April sees the opening to the public of the long-awaited 18 hole golf course at Astbury Hall, near Bridgnorth, designed and owned by legendary rock guitarist, Ken Downing of Judas Priest. Editor Sally Themans went to talk to Ken – about his plans for the course, his love of Bridgnorth and meet some famous friends who dropped by…
Ken – or KK as he is known around the world – bought the magnificent Astbury Hall in 1985. A family home, with “totally unspoilt views of the Shropshire Countryside”, an investment, a great refuge from the world of rock and, he adds with a wry smile, “a good place for a young rocker to park his cars”. As a boy growing up in West Bromwich, Ken used to catch the bus to Bridgnorth to come fishing. “It was like coming to a fantasy land – for other people, not for folk like us. To now actually live in Bridgnorth I feel as if I’ve really achieved something – I feel so proud every time I come home and drive down the Hermitage to be greeted by the impressive silhouette of High Town.”
In his 40 years with Judas Priest, Ken has travelled the world and been to some pretty fabulous places, but he firmly believes that the local countryside around Astbury which is his permanent home is a match for any far-flung wonderland. The band has a huge following in the US, Asia, South America and Europe, and is about to embark on a final world tour starting in June.
The golf course at Astbury has been several years in the making, and is now finally open with the first 18-hole round being played at a Charity Day last autumn. KK has designed much of it himself, using local contractors to do the groundwork, and the Hall has been transformed into a beautiful new club house, with extensive dining and lounge facilities, which opens its doors this month. New members are welcome and membership is growing steadily. The opening will coincide with a Charity Day with a bit of a twist on April 17th, in aid of Breast Cancer Research.
Golf professional John Gidney will play his round in a Skirt! KK explained that the whole idea was born out of a joke Gidney made on his Twitter page; if he ever reached 1,000 followers, then he would play a round of Golf in a Skirt. Before long, the joke had turned into reality – so ‘Skirt Golf’ was launched which coincided nicely with the opening of Astbury Hall Club.
John Gidney played at Astbury when it first opened and commented on the course: “I have played a lot of Golf Courses over the years and Astbury Hall stands out in my mind alongside TPC Sawgrass and Sunningdale Old Course as my favourites. Spectators are welcome to the Breast Cancer Research Day, and will be encouraged to compete in a Putting Competition and a Nearest the Pin Competition which will be running throughout the day”.
In addition to the April charity event, Astbury will host the Lord Taverners’ Charity Golf day in September, organized by local businessman David Coleman. Celebrity comedian Jasper Carrott and his school chum Bev Bevan, former drummer with iconic band ELO, dropped in on KK Downing to help promote the day. This will be the third of such days at Astbury and Jasper commented: “There are not many private golf courses, especially not many owned by rock stars, so this looks set to be a great day and we’re keen to make sure it raises significant amounts of money.”