Fortwilliam Golf Club captain Deaglan Lundy says proposals to sell off a 'significant' portion of land on the Antrim Road could prove to be a 'rebirth' of the north Belfast club.
The course reopened on Wednesday after over eight weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and, while golfers are back on the fairways, the club's revenue streams continue to suffer.
Until step two of the Northern Ireland Executive's phased return, visitors are not permitted under Golfing Union of Ireland protocol. Add to that the even more significant blow of bar and restaurant closures for months to come and Fortwilliam's debt is approaching £330,000.
"That does the club a serious disservice because we should now be in the golden time," said Lundy.
"We've come through winter when the financial position is a lot weaker and now this is the time we would bring the good money in, which we're not able to do."
As a result, the club has presented members with the proposal to sell a portion of the course furthest from the clubhouse, next to Serpentine Road.
Previous attempts to seek planning permission on two smaller residual pieces of land had failed as the club did not prove there were sufficient financial concerns.
Now, however, the letter sent to members earlier this month warned that the club's future is 'under serious threat' unless measures such as the sale of the land were put into place.
The phone hasn't stopped so hopefully we see a bit of an influx of members. Then I'm hoping once people join, we can keep them here next year as well.
Lundy says there is neither an immediate danger of closure nor sense of panic amongst the club's Council, rather a view that the move could present a welcome opportunity.
"I see it as potentially a rebirth of the club if we are successful, and it's a big if, in selling a portion of the land," he said.
"There is no immediate rush to sell land at any sort of discount price. The point is that now seems to be an appropriate time to consider our options and see what's available.
"It would give us the opportunity to improve the course, the golfing experience as well as the clubhouse and the surrounding area.
"If we can sell a portion of land and relocate those holes to land that is currently not being used while benefitting the entire course and clubhouse, to me it seems fairly academic."
The current par four seventh would be lost under the proposal put to members, as well as a significant section of the par three sixth and an area at the rear of the third tee box.
While Lundy says the exact piece of land to be sold is up for debate, as is the potential restructuring of the course, the initial suggestion put to members was a new par three sixth with a par four utilising current overgrown land near the 11th.
The club is now seeking to present a range of options to members before an EGM to vote on the path forward. It is expected that the project could last between three and five years.
"We have already improved some of the bunkers and put in a new drainage system but we need to finish the bunkers, make improvements to the tee boxes and there has been talk of cart paths to protect the course," added Lundy of work that could be completed on the remainder of the course.
"Those sort of big spends are almost beyond us and we could have just trundled along if covid hadn't happened but at some point down the line in terms of making improvements to the clubhouse and course, this sort of thing was probably inevitable."
The pandemic is the latest blow to clubs such as Fortwilliam, which has seen its highest class of membership cut from around 1,200 members to around 300 since the financial crisis of 2008.
"Over the last number of years, the club has been run on a tight budget and run well on that," Lundy said.
"Last year we saw a modest increase in membership and a good increase in visitors' green fees so we were coming into this year very positive.
"Then we were approaching the season that would have been really busy for golf, food and the bar. You add in functions such as Christenings and the place would have been packed. That's the key money-making time for golf clubs and has been taken away.
"Like any business, when you go from having conservative expectations of what you're going to earn and that drops to zero, it's seismic. I don't think any business is really capable of coping with it.
"Ultimately, the reason the club will struggle financially for the rest of this year is that the bar and restaurant are closed and we can't see them opening soon."
There is one potential positive. Lundy is hoping golf's return to action, ahead of the majority of sports, might lead to a rare spike in membership as Fortwilliam has announced a short-term deal lasting from June until October.
"The good thing is the number of enquiries that I have had," he said. "Over the last few years, golf has definitely drifted away from younger folk but I've had a lot of people looking to avail of student memberships.
"The phone hasn't stopped so hopefully we see a bit of an influx of members. Then I'm hoping once people join, we can keep them here next year as well."