Less than five years on from a hugely successful Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and an even more prosperous Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – which, combined, were worth a reported £846m to the Scottish economy – six council-run golf courses in Scotland’s biggest city are facing the threat of closure.
How has it come to this?
Those behind these events – each one, a magnificent spectacle – promised funding, resources and support for grassroots sport across the country.
This was to be their ‘legacy’, the kickback to the average Joe, a ‘thank you for everything’.
But that the trouble with ‘legacies’ – take away the ‘E’, ‘G’, ‘A’ and ‘C’ and what have you got? ‘Lies’.
Earlier this year, Glasgow city council launched a public consultation into the future of the six municipal courses it operates: the 18-hole Littlehill, Lethamhill and Linn Park layouts, as well as three nine-hole courses: Knightswood, Ruchill and Alexandra Park.
"Low usage figures combined with a substantial annual deficit incurred in the provision of these facilities requires us to seek views and suggestions from all interested parties,” they told us.
“A substantial annual deficit”? But wait a minute – didn’t Glasgow benefit to the tune of £390m off the back of the Commonwealth Games? Where has all that money gone?
Interestingly, no data was provided to demonstrate the extent of the “low usage”. That may or may not be the case. However, an investigation carried out over several months by bunkered in 2017 discovered a thriving municipal golf scene both in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
We spoke to three friends – 17-year-olds Liam Doherty, Ryan Houston and Grant Wilson – who, as Glasgow Young Scot card-holders, were eligible to play golf for free at any of the city’s six municipal courses.
“At a lot of clubs, you’re looking at annual fees of around £500 when you turn 18 and you just can’t afford it,” says Grant. “Unless you can play every Saturday, I’d say it’s not worth it.
“That’s why you might as well play here, while it’s free, get better and maybe at some point in the future we’ll enjoy golf enough and be able to afford to join a private club where it’s going to be worth the money.”
Their free golf was due to run out when they turned 19 and all three were concerned that they might not be able to afford to keep playing the game they’ve grown to love. “The reality is we probably won’t end up playing as much,” added Ryan.
At Knightswood, we spoke to ten-year-old Ruairidh Coltart – dressed casually in trainers, jeans and a hoodie – who was enjoying a round with his dad Bill. By coincidence, it was Ruairidh’s first visit to a golf course
“I started here when I was ten-years-old as well,” recalled, Bill, who was enjoying his first round in years. He had been forced to sacrifice his £800 annual membership at one club in the Glasgow area after only managing two rounds in his final year due to work and family commitments. The council-run Knightswood course was his only chance to keep playing golf and, even more importantly, introduce his wee boy to the game.
“Hopefully, in a few years’ time, he’ll still be interested and be able to come along here with his friends and play.”
That now hinges on what recommendations are made following the public consultation that ended last month. They should be made public in November.
Until then, the sword of Damocles continues to hang above each of the six courses in question.
It’s not an exaggeration to say these courses exist on the fringes of golf in Scotland. For whatever reason, they are viewed as ‘less’. Granted, they’ll never host a major tournament but that’s not why they exist. They are there to inspire the city’s citizens and visitors to lead richer and more active lives through culture, sport and learning. Not our words but those of Glasgow Life, the charity which ran the public consultation on behalf of the city council.
Can you see the glaring contradiction? “Be more active… by the way, some of your facilities may be closed.” At the very least, it’s not a good look for the people in charge of sport in Glasgow.
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Don’t think for a second that this is an isolated issue and that it couldn’t happen in your area. The huge public putting green that served as my introduction to golf, back when I was a kid growing up in Orkney, was shut in the late 1990s to make way for two new bowling greens. Without that green, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be working in the golf industry today.
The same goes for my colleague, David Cunninghame. DC takes care of our gear sections in print and online, and plays off five. He’s been a member at Whitecraigs for ten years, represents his club in team matches, and captained his University of Strathclyde golf team. You won’t meet a bigger golf nut.
His introduction to the game? Linn Park.
He started playing there with friends when he was ten. It cost a fiver a round and he was soon bitten by the bug. Since joining our team three years ago, he’s played some of the world’s top courses but admits he’s still got a soft spot for, as he calls it, ‘Royal Linn’.
DC’s story will, no doubt, be echoed by countless men and women across Glasgow and beyond. These courses aren’t fashionable, which is why some of the snobberati that think golf exists for them alone won’t bat an eyelid far less shed a tear if they do indeed close.
But this isn’t about fashion. It’s about function.
Municipal courses play a crucial and often underappreciated role in our game. We must do everything we can to preserve them.
For Liam, Ryan and Grant. For Bill and his boy Ruairidh.
For all of us.
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The future of six Glasgow municipal courses hangs in the balance. Will you help save them? Click here to sign our petition.