Golf's handicap is the public's gain

Failed exclusive member schemes are boosting pay-and-play courses. James Cusick reports byline in here to grid strap Book locked top grid

The economic failure of most of England's expensive golf course developments over the past five years is forcing clubs to drop their exclusive prices to try and attract golf's traditionally most shunned group - the public.

A study by the London-based Golf Research Group estimates that 88 per cent of the 388 courses built since 1989 could be in need of financial intensive care. According to the group's report, 14 courses went into receivership last year.

Colin Hegarty, Golf Research Group's managing director, said : "The number of courses in Britain over the past five years has increased by 17 per cent. The growth followed the Royal and Ancient's 1989 report The Demand for Golf which highlighted the need for 700 more courses. But most developers seem to have ignored the R&A's crucial message."

The message was to build low-cost courses near areas of high population. It was supposed to herald the end of a class-ridden sport with clubs harder to enter than the Garrick. But the advice was ignored. "If the R&A's advice had been heeded," Mr Hegarty said, "most of the financial problems we are seeing could have been avoided."

Courses built in the wrong places, causing local over-supply near established clubs, or built miles from anywhere; courses conceived at the height of land prices in the late 1980s; courses with lavish clubhouses; all these factors, according to the report, have left many schemes badly over-extended .

It is estimated that 24 courses were sold last year for pounds 65m. But the developments would have cost pounds 100m-plus to build. Over the past two years American Golf has picked up seven course for pounds 10.5m. The previous owners had invested up to pounds 20m in the properties.

Yet alongside recent course failures, the English Golf Union has reported an increase of 200,000 players over the past five years. The figure is the biggest growth in the union's history.

The Kuwaiti-owned East Sussex National near Uckfield shows what went wrong. Mr Hegarty said: "They originally had a pounds 20,000 debenture membership scheme. It was supposed to be very exclusive. But they were making big losses. They had the courage to reposition their product. All debentures have been repaid and membership is pounds 1,500 joining fee with annual subscription of pounds 1,500 and they are doing well."

Most new clubs have had to abandon joining fees and most have had to reposition their dreams of exclusivity and drop the rise in subscriptions to below the rise in inflation.

With the growth of pay-and-play courses in Britain - now attracting the serious attention of American Golf, which operates 200 public courses in the US - still more course developments are being planned. So what does the fall from grace of the super-exclusive to not-quite exclusive mean for the average player?

Mr Hegarty, in a mood of prophesy, said: "Those players who were first attracted to the game in the 1980s, but who found the whole thing too expensive and just too elitist, were just put off. Now they should be advised to simply try again. It might be failure for the banks, but its good news for the ordinary players."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments