Leo Hickman on how the recesssion is forcing Golf courses into administration

When stripped down to its essentials, golf is very difficult to explain, let alone justify. Large tracts of land are set aside across the world to allow men – it is still mostly men – to spend hours hitting a small white ball across some grass with a metal stick.

But golf is even harder to justify in a recession. So we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that some of the UK’s 2,500-odd courses are now going into administration – 19 since the start of the year, according to the English Golf Union, with 130 more facing “significant problems”.

Shaun McGuckian, editor of Golf Punk magazine, says that this is to be expected: “The recession is the catalyst, but some clubs have struggled to reach out to a new audience. The clubs that are doing well are the likes of Wynyard Golf Club in Stockton-on-Tees that have reached out to a younger audience by playing MTV in the bar and adopting a very relaxed dress code.”

With average annual membership fees at £900 to £1,200, and pay-and-play courses charging £15 to £18 a round, some golfers are clearly feeling pressured to redirect those funds to more essential areas. But what do you do with a redundant golf course?

The average 18-hole golf course – at 50 or so hectares – just happens to be the same size as a small farm, so they could be grubbed up for growing food. In more buoyant times, property speculators would be quick to throw up a gated community or two on the land. But perhaps the most popular use would be to return the land for unfettered access by the local community.

Redditch borough council in the Midlands is considering closing the 97-year-old municipal Pitcheroak golf club to save £800,000 a year, saying it would prefer to turn it into “town centre parkland” instead. The local MP, Jacqui Smith, is among those trying to save it: “The Conservative councillors should … look properly at their backroom costs before slashing services and events for Redditch people.” Perhaps not the most fortunate of remarks given that the home secretary is currently to be found deep in the rough after not looking properly at her own backroom costs.

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