The Oak Royal golf club and hotel at Withnell
PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 March 2016
A boutique hotel and restaurant now complements a golf course and club set in lovely Lancashire countryside
Oak Royal Golf & Country Club, Withnell, Chorley
Members, Eric Keber, Jamie Douglas, Ken Wiseman and Antony Lawrence finish their round
Head Chef, Peter McCarthy, and sous chef, Spencer Hind, in the kitchen
Head Chef, Peter McCarthy, and General Manager, Kenny Arnott, looking at the menu in the Lark Hill Restaurant
Golf Manager, Caroline Downes, with General Manager, Kenny Arnott, and golfer, Antony Lawrence in the Pro Shop
Usually, when someone tells you they have built something, they mean they’ve hired people to do the hard work. Not so with Charles Downes and his family.
When he says they built the impressive Oak Royal golf club and hotel at Withnell near Chorley he means they dug the foundations, built the walls and constructed the roof. There are bosses who are hands on and then there is Charles Downes.
He started farming there as a young man on his father’s smallholding with 25 acres before adding another 40 to keep a dairy herd, a milk round and pigs.
But he realised small scale farming was not the way to earn a living long-term and, ahead of his time, diversified with a catering supply business. He took a company with a £50,000 turnover and increased it to £500,000.
‘But I always had a passion for building,’ he says. ‘So when we sold the business in the late 1990s I went into property developing, converting barns and farm buildings as residential homes.’
In 2007 he used part of the farmland to create a golf course with clubhouse, café and restaurant amid beautiful scenery with tremendous panoramic views of the Lancashire countryside. It’s a half-size course with full-size holes and matches US Golf Association standards.
At the time, he made news because he had never – and still hasn’t - played golf. ‘I told people that Richard Branson has an airline but he doesn’t fly the planes,’ said Charles. It was opened by PGA chief executive Sandy Jones and Charles’ son, Fabian, is the course manager.
He saw opening a hotel on the site as a natural progression. ‘There was a gap in the market so we decided to build a boutique four-star hotel.’
While he and another son, Charles Junior, rolled up their shirtsleeves and got on with the building work, his wife, Kath, and daughter, Caroline, created a modern and sophisticated interior design.
‘From the outside it looks like it was opened 200 years ago,’ he said. ‘But from the inside, it looks like it was opened 20 minutes ago.’
There are currently 26 modern bedrooms with great views and cutting-edge fixtures and fittings and sumptuous bathrooms full of the latest technology and upmarket tiling. Each room has been individually designed and there are three suites with balconies.
Food is a big part of the Oak Royal offering and the Lark Hill restaurant, which also welcomes non-residents, has been building up a strong reputation for its no-nonsense menu of classic dishes.
There is also a function room that can take 130 guests - the weddings market is an area the family expects to develop over coming months.
Under the management of Kenny Arnott, who has a track record working in hotels in Bermuda, Dubai and the United States, the business has done so well they are planning to add another six bedrooms.
‘We are proud of what we’ve achieved here,’ said Charles. ‘We wanted to create something that was unique and quite special.’ They’ve certainly done that.