THE TIMES LEADER column rarely mentions golf. Yet in the March 5th edition it tells the sorry story of clubs selling their courses as land for house builders. As if golf were not under sufficient pressure the prospect of clubs, particularly those owned by local authorities, selling out to developers to meet the ever increasing demand not only for new homes but also to balance the books is possibly the most worrying trend of all.
The sport is already failing to attract new members to clubs particularly in the mid market sector. Whilst cycling is booming club golf is stagnating despite a background of youthful success in the professional game where the world’s top three players are all under 30 years of age.
Even in areas of affluence the lure of massive payments from house builders is often too tempting for owners to say no. Canford Magna golf club, just outside Poole in Dorset has over 900 members and three courses totalling 45 holes that occupy some 350 acres of Green Belt land. It will close on March 31st with many of the members certain that housing will be built on at least some of the land.
A club statement said, ‘After the management team’s best efforts to reduce costs and overheads without compromising the quality of the service, the club has unfortunately continued to make a loss in recent years and we have taken the unfortunate decision to close.’
‘Factors which have contributed to this loss include the continued adverse weather, a reduction in people’s leisure time and changes in a declining golf market, which are well documented across the UK.’
Members at Woolton golf club in Liverpool have voted to move their club to Allerton GC, the city’s last remaining pay-and-play course, and sell the course to property developer Eric Grove of Catesby Estates for housing. The deal is still subject to planning and has already drawn fierce criticism from the Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, who will not allow Allerton to be turned into a members’ club.
London’s last remaining public course faces an equally uncertain future since Lewisham Council received a £4.9m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which involves closure of the Beckenham Place Park course and the creation of new sporting facilities and a cafe although there are no plans for any housing at this stage.
House builder Barratt is already redeveloping the former Mount Oswald club in Durham into 180 four-to-five bedroom homes and has offered members of Cambuslang GC in Glasgow £20,000 each to buy the course.
Redrow Homes has acquired Amington golf course at Tamworth, Staffordshire for 1,100 new homes and a deal to an unnamed developer on the 27-hole course at Chessington in Surrey recently broke on Facebook amidst claims of new homes, a leisure centre and football pitch.
With one in five golfers in the UK giving up their club memberships between 2004 to 2013 according to England Golf it seems that the game’s future is dependent of the more affluent clubs offering attractive deals to talented young golfers or else risk losing them to other sports.
With the free-market think tank Adam Smith Institute recommending that more courses on protected land be sold and golf representing an easy political target for those looking to attack an affluent, largely white, ageing male audience it is hard to see how the flow is to be stemmed especially against a backdrop of the requirement for so many new homes.
As the Times leader concluded, ‘Golf was of its time. Even for the older generation, cycling is increasingly the outdoor recreation of choice. And the conviviality of tall tales of sporting achievement from the oldest member at the 19th hole will surely repair to other premises.’
Most worryingly those premises may well sit on what was once a golf course.