Is this the end for municipal golf clubs?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 2, 2015 12:26

Municipal golf clubs may now be facing a critical period in their history as a whole host face closure according to new research by this publication.

Council-owned golf clubs used to be the second most common type of golf club in the UK, behind members’ owned clubs, and were extremely popular up until the 1990s. However, the rise of proprietary clubs, recent falls in the numbers of people participating in golf and large budgetary cutbacks for local authorities has meant that many venues have either been sold off or closed down in the last seven years.

The City of Edinburgh Council, for example, is cutting its annual grant to Edinburgh Leisure, which runs six golf clubs, by £0.89 million and there are proposals for further cuts. A source said that none of the clubs can be assured of their future.


The City of Edinburgh Council


“In the absence of an as yet unidentified silver bullet this will inevitably mean multiple venue closures,” said John Comiskey, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure.

Meanwhile Wirral Council and neighbouring West Cheshire have agreed to sell-off seven municipal golf courses: Arrowe Park, Brackenwood, Bebington, The Warrens, Hooton, Knights Grange and Westminster Park. Tenders have been invited although it is not known what will happen if the council does not receive any attractive bids.

Councillor Chris Meaden, Wirral’s cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said: “Along with our colleagues in Cheshire West and Cheshire, we are keen to continue pay to play provision, and are confident this combined package across the two boroughs will attract customers and operators who will be able to put those courses on a sound and sustainable financial footing.”

The three West Cheshire course are currently operated by Brio Leisure and are subsidised to the tune of £246,000 annually.

Councillor Stuart Parker, Cheshire West and Chester council’s executive member for culture and economy, said: “Many private sector courses are providing pay and play rates that compete with municipal courses.

“Consequently, the council and Brio have jointly agreed to look at the market to provide golf course operation, secure capital investment to improve the courses and reduce current subsidy.

“A combined package across the two boroughs would be an attractive offer to customers and operators.”

Back in Scotland, Inverclyde Council has proposed closing down the area’s only municipal golf club, Whinhill Golf Course, because it needs to make £7 million of savings.

Club captain John Ellis said it would mean the loss of one full-time and three part-time jobs, and the end of a golf course and club with over 100 years of history.

He said: “This would mean an end to playing golf for our 201 adult members and our 57 junior girl and boy members.

whinhill stehphen_g

Whinhill Golf Course. Image by Flickr user Stephen_G


“The closure of the only municipal golf course in Inverclyde — known as ‘the people’s golf club’ — would also mean the end to playing golf for thousands of Inverclyde’s citizens.

“We find it puzzling that closure is being suggested when substantial time and money has been invested in the past couple of years on a variety of things, including the upgrading of the female locker and changing rooms, the reconstruction of the third green and the erection of a large greenkeepers’ storage shed.

“To spend this amount of money on the course and then close it all in the space of a couple of years does not make sense.

“And this comes at a time with the golf club in a decent position, with membership numbers at a good level and the golf course having never been in better condition.”

In North London Ealing Council plans to turn Horsenden Hill Golf Course, which runs at a loss of £60,000 per year, into a mixed leisure use and Christmas tree farm that could generate up to £80,000 a year, and the course could close as soon as this April.

And a petition has been created to save Beckenham Place Park Golf Course, also in London, which Lewisham Council plans to close.

It states: ‘Once the most-played public course in Europe, Beckenham Place Park is the only 18 hole public course in the ‘inner boroughs’ of south London. It has in recent years assumed a major role in bringing the game to the youth of the district with a thriving junior academy introducing the game to players as young as six years.

‘It is ironic that the council, following the success of the Olympic Games in London 2012 (and the inclusion of golf as an Olympic sport for 2016), should now seek its closure.’

It’s not all doom and gloom for municipal golf clubs however.

Allerton Golf Course in Liverpool was set to close, but it has had its future secured after Allerton Golf Trading, a company owned by the Maghull Group, took over the venue from Liverpool City Council.

The local authority said the 25-year contract with Allerton Golf Trading would net the authority £234,000 per year.

Wendy Simon, assistant mayor and cabinet member for culture and tourism, said: “This is really positive news, not only for golfers, but for the city as a whole.

“We have got to save £156 million over the next three years, and the tough budget choices we are facing means we have to prioritise services.

“Sadly, we can’t continue to subsidise some activities so all partnership options need to be considered, including those from the private sector, to find different ways of securing their future.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 2, 2015 12:26
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1 Comment

  1. Jimbo February 2, 17:46

    It’s a sad fact that lots of golf courses will close down in the next few years and the news of sky having the Open from 2016 instead of the BBC will only hasten the decline in participation. I really hope the inclusion of golf into the Olympics will make a difference to the decling numbers but I doubt it.

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