There has been a long association between golf courses and housing schemes, from the early days at golf clubs such as Wentworth and St Georges Hill, which formed part of planned estates, to more recent projects such as Wynyard Hall and Wychwood Park completed in the 1990’s. Now, however, the emphasis has changed from golf courses with real estate around them to courses making way for new housing developments.
Since Vince Cable, in his role as the British Government’s Business Secretary, made his rather controversial remarks in October 2014 that Britain’s housing crisis could be solved by building on golf courses, house builders have been working on schemes to do just that. Projects have been springing up all over the UK (mainly England) to address the demands for new homes and are starting to give a boost to the golf design and construction industry which, when it comes to new developments, have been in the doldrums since the turn of the Millennium, although remodelling work has been fairly buoyant.
Often golf courses have been left out of the protected Green Belt around towns and cities, even though they are essentially green spaces with the urban environment, and since they are seen as ‘developed land’ planning restrictions are generally more relaxed. Golf clubs which have struggled financially, and sometimes on the verge of insolvency, are often open to the opportunity for the injection of substantial capital and the provision of a completely new golf facility. In many cases they have struggled with safety issues on their boundaries, due to their proximity to the urban fringe, which has enforced changes to the layout, the erection of fencing, or being hemmed in by the planting of leylandii and poplars to protect perimeter properties, so the opportunity to relocate to a larger site is seen as a win-win scenario.
In a few cases, golf courses owned by local authorities have closed due to a perceived lack of demand for pay-and-play facilities and these are now being sold onto housing developers. These are probably the most concerning casualties of the new ‘policy’ since accessible golf facilities in urban centres for people, and particularly kids, to learn golf are in increasingly short supply which could have negative long-term consequences for the game.
That said, many of the private golf clubs that have been approached by developers have seen it as a great opportunity to improve their finances and secure a better long-term future for the golf club. Some have already relocated, such as Blackwell Grange in Darlington which moved to Stressholme Golf Course in 2013. From information from golf industry publications it appears that there are at least eight such projects in the pipeline and many more could be bubbling under the surface. The ones identified include:
I am currently working on a planning application for the relocation of Scraptoft Golf Club, near Leicester, which involves the design of a new 18-hole golf course, 9-hole par 3 course, driving range and other practice facilities on a site at the nearby village of Houghton-on-the-Hill.
Ken Brown, the former European Tour and Ryder Cup player, and design consultant to my company, will work closely with me on the project. He will contribute his wide knowledge from courses he has visited throughout the world during his playing career and work as a TV Golf Commentator. Ken and I have worked together for 20 years and have advised over 70 golf clubs on course improvements, winning awards for our work at Coombe Hill and Moortown golf clubs during that time. Together we will ensure that the new golf course is strategically designed to challenge the top players but can also be played and enjoyed by golfers of all abilities. The new course will stretch from 5,200 yards from the forward tees to over 7,000 yards from the championship tees.
This project has given the Club the opportunity to gain additional facilities, should it gain planning approval, which will help them attract new golfers into the game and potentially establish a reputation as a centre of excellence in the local region. The Club does not currently have a par 3 course, or proper driving range, and its golf academy will also form a community facility open to the general public, with its own reception area and café. The clubhouse will have a function wing incorporated within it in order to open up other income streams.
Not all courses involved with housing development are being completely relocated. Some will have just part of the course developed for housing, with new holes built to accommodate those being lost, and others are reducing from 18 to 9 holes such as Hassocks Golf Club in Surrey, where 130 new homes are planned. In some cases, such as with the Royal Norwich project which EIGCA President Ross McMurray is working on, golf clubs are merging to become one larger club and having new, state of the art facilities built to accommodate a larger membership.
Whatever happens it looks like it will be a busy time for the UK golf course construction industry over the coming years.
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