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Loath as I am to write about the turgid and obnoxious world of politics, sometimes exceptions must be made. Consider this one of those.

Next Wednesday, councillors in South Lanarkshire – one of 32 local authorities in Scotland, representing an area to the south-east of Glasgow – will meet to thrash out a plan to plug a £20million black hole in their finances.

These are challenging times, they will wail. Costs must be cut. Belts must be tightened. Beloved, historic public provisions will have to go.

Amongst those, it has been suggested, could be Hollandbush Golf Club. One of six courses operated by South Lanarkshire Leisure & Council, it could find its support withdrawn as part of measures designed to combat the financial shortfall.

At a stroke, a thriving club with almost 70 years of history and a core part of its community could be left on the brink of oblivion. Why? Because a group of obfuscating grown-up milk monitors have decided it’s surplus to requirements.

A similar fate awaits Caird Park in Dundee and, apparently, several other council-owned golf courses across the country. The many, many people who use these facilities will be forced to listen on, powerless, as some rosette-wearing charlatan spews out insincere inanities about “having no alternative”, whilst tossing the blame for “this sad predicament” at their political opponents.

Alas, this is nothing new. Golf courses have long been soft targets for elected ignoramuses.

Shortly before the pandemic hit, it was reported that Glasgow City Council was planning to withdraw support for all but one of the courses it operated through its Glasgow Life subsidiary – a threat it followed through on. Today, the sad, abandoned remains of one of those courses hide in plain sight in Alexandra Park in the city’s east end. Weather-beaten signs protesting its closure are still cable-tied to the perimeter gates. Founded in 1872, closed in 2020.

“The number of rounds played on the courses was going down,” the councillors whined, conveniently omitting the fact that the rate of attrition aligned closely – almost parallel, in fact – with a decrease in investment by Glasgow City Council. You could argue that this was a self-perpetuating crisis. But nah. It’s far easier – not to mention great for the campaign trail – to blame them.

What’s the big deal, you might be wondering. There are still plenty of golf courses to go around, no?

Well, yes. But also no.

Municipal golf courses are, as Scottish Golf recently (and at long last) noted, an integral part of the sport’s grassroots. They might exist on the periphery of the sport’s mainstream, and others may or may not regard them with indifferent glances – but the people who use them are no less a golfer than anybody else.

They serve people who perhaps cannot afford the fees demanded by private members’ clubs, or who want to learn to play the game away in a more relaxed, less intimidating environment. I can vouch. That was me. I can’t tell you how many rounds I’ve played at Knightswood in Glasgow’s west end, or Belleisle, Seafield, Girvan and the trio of tracks at Troon Links down in Ayrshire. They were affordable, safe spaces where I could hack around at my leisure.

Likewise, the public putting green in Orkney where I grew up. I used it almost every day for several summers, paying 20p per round. It’s gone now. The local authority bulldozed it in the mid-nineties to make way for two new bowling greens. But without that facility and the nine-holer at Knightswood, there’s a high chance I wouldn’t be working in the industry today.

Back in 2017, an investigation we carried out 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,” said 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.”

Get it now? See how important municipal courses are? They might not be fashionable. They may not make it onto many ‘bucket lists’. They certainly won’t ever host The Open.

But that’s not their purpose. Their entire reason for being is far more important than any of that.

Take them away and you make golf inaccessible to a significant proportion of the population. You risk making golf everything that so many are trying hard to prevent it from becoming: the exclusive preserve of those with ‘means’.

Next week, it’ll be South Lanarkshire Council and Hollandbush. Soon after, it will be somebody else.

Where does it end? That’s a question that should concern us all.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’


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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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