Save Allestree Golf Course: help save a Harry Colt classic

"It's being allowed to die a slow death because it has become a political football."

Andy Roberts's picture
Andrew Picken
Fri, 12 Mar 2021
Save Allestree Golf Course: help save a Harry Colt classic

Imagine being given the opportunity to rediscover a lost Harry S Colt golf course? Your very own golfing Antique Roadshow moment, writes Andrew Picken, who is fighting to 'Save Allestree Golf Course.'

A 90-year-old beauty with 14 of the original 18 holes still in play because it has been neglected by its current owners for decades. Rough and ready around the edges, but still being played every day despite a lack of investment and attention.

A golf course that featured a unique island tee box never seen anywhere else in the world in Colt’s over 320 designs. Only two other Harry S Colt designs are still in play as municipal facilities on the UK. All the others are in private hands and treated with the love and care they deserve.

A course sitting within a World Heritage Site and protected from building development by that status. A course developed by Colt to compliment the houses that were built around it, each adding value to the other. A perfect example of the 'Country Club' concept that started at St Georges Hill in 1913, was copied at Wentworth and Effingham, and seen in Allestree, Derby in 1930.

This same idea was then transported around the globe by Colts’ business partners. Dr Alister Mackenzie, CH Alison, JSF Morrison. America, Japan, Australasia. They all followed this concept that started in the UK. That is some decent golfing company.

Imagine the ability to talk about that course, consulting with some of the greatest living golf course architects, and confirming unequivocally its provenance, history and heritage. Imagine being able to influence the Harry Colt project adding value to its wonderful archive of Colt related material. 

A course so famous in its day, known as the Derbyshire Golf Club at Allestree, that its history was chronicled on the front pages of now defunct newspapers. Postcards and aerial photographs were taken. So special that it resulted in a formal application for the golf course to be recorded by Historic England as a Designated Historic Landscape. We await the news if this is to be known as the first golf course in the UK with such a designation.

This aerial photograph of the famous lake holes is being used on paid licence as it comes from the archive owned by Derby City Council.

That’s not a misprint. We have had to pay to use this picture as it comes from Derby City Council’s own archive. Yet no mention of the course history in any of the advertising. Why? 

Exciting? A once in a lifetime opportunity? 

Why am I so devastated today? I am being forced to watch this course die a slow death having received no attention from its owners since before Xmas. Why?

Golf in the UK is about to come out of lockdown on March 29 and demand for golf has never been greater. Local private courses are fully subscribed and are rightly limiting visitor access to benefit paid subscription members. None of these venues could be viewed as affordable in comparison to Allestree Park.

Green fees in December, despite appalling weather, rose 300%. Municipal golf in Scotland has continued and record a 260% increase in business over the last four months. This golf course sits untouched and abandoned. Staff are being paid to ensure no one plays golf on it and this is likely to continue after March 29. Why?

The Council are claiming a cost saving of £69,000 in a recently announced budget. This is wrong as they have committed to pay £32,000 to maintain the course as an absorbed parkland. Throwing away of all this for a saving of £37,000 AND losing the chance to actually generate income from a Council resource that is about to experience increased demand is commercially unjustifiable.

The owners of this gem of a course, Derby City Council,(DCC) decided that they wished to sell Allestree Hall and golf course because the Hall is on the 'At Risk' register and is a grade 2* listed building. They advertised the Hall for sale with a glossy internet brochure with a single line stating “Option available to operate adjoining Golf Course.”

 

 

No mention of its designer or history, failing to detail 18 years of its initial life. No advertising to golf related developers. No reference to its famous designer or its rich heritage and history. Why?

One positive from its neglect is the fact that 14 of the original 18 holes are exactly as Colt designed them over 90 years ago. Visiting golfers were able to read hole by hole guides on the front pages of those newspapers as they travelled to the venue for high profile competitions. We have been able to use these newspaper reports to recreate accurately the original design 

It is a municipal course ,accessible to all, and was an entry pathway into the game for myself, over 16 current PGA professionals in the Midlands and a Ryder Cup player and captain. All emerged from its junior ranks. No PGA professional, no promotion or support, simply left to its own devices. Average green fee price £7.34 for 2019. Woefully managed and neglected despite a rich heritage and history that many clubs would crave.

It’s first professional was a runner up in The Open and Ryder Cup qualifier. He in turn taught junior members who later became a point winning player and Captain of the Ryder Cup. It enjoyed the services of a lady professional from 1932 to 1935. Margaret Robertson applied to join the PGA in 1929 but was rejected, women not being allowed to join until 1962. She was such a successful teacher that she mentored Scottish international players, in Derby. This venue was accessible and inclusive throughout its life. Exactly the sort of venue that is needed for our sport to thrive.

Allestree Park Golf Club attached to the course has been decimated through years of neglect. They leased rooms in the clubhouse, providing their own heating as the Council owners failed to repair failed heating systems or repair structural leaks. Mould caused by leaks rendered the food preparation areas unhygienic. Members moved elsewhere and the club is now fading into oblivion.

A public consultation secured 75% support for the course to be retained. It was ignored, and a sale process started with 4 bidders emerging who wished to take over the running of the course. All were rejected by DCC. Once my story broke golf industry interest added at least another 3 interested bidders. Those approaches were also rejected. They have the staff and equipment to run the course and generate income but they have refused. Why? 

Petitions to save the course have attracted almost 26,000 signatures and has been dealt with by the Council with a terse written response of 468 words, most of which simply criticised the wording of the petition. This matter has never been debated in Council as delegated authority was generated to a handful of officers who have driven this closure process.

Post pandemic we are in a different world, surely a flexible approach would suit all parties allowing income generation and assessment. Why not?

 

 

DCC cannot tell us the value of the golf course, with its new found fame, but they still are determined to destroy it . Once it is gone, it’s gone forever. DCC have decided to decommission the course, abandon it, and incorporate it into the existing parkland.

We needed a Freedom of Information request to reveal that this will cost £32,000 per year to accomplish. It is already surrounded by one of Derby’s largest parks so no one loses any amenity by keeping the golf course.

For 90 years the park and the golf course have existed next to each other. Why could this not continue?

The golf industry is rightly promoting its health and well-being benefits. It can be played by all ages and genders but it needs accessible and affordable entry points into the game.

This is a perfect venue for such use and it is being allowed to die a slow death because it has become a political football. 

Check out our You Tube videos on the site. If you need to assess the loss to the community of this facility check out the one produced by Golf Mates taken on the last day of play. 

We have created a website www.saveallestreegolfcourse.co.uk that details our concerns regarding this process as we cannot get any engagement from the Council. We even have candidates ready to stand as independent Councillors in the forthcoming local elections on this issue.

If you want to know more about the history of this venue and its plight please visit the site and let us know your thoughts and ideas. contact@saveallestreegolfcourse.co.uk