The past year has seen a massive rise in golf participation in the UK. While many sports were severely hit by the global pandemic, golf was one of few that experienced a boom.
Perhaps not surprising given golf was one of the first sports granted the ‘green light’ when the first lockdown ended last May.
Outdoors, easy to social distance and good exercise all contributed to its popularity among those new to the game or returning to the sport after a spell in the wilderness.
It is estimated as many as 100,000 more golfers are now playing regularly since the beginning of 2020.
Not only that, the average playing age is also lower.
Many clubs say their membership is full, while booking a tee time at some has become increasingly difficult, such is the demand.
Yet in the midst of all this uplifting news there remains a major issue of concern. Golf club closures are happening all around us despite the current participation boom.
Take a number of courses in Berkshire, for example.
Just recently Reading Borough Council refused plans to turn the long-established Reading Golf Club into a site for 260 new homes.
The proposal angered local residents who raged at the thought of the Philip Mackenzie Ross-designed parkland course becoming yet another concrete jungle given it’s prime position, nestled on the edge of the Chilterns.
However, developers won’t give up so easily and chances are they will eventually win the battle. Members have already merged with Caversham Heath a few miles away and it is highly unlikely a ball will be struck in anger at Reading ever again.
The same fate struck Blue Mountain Golf Club in 2015. The quirky, Crown Golf course, just 10 miles from Reading, boasted a decent membership and regular visitors as well as a modern clubhouse and driving range. It is now occupied by 380 homes.
Just a short drive up the M4 sits Maidenhead Golf Club. Its lease of the land expires in 2039, but the borough council is offering a cash incentive to move within the next two years. Again, it’s location near the heart of the thriving town where it has stood for 125 years makes it prime for housing development. There are snags to overcome, but the course could be on its last legs.
Similar rumours surround Sonning Golf Club, while Burghfield Golf Club – a nine hole pay-and-play – is now wasteland following its closure a decade ago. Long weeds occupy the fairways where many juniors learnt to play for just a few quid a round.
All this has taken place within a radius of 20 miles of Berkshire countryside.
Look further afield and you will find Carswell (Oxfordshire) and Moore Place (Surrey) have all closed their gates for the very last time.
So while growing participation numbers is undoubtedly good for golf, some courses will sadly never reap the benefit.