Wirral Council’s announcement last June that it was planning to sell off two of its four municipal golf courses to private operators caused a wave of public outcry.
The clubs protested they had not been consulted, while councillors challenged the lack of financial detail in the cabinet’s plan. Attempts at handing over the courses to private investors have been on-going since 2014, on the grounds that hundreds of thousands of pounds are needed for their maintenance.
However, following a public policy u-turn in October, the sustainability of the Wirral’s four municipal golf courses – Arrowe Park, Warren Golf Club, Brackenwood Golf Club and Hoylake Municipal – is now a top priority for Wirral Council, following its decision to scrap their plans to sell off their valued community golfing assets and focus on finding solutions to run the golf courses sustainably in the public sector.
While the financial pressures of running and funding golf courses across the public and private sector have been felt for a number of years, just a few miles away at AIntree, horseracing is thriving, so much that the Grand National betting offers 2020 are already a hot-selling offer.
Back on the golfing front, Wirral council has drawn up a three-point plan to turn around the long-term future of each of its golf venues, with plans to carry out a ground survey of all four courses, to be followed by a phased capital investment over the next eight years. The freeze on new maintenance equipment will also be lifted and a consultative group with local golfers and clubs be established.
Tom Anderson, the Tory chairman of the environment committee, was quoted as saying that golf courses should be available ‘to the many, not the few’. That could prove to be easier said than done, though. All councillors seem to agree that the management of the municipal courses sorely needs improvement.
Users have been complaining of bunkers devoid of sand, weed-infested greens, tee boxes needing a cut and other signs of neglect. Other users have been reporting that dozens of people ‘sneak onto the courses and play for free, with no municipal staff in site to monitor and collect fees, which would increase
Cllr Julie McManus has welcomed the opportunity to look again at this proposal and listen further to the concerns and ideas of golfers and members of the committee.
“While it remained clear that changes had to be made to how municipal courses in Wirral were managed, it was also clear that there were further options that could be explored that meant we could keep them in-house and give greater security to all those involved, particularly staff.
“What we are now looking to do is invest in these courses and make significant improvements to how they are managed; looking at opportunities to maximise the income the council can achieve, not just directly through golf but also from the secondary opportunities that exist. We will also establish a dedicated service area for golf, bringing in the expertise, which at present sits across a number of different council departments. They will work together across all sites to ensure consistency and efficiency and ultimately create and deliver a new vision for municipal golf in Wirral.”