England (Midlands) Region
14 May 19
Anders Mankert is very particular about the coffee served at Leicester Golf Centre, writes Adrian Milledge.
So much so that he has sourced the coffee beans from Brazil and has them roasted just down the road in Market Harborough.
Such attention to detail is typical of the standards he insists on and hours he devotes to breathing new life into what once was Oadby Golf Club.
The nine-hole venue, which is adjacent to and owned by Leicester racecourse, closed down in 2011 and had lain idle until Mankert took it on 14 months ago.
Since then the Advanced PGA Fellow Professional has hardly had a spare moment for himself, let alone time to relax and smell the coffee.
Not least in the early days after the racecourse had agreed to grant him a 25-year lease with the option to renew for another 25.
“I was combining my work as a pro at Cosby Golf Club with getting this place into shape,” he recalls. “I was getting up at the crack of dawn and not finishing until 10 in the evening at the earliest. I did that for six months until starting here full time.
“As you can imagine, the course was totally overgrown and unkempt because it hadn’t been maintained for seven years.”
Making the course playable is effectively phase two of the project; phase one involved building a floodlit range comprising 16 bays each equipped with a Toptracer touchscreen ball flight monitor.
“Toptracer enables visitors to try their skills on some of the most famous golf courses in the world,” explains Mankert, an award-winning coach whose career has included working closely with blind and visually-handicapped golfers.
“It also enables youngsters perhaps hitting a golf ball for the first time to see just how far and where their shots have gone, be encouraged, and perhaps start to progress from their initial visits into a game which could develop into a lifetime’s interest.”
Such has been the popularity of the range that, within six months of it opening, a million balls have been despatched and it is already profitable.
As for the youngsters who get a taste for the game on the range, participation in the junior sessions run on Saturdays by Tom James, Mankert’s assistant and fellow PGA pro, is booming.
“Tom started the sessions from scratch and now 60 kids turn up,” says Mankert. “We’ve introduced a Leicester Golf Centre Junior Pathway. It’s a proper structure that, just like karate, sees youngsters progressing from nothing to elite level and everything in between.”
Once the youngsters have gained a grasp of the basics, where better to take the next step on their golfing journey than on the nine-hole course that Mankert and his team of helpers, including his father, have not so much restored to its former glory as improved?
Appropriately named The Gallops given its location, two of the nine holes are new, another is more than 450 yards long, bunkers have been dug out and rebuilt and there are four tees to cater for golfers of all standards.
“We’ve created what we call ‘turbo tees’ for the juniors and three others on each hole,” Mankert explains.
“There are no women’s nor men’s tees. There are just tees – three of them – and people can play from whichever suits them.”
By way of maintaining Mankert’s attention to detail and the course’s connections, tee markers feature horseshoes once worn by thoroughbreds engaged in the sport of kings next door.
In addition, signage made from the remains of an oak tree felled to facilitate the course’s renovation, gives details of a hole’s number, length and stroke index.
Such features, however, are the finishing touches to the hours spent and effort expended to make the course playable.
“It’s taken a lot of grass cutting to bring the course back but everything here is pretty much the way it was before 2011,” says Mankert.
“The tree growth over the years though will surprise a lot of golfers; it looks like a completely different course now.
“And because the course has been untouched for seven years it’s become a haven for wildlife – there are foxes, kingfishers down by the river, woodpeckers and sparrowhawks.
“We’ve had an amazing reaction, several local greenkeepers have given us their free time. The racecourse has been fantastic too, donating us some greens equipment - we’ve been so humbled by the help we’ve received.”
Despite the help, goodwill and, as Mankert describes, ‘pulling in some big favours’, the buck has stopped with him in terms of overseeing his lifetime ambition. As a result, his commitment extends far beyond the hours he has put into getting the venture off the ground.
“It hasn’t been cheap to do,” he admits. “But there are ways it can be done. If you stick to your values and are honest with people rather than giving them a load of bull you’ve got a better chance of success.
“And I’ve also put everything on the line and sold everything I own. That includes my car and my watch.
“In the negotiations with the racecourse I even put my house up as security against the lease.
“However, in the final stages of the negotiations, the chairman of the racecourse said they were not in the business of taking people’s houses and as much as they appreciated my commitment they waived that part of the agreement.”
Now 14 months on, Mankert is looking forward to opening up the course.
“The greens need a bit more work and I’m hopeful we’ll be open within the next few weeks,” he adds.
“I’ve already had enquiries about membership but it’s going to be solely pay and play. There will be no need for people to have a handicap and there won’t be a dress code. I want people to come here, have fun, enjoy the game and the social aspect.
“It has been a long held ambition to have my own golf course, so this is a highly exciting time in my career.
“My wife, Pippa, Tom and my young head greenkeeper Adam Preston, will be working with me and the aim is to create a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, so that all visitors can enjoy themselves whenever they come along. We cannot wait to see them.”