Two more golf clubs close down

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham January 13, 2015 11:12

Two golf clubs have closed down for good as the industry’s economic difficulties continue to bite.

The news comes just days after England Golf revealed that golf clubs are responding too slowly to the changing needs of consumers and Syngenta research found huge potential for clubs to recruit female golfers – provided they change the masculine culture and unwelcoming perceptions associated with their venues.

Hurst Golf Course in Reading and Austin Lodge Golf Club in Kent have both closed.

Hurst Golf Course closed after making a reported loss of £50,000 in 2014. It also saw its income drop by 38 percent over the last three years and the number of rounds in the summer months of 2014 were at less than half what they were in 2013.

Former members said the course needed about £350,000 of improvements to make it competitive with nearby venues.

Spokesman Angus Ross said: “The golf market is particularly challenging and it’s changing. There are a number of large courses locally that are more popular and people are taking up other sport and leisure activities.

“We’ve been advised by Golf England the number of participants is declining.

“We are aware there are some golfers who will be disappointed so we are contacting them. We need to explain the reasons and try to help them find other courses.”

A consultation exercise will begin shortly on what to do with the municipal venue, with one of the options to be to convert it into a footgolf centre.

Austin Lodge Golf Club in Kent has been closed after its owner, Pentland Golf, decided to convert it back to farmland.

Meanwhile, Castle Park Golf Club in Scotland is seeking a buyer.

“It’s a worrying time. There’s not enough money in the club to complete a members’ buy-out so we are just hoping that somebody comes in,” past captain Colin McArthur is quoted as saying to The Scotsman.

“The current owners have been running the club for the last nine years or so but they are based in Cumbria and in their 70s so, understandably, they are ready for retirement.

“From what I gather, they would definitely prefer to sell to someone who will continue to run it as a golf club.

“But they want out and I just have a sneaky feeling that if it doesn’t sell within three months then a local farmer might step in as it is a great piece of land. That, of course, would be a huge shame and hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

In September 2013 nearby Lothianburn GC closed for good and last year Torphin Hill permanently shut down.

UPDATE: This is an amended version of an orginal article that stated that Castle Park could close down if a buyer is not found. Since publishing this, Colin McArthur has contacted Golf Club Management to state that there were a number of inaccuracies in the original article in The Scotsman. “There is no ‘desperation’, no ‘sneaky feeling’ and definitely no timescale been put on the sale by the owners,” he said. “Castle Park Golf Club is a going concern and is only up for sale because the owners, now in their 70s, are retiring. This we see as a golden opportunity for someone to purchase an east Lothian club, which has 350-plus members and a course to be proud of.”


Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham January 13, 2015 11:12
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  1. Reggie baby January 31, 18:57

    On a similar vain, the handicap system to be employed this year is far to technical and for those (public) to be given a handicap is absolutely stupid. Why on earth do we bow to the American system when are own well established rules and regs are easy to understand “Slope” for instance has nothing todo with any slope/inclne. It is in fact a grading/difficulty of golf courses and that’s just the start of it.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Dave September 22, 22:17

    One of the problems golf has that I don’t really see address at all it the physical ability of the person to play the game. A lot of people give up really before they get into the game because they don’t have good biomechanics to play and this does not seem to get looked at by most golf pros in lessons as they simply don’t have the knowledge for improving muscles imbalance etc. If there was a greater connect between the strength and conditioning coach who improves the biomechanics, the golf pro who will then have a better prepared member to work with on the skill side , club selection etc and even a person to sort out a sports massage. Then the new member would get a greater experience of been looked after and also more likely to get improvements in their game and then recommend it to friends etc. Golf needs to become a sport again and not something you pick up when you retire

    Reply to this comment
    • One putt October 4, 08:14

      Like that Dave – your on to something there a more holistic approach toward members welfare

      Reply to this comment
    • Pete USA November 10, 17:13

      Trying to save a depleated game is no way to prepare for the future. Traditional golf has had it day, now alternative forms of the game are taking it’s place.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Pete May 31, 03:35

    DOOM now marks the game in its downward spiral.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Jayare November 13, 14:46

    All interesting points from members clubs and proprietary ones. Nobody seems to address the whole picture just the ones affecting their own facility.
    Golf is still one of the more popular sports in the UK and is growing across the world.
    Have we been spoilt in the UK? It’s no cheaper to play across the world and the better the facility the more expensive it is to play or to become a member.
    It’s a balance between getting more players to play and keeping standards high and therefore keeping prices high as a result. Members clubs are attempting to be more businesslike and some do this well and others resist change or are slow to embrace any changes. Make it a level playing field and have the same financial rules for both including VAT, Rates and taxation and let’s see how that pans out.
    I don’t have the answers and it’s a real issue based on the clubs going under recently but that’s surely a supply and demand situation generally? Maybe some mismanagement or proprietary greed too but business is business and you stand and fall on your bottom line and should be cutting your cloth accordingly.
    Customer satisfaction is paramount and most members clubs rest on their laurels year after year whilst their membership dwindles. I like the idea of lifestyle membership as it may result in a “dropping down” of a number of members but may also keep them in the loop when they may have just dropped it completely.
    Golf isn’t broken (yet!) but all clubs need to raise their game and provide a pleasant environment for all members and visitors.

