Radical plans are being drawn up to convert part of a top golf club into a vineyard in an ambitious new project thought to be a UK ‘first.’
Mannings Heath Golf Club was recently sold by the Exclusive Group, owners of South Lodge Hotel at Lower Beeding, to rags-to-riches business entrepreneur Penny Streeter.
Now Penny, 49 - who is involved in a number of South African wine and hospitality operations and also runs a healthcare recruitment company in South Africa as well as the UK - is proposing one of the biggest transformations in the Mannings Heath club’s history.
She aims to turn one of the 100-year-old club’s 18-hole courses to nine holes and create a new 45-acre vineyard and introduce wine tasting, top cuisine and improved golf facilities.
Penny is seen as one of the UK’s most successful businesswomen having worked her way to the top after being left homeless and penniless 27 years ago with three children to look after.
Mannings Heath - founded in 1914 and bought by Penny in a multi-million-pound deal - currently boasts two 18-hole courses, the championship Waterfall Course and the Kingfisher Course. The former is currently only accessible to members, while the latter is open to visitors and members.
But under the new proposals, it is planned to change the name of the club to Mannings Heath Golf and Wine Estate, and turn over half of the existing Kingfisher course to vines. It is hoped planting will start in the spring.
Meanwhile, investment is planned to be made in the remaining holes, as well as the club’s off-course facilities. New practice nets have already been installed, new warning bells on ‘blind’ shots and new toilet facilities.
Penny said: “When we acquired the golf club - at a time of general declining golf activity across the UK - it was our plan to improve the golfing, club and venue experience for members and visitors whilst at the same time expanding our wine and entertainment activities.
“We believe that the concept of wine and golf go hand in hand in attracting much-needed visitors and tourists to the area. We plan to apply for consent to erect a winery, new restaurant, tasting room.”
She added: “The clubhouse is also in urgent need of some TLC, so we plan to upgrade the facilities and repaint inside and out. The spike bar is being restored and will re-open as a wine tasting and spike bar facility and a much needed additional entertaining/post golf space.”
She added: “The enhanced 9-hole layout will be more in keeping with the current demands for less time-invasive golf, as well as encouraging youngsters into the game.”
She said the changes will take place over time in several phases and will include redesigns of some of the holes, incorporation of alternative tees, an upgrade of practice facilities, and the building of a pro shop.
Penny was born in Zimbabwe but moved to the UK with her mother when she was 12. She worked in recruitment on leaving school and set up her own recruitment business in 1989.
However, the venture failed and at the same time Penny was divorced which left her homeless and penniless with three children to look after.
She got a job in recruitment again and moonlighted as a children’s party entertainer to earn more cash. She managed to fund a new venture in 1996 - a medical staff recruitment firm - which went from strength to strength.
Her company, the A24 Group, now operates in both South Africa and the UK.
Penny was awarded the OBE in the 2006 New Year Honours for ‘services to enterprise.’