Even before the cuts in Government grant, some councils had been reviewing whether they were the best people to be running golf courses. There are various alternatives. A golf course could be sold or leased to a private operator. A council could retain ownership but have a private contractor run it. They could allow any subsidy to be gradually reduced or insist that it cease at once – with instead a private firm paying rent to provide a source of revenue. Or the golf course could be closed and the land used for much needed housing – though wouldn’t it be preferable to build on unused land?
Bowring Park Golf Course in Huyton was used by Harold Wilson. Labour-run, Knowsley Council privatised it a couple of years ago and it is now run by Mack Trading with a 20 year lease. The firm has invested half a million pounds and seen the use of the course double. Fees have been kept low and a partnership arrangement means the council will be gaining revenue from the course within two years – compared to the previous losses. The membership had previously fallen to just 70.
Mack Trading have taken over golf courses from local councils in Manchester, Blackpool and East Dorset. They are applying to take over others in Wigan and Sunderland at present.
Durham has looked to the Big Society. The Golf Club Management magazine reports:
Roseberry Grange, which had been earmarked for closure by Durham County Council, was saved when the authority agreed to effectively rent it out to its members for 35 years, with minimal payments due for the first five years to give the club an opportunity to stop making a loss.
Or a social enterprise could be used. Last year Birmingham City Council saved all seven of its golf courses by awarding Mytime Active a 50-year contract to manage them.
Then there is Joe Anderson, the Labour directly-elected Mayor of Liverpool. His council has announced:
The authority has been in talks with interested parties for several months in order to eliminate the £300,000 annual cost of subsidising North Liverpool and Allerton Golf courses.
The terms of the potential deal mean that affordable and accessible ‘pay and play’ golf will continue to be provided at the courses.
Investment in the facilities through upgrades and appropriate additional facilities will also be encouraged to improve the courses
and attract customers.
Mayor Anderson said: “We are confident that this will be a really good deal for the city council. It would save money and secure the future of two long standing sports facilities.
“We can no long afford to subsidise the courses, but we know how much they are appreciated by the people who use them. That is why we have been working extremely hard over the last few months to put together a deal that satisfies everyone.”
Very sensible. I am pleased to have the opportunity to praise Mr Anderson for the second time this week.
Private ownership and management of golf courses does come with some uncertainty. Sometimes a firm may fail to deliver and the course eventually re-tendered. However, municipal ownership of golf courses is an increasing disaster, both in financial terms – and the quality of the amenity to residents. Yet there remain hundreds of golf courses languishing in council ownership. Any council which decides to put up Council Tax next year while maintaining a loss-making poorly-managed golf course is doing a double disservice to its residents.