Historic Scottish golf club is closed down3rd October, 2013 by Alistair Dunsmuir
An historic golf club is closed down and another fears for its future as golf clubs in Scotland are still suffering amid the tough financial climate.
Things have got so bad that the Scottish Golf Union (SGU) has reiterated its call that no more 18-hole venues should be built in the country, although several are in the pipeline.
This is despite some positive signs for the British industry in recent weeks and the support Scottish golf clubs receive from their government, largely thanks to the major contribution the game makes to the country’s economy.
Gleneagles, in Scotland, is also hosting the Ryder Cup next year, an event that should bring in millions of pounds to the local economy.
Lothianburn Golf Club has been closed down after its membership dropped from more than 820 to 270 in the last nine years.
The 120-year-old venue has found that the huge drop in membership has made the club financially unsustainable. A spokesman said he hopes to reach a deal with a neighbouring club to keep the course in use.
An accountant’s letter has been attached to the clubhouse’s front door, stating that the club has closed.
Alan Greenshields, the club’s captain, said: “Membership numbers is the one factor that certainly hit us hard. Up until 2004 we were probably in the region of 820 to 830 members in all categories.
“Last year we dropped down to about 350 and this year we’re round about 270, so we’re talking about a drop of two thirds.”
Another member said: “Other clubs must adapt or face dire consequences.”
The closure comes as one of the oldest golf clubs in the world, Perth Merchants Golf Club, also fears for its future.
The club’s owner, Perth and Kinross Council, has said it is considering options for the golf course, North Inch, as it is now running at a significant loss with user numbers dropping.
Some members are stating that the course is now deteriorating and a decision on the club’s future needs to be made soon.
One member said: “The course is stagnating. There has been little or no investment made by the council in the course for more than 10 years. It is in reasonable playing condition for amateur golfers but it is simply not up to the standard of other courses in the area.
“I think that something approaching half of all potential starting tee times are now empty during the season because visitors simply don’t come to play the North Inch.”
A council spokesman added: “A review of options is currently under way.
“We recognise the value of the course as a community asset and are keen to find a way that the course can be run in a way that generates revenue, thereby securing the long-term future of the facility.”
Golf has been played at the venue since the 16th century – with King James IV said to have played there.
There are around 219,000 active golf club members in Scotland at just under 600 golf clubs. However, the number of courses in the country has increased by 20 percent since 1990, at a far higher rate than those playing the game. In fact, between 2006 and 2010, male membership dropped by 15 percent and female membership by 27 percent.
The SGU has revealed that around 80 clubs have approached it for business planning advice, including financial, marketing and governance guidance, in the last 18 months.
In addition, Inchmarlo Golf Club in Aberdeenshire was placed into liquidation earlier this year, and prestigious clubs such as Whitemoss GC in Perthshire, Letham Grange GC in Angus and Craibstone GC in Aberdeen all closed between 2010 and 2011.
The financial downturn, the number of courses in Scotland and the time it takes to play a full round have been cited as the three most popular reasons for the problems the clubs are facing.
The pressure on Scottish golf clubs has got so strong that the SGU has reiterated its call that no more 18-hole venues should be built in the country.
Its research found that there are around one course per 9,800 people in Scotland, compared to one per 27,000 people in England and one per 112,000 of the population in France.
Hamish Grey, SGU chief executive, said: “We have more courses than we need for the current playing numbers. I guess part of our challenge is, how do we grow those numbers, and take that forward?
“In doing so, how do we make sure we keep such a good geographical cover that Scotland enjoys. It is one of the key elements of why, in Scotland, the game is so accessible.”
The call has fallen on deaf ears though. For example, a £60 million development has been earmarked for Ayrshire, plans for a £25 million course near St Andrews are at an advanced stage, a £10 million development has been proposed for East Fife and a tennis and golf complex is scheduled to be built in Stirling.
Former Open champion Paul Lawrie said times are tough for a lot of golf clubs in Scotland. He added: “Everyone is trying to get more juniors into the games as junior memberships become senior memberships.
“I think a lot of clubs are trying very hard and a lot of clubs are very good at that. We just need to keep working hard and keep making it enjoyable for people to play golf.”