The humble golf club, not a place usually synonymous with craft beer. That said, do golfers like a beer? It’s a resounding yes on that.
But what do they like drinking? Fiona Williams, manager at the Ambrose Bar set out to find out.
First established in 1926 in a small shed on the outskirts of Toowoomba, the City Golf Club has a long and distinguished history, undergoing a series of moves and renovations in its time yet has always remaining popular. Cresting the lush hills and greens of the course, the clubhouse welcomes golfers of all abilities to take a break from the game, enjoy some hospitality and quench their thirst.
The City Golf Clubhouse of today is a far cry from that small shed: it features various restaurants, bars, gaming areas and a bottleshop. But the crowning jewel is the Ambrose Bar, a more recent addition that sits like an oasis near the back deck, ready to welcome those more adventurous souls eager to tuck into something a little different than the usual club offerings.
And that’s thanks to Fiona who, after a decade working around craft beer, is no stranger to introducing people to new things.
“I was working at a pub in Toowoomba that had a moderate craft presence, and I was fascinated by it all,” she says. “The passion of the consumers and the guys creating it all. Then there was the taste!”
The changing nature of the sports club market helped her cause too. Clubs are undergoing a renaissance of sorts with many offering far more than a Stone & Wood tap amid the mainstream lagers. Some golf clubs are designed to appeal to more than just players too, with large social club memberships and family-friendly events filling their calendars.
“It’s been my experience that many golfers like whatever is cheapest,” Fiona says. "I am working on some of them, though, slowly but surely, and they are being converted. Some folks just don’t like change and that’s perfectly fine.”
The place where she works to create converts is The Ambrose, which has been transformed into a hidden craft paradise that will surprise more than a few thirsty players. They’re committed to rotating the taps regularly, with the exception of the ever popular Your Mates pale ale Larry.
“I try and maintain some consistency in styles,” Fiona says. “I always have a couple of pales, IPA or XPA, a couple of dark styles, and a cider.”
The tap offering changes with the seasons too: look out for more sours and ginger beers over summer, and less of the “heavy, punch-you-in-the-face styles”.
While craft beer and gaming isn’t exclusive – some of the top-rated venues in Sydney and Adelaide, for example, maintain pokies, even if they don’t like to talk about it – Fiona says the latter’s presence at the City Golf complex is a case of catering to different crowds.
“Patrons in our Club, like in many others, fall into a couple of different categories: ones that play golf, ones that come for the social aspect, and ones that are strictly here for gaming and TAB/Keno. I would say there is a percentage of patrons that enjoy having a good beer while they have a punt, but it is difficult to gauge with any accuracy.
“Myself personally? If I go out to a venue with pokies or TAB, I will have a punt but it’s not what I’m going out for. Yet I am the kind of audience that spends a little more to enjoy a better product over the bar,” Fiona says.
Having exceeded even their own expectations when it comes to the success of their crafty bar, there are already plans for expansion.
“In my perfect fantasies I’d have another six taps – including a nitro tap, about 300 more different spirits, have someone I can hand the day-to-day minutiae over to, and be the go-to venue in Toowoomba for all things independent,” Fiona says. “Who am I kidding, I want that last part now!”
Encouragingly, given the “insanely competitive” nature of the clubs industry, they’ve already had colleagues from other venues visit to take notes.
“This is the way our industry is heading,” she says, “and you can either jump on board and get it right the first time, or you can drag behind and be forever playing catch up. I intend to be a trailblazer for craft in the clubs industry, and while I don’t want to toot my own horn, I’m doing a pretty good job of it.”
As for the bar’s name, the aim was for something catchy and golf-related.
“An Ambrose is a two- or four-person team in a golf tournament. Basically, a good social style, and the one most popular with charity days and the like,” she says. “We’re a social venue after all!”
And it sure beats meeting your mates for a beer in the Bogey.