School Aycliffe Lane, a security gatepost greets anybody wishing to enter the Ineos chemical site. Barriers prevent entering until there has been prior approval and, once through, giant gas cylinders block any view to the left.
It is hard to imagine that, beyond the car park and through the metal gates where a stray cat bathes in the spring sun, there is a quaint and challenging nine-hole course waiting in the wings. And at an affordable price.
Ineos Golf Club, although it has had previous names, has existed since 1959. This year, however, the committee members have been overseeing some pretty major changes to its lay-out and, for the first time, this weekend will mark the official beginning of a new chapter in the County Durham track's lifespan.
Four new tee boxes have been constructed, making the original nine holes play differently when you complete the 18. It means the tenth, the 11th, 13th and 14th all require significantly different drives the second time around.
The new tee on the old signature second, which is also the 11th, makes the hole a lot tighter and also shorter, while the 300-yard par four, fourth doubles up as a lengthy 193-yard par three after the turn.
“The one we are really excited about is this new par five at 14,” said club secretary Pat Montgomery after creaming his drive on to the right hand side of the fairway. “It makes this hole a monster, a huge dog-leg to the right up to the green.”
The work which has gone in to toughen up and introduce new challenges to the Ineos course is significant. Despite a one man greenkeeping team in the form of six-handicapper Shaun Collier, who calls on Graeme Foggin for seasonal help, and minimal finances, the course is something for him and the club's committee to be proud of.
There are 240 members – associate members paying just £240 a year and £181 for Ineos employees – and juniors can go along with paying adult for free. Green fees for non-members are just £10 (£12 on a weekend) and eyebrows are unlikely to be raised if you wanted to go round the Newton Aycliffe course twice.
But Ineos, who have teams playing in a variety of leagues, is much more than a beginner's course. While flat and not particularly intimidating, there are more than enough well-placed hazards to pose experienced golfers problems.
Despite being on the site of the polymer producers, the round of golf is enjoyable and should benefit by the fact the course is surrounded by nice views of nature rather than industry.
There is actually a clearer view of Roseberry Topping, on a good day, from the 13th tee than one of the Ineos plant's cylinders. It is hoped that more golfers will head over to test out a course which is more affordable than most.
“This has been here for more than 50 years,” said Montgomery, a 16-handicapper who has been a member ever since he played it for the first time 20 years ago.
“We are hoping that people come and give it a go because it is such a relaxing place to come. There's never any queues on the course and it's a real test of golf.”
There is no clubhouse, given how the course was merely originally part of a sport & social club idea of Bakelite five decades ago, and a cricket pitch is now a practice area for golfers. A fishing pond and football pitch still rests alongside the course.
“There are members from Shildon, Aycliffe, Bishop Auckland, Darlington, all around here really,” said Montgomery. “The good thing is that we have a lot of engineers among us and they have constructed different things, like bridges across the ditch, or an iron weathervane themselves for the course.
“We would like to get our membership numbers up a little more, maybe to around the 300-mark and for the social golfer to come down and take advantage of a good course which allows you to play cheap golf.”
* To book a round of golf at Ineos Golf Club or if you are interested in becoming a member call club membership secretary Lee Killip on 07500 044532.
CARD OF THE COURSE
INEOS GOLF CLUB
Hole 1 – 361 yards, par 4
Hole 2 – 433 yards, par 4
Hole 3 – 377 yards, par 4
Hole 4 – 300 yards, par 4
Hole 5 – 380 yards, par 4
Hole 6 – 372 yards, par 4
Hole 7 – 165 yards, par 3
Hole 8 - 259 yards, par 4
Hole 9 – 305 yards, par 4
Out - 2,952 yards, par 35
Hole 10 – 383 yards, par 4
Hole 11 – 382 yards, par 4
Hole 12 – 377 yards, par 4
Hole 13 – 193 yards, par 3
Hole 14 – 510 yards, par 5
Hole 15 – 372 yards, par 4
Hole 16 – 165 yards, par 3
Hole 17 – 259 yards, par 4
Hole 18 – 305 yards, par 4
In – 2946 yards, par 35
TOTAL: 5,898 yards, par 70