EXCLUSIVE

R&A close to deal to buy Glasgow municipal golf course

Lethamhill Golf

The R&A is on the verge of completing a deal to buy Lethamhill Golf Course in Glasgow, bunkered.co.uk has learned.

The 18-hole municipal, located just to the north of the city, has been facing an uncertain future ever since Glasgow City Council approved a tranche of budget cuts in February.

The new SNP/Green Party budget included the proposal to retain the nine-hole Knighstwood Golf Course in the west of the city but to dispense with or repurpose the other five courses operated on the council's behalf by Glasgow Life. Lethamhill was one of those, along with Alexandra Park, Linn Park, Ruchill and Littlehill.

Whilst the future of four of those remains in limbo, it appears that Lethamhill could be salvaged by the game's governing body.

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bunkered.co.uk understands that the R&A plans to transform the course into a new community golf centre, which will help to deliver the organisation's 'Grow The Game' message at a local level in the home of golf's biggest city.

The R&A's proposals were rubber-stamped by a Glasgow City Council committee today, with the acquisition of the land now moving forward.

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An R&A spokesperson told us: “We are exploring the possibility of acquiring the public golf course at Lethamhill and are currently involved in on-going discussions of our proposals with Glasgow Life. We continue to follow the process outlined by the local authority with the aim of reaching an agreement for the site.

“We believe that this is an opportunity to create and establish a popular blueprint for how golf can be offered in many appealing ways to be enjoyed by men, women, young people and families of all ages and backgrounds. It reflects our wider strategy to ensure golf is thriving 50 years from now.”

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SNP councillor David McDonald, the chair of Glasgow Life, added that the deal would "secure a positive future for golf" on the south side of the city.

"It will help develop a whole new way to play and access the sport for a wider audience including local groups and schools," he tweeted.

"In addition it brings added community benefits, jobs and training opportunities.

"During our golf review, we promised to deliver a sustainable future for golf. This agreement represents just that. A partnership between the city and an internationally established sport governing body that will lead to the development of new ways to participate in and enjoy golf."

Reading between the lines, this deal must be considered a huge statement of intent from the R&A. Its chief executive, Martin Slumbers, has regularly spoken of the game's need to evolve to match consumer demand.

Earlier this year, he cited Wellsgreen Golf Centre, close to where he lives in Kirkcaldy, as an example of a facility that is "selling a product people want to buy".

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"I go in there as a 'secret shopper'," he told Golf Australia in February. "And it’s full. The car park is full. The bays are full. And what I see is people having fun and being with their friends. The game started in Scotland as a game for the people. But more importantly, it was part of community life. And we have lost our way there. We need to be more egalitarian. That is where the future is."

The R&A spokesperson we spoke to wouldn't be drawn on what the expected purchase of Lethamhill might lead to going forward but it is surely reasonable to assume that, when established, its blueprint could be replicated at other similar golf facilities, both at home and abroad.

The timing of the news is appropriate, given that the first major championship of this rescheduled season, the US PGA, gets underway on a public course later today.

TPC Harding Park in San Francisco will stage the 102nd edition of the championship and, speaking to reporters yesterday, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy explained why municipal courses - and staging the game's biggest events on them - are so important.

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"it's very refreshing that we do come to places like here, Bethpage, Torrey Pines," said the Northern Irishman. "It is important to let the public see us on golf courses that they've played before, that are accessible for them, that aren't too expensive to get on.

"I think golf has still got a fair bit to go to be as inclusive and as accessible as it needs to be, but look, it's a step in the right direction."

Today's news should certainly be classed as another.

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