Military manoeuvres on course for next golf war

Colin Brown reports on how Britain's armed forces keep up to par `Golf courses are ideal for training orthodox fighting skills'
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If the next war is fought on the golf courses, the British armed forces will be well prepared to go 18 holes against the best fighting corps in the world.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it owns 23 golf courses, with access to four courses in Cyprus and eight in Germany to keep our front- line golfers up to par overseas.

The top golfing establishments in the MoD include the Army's Aldershot barracks; HMS Dryad, a dry-land naval base; and the Royal Armament research and development establishment in Surrey, where the ballistic experts can do their tests.

Clearly worried that the disclosure has given a new meaning to military bunkers, the MoD explained that the golf courses are ideal areas for training in the more orthodox fighting skills.

The training carried out on Britain's golf courses include navigation and map reading, fieldcraft, distance judging, fitness training, and surveying techniques, Nicholas Soames, the armed forces minister, said in a written Commons answer to David Clark, Labour's shadow defence spokesman.

An MoD source said: "If they are on an airfield or a barracks with redundant land, they turn that into something they can knock a few golf balls around.

"Often it's just a field with a few short putts on a course for the men to knock around on them. To keep it in perspective, the United States forces have competition-class golf courses. You go to an American base in Italy and they really do look after their people terribly well. Some of our chaps have a patch of rough grass with a flag in a hole."

The MoD training also covers "low-level tactics" on the golf course. Labour defence experts said this probably involved our boys crawling on their stomachs while under fire from the eighth tee. The disclosure that our troops are preparing for "golf war" comes after reports in the Independent of the thriving fox-hunting pursuits in the armed forces, which Mr Soames stoutly defended on the grounds that it perfected horse-riding skills not seen on the battlefield since the First World War. Lord Henley, Under- secretary of State at the MoD, wrote to Mr Clark to explain that "almost without exception, courses are sited on land retained for other defence reasons; for example, where they are within an airfield perimeter, a barracks or parts of the estate which cannot be disposed of for security reasons . . . In the main, golf courses which are sited on MoD land are held for the benefit of our service and civilian staff, although in some cases other people do use them."

The maintenance and other running costs are usually paid for by membership subscriptions by the troops and not the taxpayer, but the ministry does foot the bill for cutting the greens. The 23 courses listed by Mr Soames were: Tidworth Garrison golf course, Hampshire; Upavon, Wiltshire; Canterbury, Sandwich, Kent; Tenby, Dyfed; Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire; York golf club, Strensall, York; Bassingbourn golf course, Royston, Hertfordshire; Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire; Wattisham, Ipswich, Suffolk; Wimbish, Carver Barracks, Essex; Army golf club, Aldershot, Hampshire; Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment, Chertsey, Surrey; Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, Swindon, Wiltshire; RAF Benson, Oxfordshire; Woodhall Spar, RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire; RAF Cottesmore, Leicestershire; RAF Henlow, Buckinghamshire; RAF North Luffenham, Leicestershire; RAF Odiham, Basingstoke, Hampshire; RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire; RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk; HMS Dryad, Southwick, Hampshire; and the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard, Fleetland, Hampshire.