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  5. andy April 3, 05:15

    Thanks, very nice. ^-^

    Reply to this comment
  6. Pete January 15, 14:05

    Just the tip of the iceberg. Golf is not the all day affair anymore of our father’s era anymore. It’s quick golf, get in..get out, efficiency play now! You’re trying to sell a game of the past and it’s not working.
    There’s no time anymore, less $$ so economize the experience and people will come back. If you don’t the game will continue to dwindle to a precious few.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Carl Weininger March 28, 16:10

    It’s not the golf club managers, or owners, or the VAT, although unfair on proprietary clubs, the problem is the golfers themselves who all demand “Wentworth” at “pay and play” prices, along with a discounted buggy because their feet ache, followed by “a pot of tea for four” please, and can you turn the heating up, while we sit here and moan for the rest of the afternoon ! !
    This is what has ruined the sport, “and indeed the very spirit, of golf today”, and what was once a pleasant pastime of gentlemen, now just often leaves a bitter taste.
    And, I for one will no longer subsidise their chosen lifestyle, and they will simply need to pay more for what they want.
    Carl Weininger, New Malton Golf Club.

    Reply to this comment
  8. John Reed February 5, 19:33

    Sad news ;(

    Reply to this comment
  9. GrassyKnoll January 26, 10:58

    Its tough times for golf and we cannot expect our commercial activities to be subject to special measures and must weather it like any other industries… and that will be painful for some, if not all, at some level.
    I am somewhat disappointed that the R&A haven’t risen to the situation. Back in the ’80’s they produced a report saying we needed a lot of new clubs/courses (i think it was 2000 or something like that), in the event it was around 800-900 that were built (thank goodness it wasnt the original number!!).
    Now we need a strategic review of the situation on an area/county basis because it will only be the most efficiently operated courses that will survive and not necessarily the best / most appropriate from a playing perspective. For example, Oxfordshire has 50 or so golf centres, in my opinion they should be evaluated on technical merit and those courses that are not well built and of poor quality should be closed down with some recompense to the owners from the surrounding courses… a win:win scenario? Its not perfect as an idea perhaps but worthy of consideration? Its a way of managing supply and demand (well supply at least) to make it possible for golf to be able to have a premium price rather than a bargain basement price, the latter being the situation where we are now and everyone loses.
    As an industry it is essential that we move away from lowest bidder “poundland” business strategy which is in evidence in some places. How anyone thinks its viable to offer a two course meal and a round of golf for £12 or a weekend golfing break for less than a normal B&B would be staggers me and most of the industry insiders i know.
    Please also bear in mind that the golf industry as a whole is struggling as a result of the price war, that is clubhouse services, turf management companies, equipment makers, etc. Making golf more sustainable economically and attracting in long term playing base is therefore essential. From the greenkeeping end of things greenkeepers are working in ridiculously low staff levels and cannot manage courses (the primary asset) well or even safely in some instances, two men to manage 18 holes isn’t safe and if one is off sick/on leave then its irresponsible for the other to be out working alone. Furthermore, many of our best greenkeepers are now working abroad or cutting domestic lawns having been treated badly by clubs eagre to cut costs at the expense of expertise that took many years and much investment to build up… often leading to wastage and less efficient or effective practices in the longer term.
    i am sure there is more that can be done and the main stakeholders in the industry need to step up and get a grip with this issue rather than let market economics decide the fate of some of the worlds best golf courses and the facilities available for the next generation.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Oh Watt January 15, 17:42

    The story mentions Golf England advises the number of golfers is declining. It seems the clubs are fighting over a declining number of participants.
    Has anyone considered the impact of the reduction in terrestrial TV golf coverage? There has been a steady reduction of golf coverage on terrestrial TV over the last 10 years or so. I notice my local driving range and golf course gets busy in the weeks of the Masters and the Open, a spurt of extra activity you don’t see at other times of the year. It used to be busy also during the PGA Wentworth event but now that has less terrestrial TV coverage, last year the event passed by without any extra activity.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Vivien Saunders January 14, 10:40

    It is impossible for many proprietary clubs to survive when we are competing with members’ golf clubs acting commercially with green fees, weddings, societies and so on – failing to pay their corporation tax on the profits and getting VAT exemption. They are breaking the terms of their liquor licenses and shouldn’t just be businesses. Many get 80% business rate
    relief and in Northern Ireland get 100% business rate relief.

    Members’ clubs are businesses trading with an unfair advantage in everything they do. Shut your doors and stop the commercialism If you don’t make a profit, don’t do it.

    If you do make a profit then pay tax, rates and VAT. And England Golf just tells them to be more commercial.

    The flexible memberships promoted by EG are killing the industry for members clubs and proprietary clubs

    Who promoted that? England Golf. it stopped people wanting to be golf club members.

    Many have traded down from full membership and not up from no membership. A disaster. (And the income from those is subject to corporation tax) Regrettably England Golf has done more to destroy the game than anyone else – chasing Lottery funding from 2001 onwards and ruining it.

    All the child protection rubbish brought in to fit the Lottery. All the silly taster days devaluing the game. It is an organisation run by the golf clubs’ customers and consumers/members with hardly a golf club manager in sight. The members want
    golf as cheaply as possible and meals for the cost of a school lunch and England Golf and many counties are made up of these people. They don’t understand running golf clubs – running Stablefords, running raffles perhaps – but golf clubs – NO. The game of golf is dying on its feet in many parts of the country and EG is there at the forefront of this. When Rory McIlroy
    didn’t get the votes to be Sports Personality of the year it tells you the game is in trouble. Kids don’t see golf on free TV.

    More clubs will close and until members’ clubs close their doors and pay tax on visitors fees. In some counties the county union people openly say they want to see the proprietary courses disappear.

    The Association of Golf Course Owners are taking the issue of VAT distortion to the Royal Courts of Justice on March 23rd to 26th. Our action is not aiming at doing anything to affect adversely members’ clubs. We are doing everything we can
    but get no support from the governing bodies. All they are interested in is the members’ clubs recovering an estimated £500 million in VAT from the Bridport case because the people on EG are at those kind of clubs. There were enough golfers to go round. There probably still are. But while members’ clubs chase all these green fees and societies and bottom out prices the game is doomed. If you aren’t aiming at making a profit to subsidise the members’ subs don’t do it.

    Reply to this comment
    • SirMiketheRight January 14, 13:39

      What a bigoted load of nonsense! Your converted farms got all the EU subsidies going to steal members from traditional golf clubs with cheap pay & play deals, trying to put member clubs out of business but having failed and then having to compete you start bleating. Well you had your subsidies and EU windfalls now you need people to pay the wages and guess where they are?

      Reply to this comment
    • GolfSec January 15, 16:12

      Vivien, you seem to have changed approach here. Up until now you have been waging a war on member owned club in the main, reserving some anger for England Golf. However, this seems to have now changed. Are you attempting to bring member owned clubs on board with your ideas, and hope that they have short memories and forget how vitriolic your campaign has been?

      Once again you bring up situations which are, in the main, false. I am not aware of any member owned clubs who host weddings without the correct licences, nor any that break liquor licences. Member owned clubs need to run as business in order to compete with proprietary clubs who have been attempting to undercut them at every turn. You yourself know that membership fees alone are not enough to sustain a club, unless they are put up to a level at which membership fees are unsustainable for the very members of the club.

      Furthermore, not once have I ever seen you acknowledge simple facts, such as the fact that with member owned clubs having VAT exempt green fees, this means that no VAT can then be claimed back on course purchases, unlike at proprietary golf clubs. So member owned clubs are not that much better off, and in some cases the smaller ones will actually be worse off.

      Anyone who challenges you is simply shouted down as someone connected to a member owned club, but that will not stop people from challenging you. If, Vivien, your love for golf is that strong and you really want to give back to your members and golfers, why not become a member owned clubs? No? Thought not.

      Reply to this comment
      • ShropshiresBest April 19, 18:52

        Well said GolfSec. Oh, and Vivien…. “Many get 80% business rate relief”…. NO….. “SOME get….” but only if they are CASC registered and conform to the myriad of requirements that the classification entails.

        Reply to this comment
  12. Pascal Bardou January 13, 12:17

    We Know that but we don’t understand why the golf courses don’t use the new website
    It’s free for golf course !
    Using opus golfs help them

    Reply to this comment
    • Kev January 16, 11:54

      Well that website is not free and it is very poorly written. Poor spelling, poor grammar and very hard to understand diatribe. No respectable business (golf club or other) would go anywhere near that rubbish!

      Reply to this comment
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