‘Day of doom’ as golf clubs close down

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 16, 2014 11:09

Two major UK and Ireland golf clubs closed down and a third was placed into receivership within the same 24-hour period this week, in what has been described as a ‘day of doom’ for the industry.

Several golf clubs have gone under in the last few years but it is thought that this was the worst day in British golf club history.

Garnant Golf Club in Wales went into liquidation, Belmont Golf Club in Herefordshire announced it is to close down and Doonbeg Golf Club in Ireland had receivers appointed to it all between January 13 and 14.

Garnant’s closure controversially comes just days after a £160,000 taxpayer subsidy came to an end – which has led to one politician calling for an inquiry to be launched.

Carmarthenshire Council paid Clay’s Golf £160,000 to run Garnant Golf Club for two years from late 2011 in order to keep it open, in a move that was criticised by politicians and neighbouring golf clubs.

This week Steve Williams, managing director of Clay’s Golf, wrote on Garnant’s website that the club ran out of money. “Garnant Golf Club has now effectively gone into liquidation,” he wrote. “I am not going to try and explain myself with the complexity of the operation of the golf club, only that we tried all ways to keep the club operational but unfortunately ran out of cash.

“For everyone’s benefit we also pumped a great deal of our own cash into this project, I wish everyone the best for the future and hope that one day you can understand that we were unable to carry this any further.”

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid Cymru AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said an inquiry now needs to be launched about the £160,000 payment.

“We have to ask who authorised this expenditure, why, what conditions were placed upon this company and why the council wasn’t aware of the fact this company was in financial difficulties,” he said.

“This is public money and there is a responsibility on the local authority to use that money responsibly, but as well as that, the local people have now lost this facility that was very important to the Amman valley.”

A spokesman for Carmarthenshire Council suggested that the closure had come as a surprise.

“We have concerns regarding the situation especially as Clay’s Golf has not been in touch with us to see if there is a way out of their difficulties,” he said.

“We cannot comment further until we have spoken to the company directly and ascertained their position.”

At the same time, Belmont Golf Club’s operator, Golf Inns, announced that the club was going to close following years of difficult trading. It will officially be shut down in six weeks’ time.

A statement on the club’s website said: “We regret to confirm that Belmont Golf Course will be closing permanently on March 1, 2014.

“The closure comes as a result of many years of difficult trading. Despite significant investment and effort we have been unable to turn the business around and whilst this has been a difficult decision, the current situation is unsustainable.

“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank staff, members, visitors and suppliers for their support at Belmont over the years.”

A local golfer said the clubhouse roof was in need of repair but the club did not have the funds to pay for it.

And the Greg Norman designed Doonbeg Golf Club has had receivers appointed to it.

“Its facilities are recognised as one of the premier golf and leisure destinations in Ireland and Europe,” said one of the receivers.

“Doonbeg Golf Club will continue to trade as normal with all employment being maintained and suppliers being retained. Additionally, there will be no change in the status of members of Doonbeg Golf Club.

“There will be no disruption to services as a result of the appointment, events booked will go ahead as scheduled, and all deposits and gift vouchers will be honoured.”

An industry insider said what had happened to the three clubs was evidence that many clubs are still struggling, despite the recovery.

“The recovery is too little, too late for many clubs,” he said.

“These three clubs are all significant venues; proof that closure can happen to any club that doesn’t give customers what they want.

“We’ve seen a day of doom for the industry this week – I’ve never known two major clubs to go in one day before, let alone two closing and a third entering receivership.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 16, 2014 11:09
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  1. Pete January 15, 14:18

    Economize the experience, or suffer the continued agony of a slow death of the traditional game. We cut the playing time & cost in half and increased the enjoyment bringing golfer’s back with little expense. You can too…think smaller…for efficiency & economy of play and convert of those old dinosaur sized courses.

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  2. Stephen M Bryan January 28, 20:11

    A sad day indeed, and things might well get worse before they get better.
    The number of golfers in not on the increase, the number of golfers taking up memberships are down by 16% over the last 7 years according to the National Golf Union. Golf is a luxury and in these hard times golfers are really looking at whether they get value for money. It has never been a better time to be a “Green Fee Payer” as more and more clubs are struggling they are reducing their prices to save them selves short term from closure, then other local clubs have to follow suit.
    Everywhere needs to are being asked to take on more duties without any financial reward.
    Inflation is now at 2% a big improvement but there is no confidence, so I would say we have another couple of years of the same before things will turn around and by then there will be a good deal more golf clubs going to the wall

    Stephen M Bryan

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  3. William January 21, 03:11

    Golf in general is fighting the “time and money” objection. Consumers today want things faster and faster as they are all pre wired to have instant gratification due to the internet and technology.
    There are still many opportunities to grow golf club memberships, but you have to know who you are marketing to and what they are looking for. Old style club membership advertising or promotions just don’t cut it anymore……in New Zealand the average age of a golf club member is 59……..our own club is about 65…….the young ones just engaging in golf on a membership level but do have the occasional outing…….amalgamations seem par 4 the course as some alternative solutions

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  4. John January 18, 09:51

    I don’t think you can blame proprietary clubs entirely for driving the price down. Yes most proprietary clubs have reduced their prices. In the North West where my club is based, I would suggest average green fees for proprietary clubs have been reduced from around £20 down to £15. There are now not many private members clubs in my area that a member of the public will pay more than £20 per round during the week (there are many around £10). Not very long ago most of these clubs where asking £40+ (if they allowed visitors on at all).

    So who is offering the biggest discounts?

    Most Proprietary clubs where set up to be pay and play facilities, so have always had to set green fees that the average member of the public can afford. Proprietary clubs are also commercial businesses and I’m sure most businesses would expect to have to compete with competitors for custom.

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  5. Peter Townson January 17, 12:03

    Always sad to see but has seemed more than inevitable recently. I don’t believe however that its just about members committees or old fuddy-duddys. Some of the proprietary clubs are discounting so aggressively that they are driving down the prices for all and pushing some over the edge. Has the potential to be a death spiral for many clubs.

    Reply to this comment
  6. @darrenram January 16, 18:32

    Common theme seems to be time for change from old brigade

    Reply to this comment
  7. @pcombs21 January 16, 12:50

    Not just a problem in the US. Sad to see as the number of PGA pros continues to rise…

    Reply to this comment
  8. Simon Buckley January 16, 11:34

    Very sad to hear this news. Unfortunately I believe it’s only a matter of time before others follow.
    Time for the old brigade and traditional committees to stand down and let the professionals they employ do the job of marketing and moving golf clubs strategy into this century before it’s too late.

    Reply to this comment
    • Bob August 30, 05:51

      The last people a club needs to run its business is a golf professional. Get rid of poor committees certainly, but employ a leisure industry manager who can run the club as a business. In many clubs the expense of supporting a Pro is a part of the problem, not the solution!

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