Peter Tait is the President of Wingham Golf Club. The kind of job a man who’s retired, but fit and energetic, might take on as he loves golf.
Peter is a local, taught Agriculture at Wingham High for fifteen years. But spend any time in his company and you come away with rockets going off in your head. In a good way.
This is a man who thinks outside the square and looks at the big picture, ideas and innovations tumbling from him in an almost non-stop stream of consciousness.
Since Peter’s taken over the club since midway through 2018, he’s become action man.
‘A lot of us felt that the proposed amalgamation in 2018 between Wingham Bowling club and Wingham Golf Club meant both would struggle or both would go out backwards. So, in April 2018 after the amalgamation was rejected, the Golf Club created a think tank or a group of like-minded individuals to discuss the future development of the club. After five months of meetings, the outcome was a five year strategic plan with a business plan for 2018/2019 to move forward – our focus was to develop Wingham Golf Club as a truly inclusive and friendly community sporting club that operates according to best practice business principles and we head hunted people we thought would have the right expertise,’ he explains.
‘This organisation is like a lot of businesses, there’s a lot of moving parts to it and if one bit stops moving it becomes unstainable. There is no way we can survive by being “just a golf club.” Fortunately as a business the club owns all its assets – all its land especially, so moving forward that gave us options to do a number of things. The area is about 22 hectares, only half of which is the actual course. Unfortunately, we don’t own the adjacent motel though we have a symbiotic relationship.’
Included in the club’s think tank was the then local co-ordinator of the SES, Ben Matters, so Peter and the group saw an opportunity to work in conjunction with the SES to make the golf club an emergency evacuation centre for the area. ‘We’re not flood prone, nor likely to get burnt out during bushfires, and we have plenty of vehicular access and accommodation.
‘Part of the strategic plan is to put in an RV friendly area so if people can’t get home there’s a place to stay. We’re also aware that camping at the Wingham Brush is highly problematic so putting it here is a win for the community, and will provide a means for developing tourism without ruining a significant area like the Brush. For the golf club the more diversification we can create in the way of income the better.’
So, the Board is focussing on ensuring that the club becomes a wedding venue of choice. ‘The club has built an outdoor wedding space and the reception venue is in the club house. The members of the Marketing Focus Group (led by Lesley Steel and Jacquie Pearce) set up a competition on social media for a $5000 gift package and they got swamped within the first week which eventuated in 27 weddings booked straight off. There’s the club, ample car parking, carts to ferry people around, the wedding space and the motel all in close proximity.
‘We’re also thinking of having funerals here. We can have the funeral service in the gardens and the wake in the club. We’re also looking at tourism tours, places to see and visit in local area. I’m in touch with the local council to work with other groups and get the message out there.’
Peter says the club’s biggest cost overhead is power. ‘In 2010, I put in solar panels and battery storage at my home and since then I haven’t paid any electricity bills, so I figured we can do that here at the club. Initially we’ve put up 137 solar panels and plan to lease another 170 plus a backup generator so that during an emergency we have power 24/7. We’re currently negotiating with providers for the best option. Along with irrigation plans and everything else, we’re halfway there to being self-sufficient.’
The club has 600 members mostly social, with 250 playing members. The fees are 270 dollars a year.
‘I want to make savings elsewhere and keep fees down. Water is also part of the plan. In significant rain a lot of water is wasted here, runs off down the hill to the local creek and we lose it. We want to increase our water storage facilities with more dams as part of a landscaping plan to beautify the course and attract birdlife. A longer term plan is to store enough water to irrigate the fairways. The bore water here is no good, both the flow and quality are terrible unfortunately.’
Although the club has the room, Peter shakes his head at expanding to an 18 hole course.
‘Too expensive. We have a brilliant greenkeeper, a whole bunch of volunteers, all locals, mostly retirees who make the place tick. We plan to make the 9 holes the very best they can be. And utilise the talent and resources we’ve got and to make Wingham Golf Club as financially viable as it can be with a diversified revenue source.’
His latest idea is to utilise a portion of the club’s land
for an over 50s community housing development which might seem an anathema to many, given the proliferation of mushrooming retirement/lifestyle villages on seemingly every piece of prime and pretty land in regional NSW.
Peter dismisses my misgivings. ‘We’re working with Golf NSW who are supporting similar developments in places like Bega, Eden, Woolgoolga and Muree. Plenty of landscaping, a place where people can enjoy the amenities and lifestyle of a golf club. Currently, the club land they’re looking to develop just lies idle and costs the club for mowing and maintenance and the payment of annual rates. If we can do a deal that’s beneficial for the club long term, then we’ll lease it to them so it will still be part of the club’s assets in perpetuity. Buyers will be on a lease arrangement. There’s a body corporate associated with it so we will get our rent component and they will get their maintenance.’
He says he’s spent almost two years negotiating with the company (CEO Nicholas Collishaw was once head of Mirvac). ‘There’s an opportunity to make this golf club a real showplace. We are looking at landscaping, collecting stormwater and environmental things like solar panels so it will be a sustainable environment. If we do our due diligence and do the thing properly, make sure all the boxes are ticked, it’s a huge win-win for the residents as well as the local community as a whole.’
He says they are moving cautiously before taking the plunge, as there’s not a lot of retirement opportunities around Wingham. Peter estimates the townhouses (Do retirees want stairs, I wonder) will sell for approximately 250-300k dollars. ‘I know some of our members are considering it – it’s certainly an attractive option when the time comes to downsize.’
He’s a big picture man and wants to engage with the local Chamber of Commerce about a strategic plan for Wingham.
‘Because of council amalgamation everything is fragmented, so unless you have a plan for your area and are pro-active and fight for it, you’re stymied. Wingham needs a good strategic plan which would then enable us to go to council and lobby efficiently for roads and all the other things we need, using some creative thinking. If the community works together on these strategies, the results could be very beneficial for our community.’
He cites the example of Wingham’s plan from several decades ago to attract young professional people to the town – they were offered a plan to finance land and homes so they would come settle and raise their kids.
‘It was a boom time for Wingham. But the minute Wingham amalgamated with Taree all the plans were dead in the water and we’ve never recovered,’ says Peter. ‘I was a teacher and because of the quality of the people who moved to Wingham, school standards and results went through the roof.
When I retired from teaching we travelled around Australia for a few years trying to find a better place to live … and couldn’t find one anywhere, so we sold the caravan and stayed in Wingham. And, in some ways, that’s the blueprint for what we want to do here. This club is 104 years old, and we want to be around in another 100 years or more, with a big community focus, and a variety of services including community emergency services. We want to see Wingham reach its potential.’
Peter is looking at tapping into ideas from a lot of smart business and creative types, many who have retired and have time and expertise to share.
‘We want to utilise our old pro shop as place to put on training seminars and run events. Wingham is the best kept secret in Australia. The problem at the moment is that there are too many fragmented groups all trying to row their own boat. We should be working together. That’s what this strategic plan for Wingham should be about… putting our heads together for the benefit of everyone. We need people with ideas.’
He’s a man on the go, with big ideas and energy that is rather infectious, if maybe exhausting to work with, but here’s a man who thinks outside the square.
We need a few more like him!