Troubled clubs set to merge5th September, 2012 by Alistair Dunsmuir
Two struggling Darlington golf courses have announced a unique plan to merge together.
Stressholme Golf Centre, a municipal course that last year made a loss of nearly £150,000, and Blackwell Grange Golf Club, a private members’ facility that has suffered from falling memberships and income in recent years, have discussed becoming one joint club.
The proposal, announced by the local council, would see it buying the land at Blackwell Grange that it does not already own and selling part of the course to a housing developer to build approximately 60 luxury homes. The current Stressholme venue would be sold to Blackwell Grange and be given its name, and be run by its members within a year. Stressholme’s current members would be invited to join the new club, but subscription fees would likely rise to ensure no losses are made.
Darlington Borough Council owns Stressholme Golf Centre, which features an 18-hole course, a driving range and a clubhouse, but needs to make between £24m and £34m of budget cuts in the next three years. It currently subsidises any loss made by the club, which last year was £149,000 and in 2010 was £56,000; the sharp rise due to the weather and essential drainage works. Selling it to Blackwell Grange would generate approximately £500,000, although purchasing that club’s land would cost about £1m. However, the council should receive at least £1.5m by selling Blackwell Grange’s land to a developer.
It is likely that some members of staff of at least one of the two clubs would be made redundant.
The proposal can only go ahead if at least 75 per cent of Blackwell Grange’s members vote for it, and less than 10 per cent vote against it.
Blackwell Grange has committed to investing the proceeds of the merger, and future profit, into improving the golf course and the clubhouse at Stressholme if it were to take over.
Ada Burns, chief executive of Darlington Borough Council, said: “We have looked at a range of options and the proposed merger looks as if it is the best fit.
“We want to protect golf and support a sustainable pattern of golf facilities in Darlington, without the need for ongoing subsidies from the local authority.”
Doug Christie, secretary of Blackwell Grange, added: “We are a members’ club and the decision will be taken by our members.
“We think there would be major benefits for the two clubs if they were to combine.
“The ultimate sale of our existing facilites would be reinvested in Stressholme to improve the course and the clubhouse.
“We would remain Blackwell Grange Golf Club and would, of course, encourage and welcome members of Stressholme to join us.”
However, golfers at Stressholme expressed concern about a potential rise in the cost of their golf following a potential merger.
Pensioner Brian Vaughan, a member for ten years, added: “It costs me about £20 a month to play, so I’m happy with that. You can’t get better value, and the course and the staff are fantastic.
“But if the cost does go up, then some of the pensioners might feel it a bit more and stop playing.”
Tom Ward, a member for three years, said: “If the fees do rise, then I would look at going somewhere else and I know there a lot of other people who might think of doing the the same.”