In our previous two articles (1) (2) we set down the history of golf course development in the British Isles as being in two distinct phases: with a big difference between early 20th century locations of golf and the second wave, a hundred years later, of typically weaker courses in terms of integration with communities, suitability of land and quality of design. In short, many courses and clubs are poorly positioned, both commercially and physically, to meet a market need that is changing and weakening. Because time and social pressures make the single product (18 hole course) less appealing year by year – unless that 18 hole product is truly excellent in quality and location.
We identified various business segments which could be appropriate for residential development on at least part of the property and especially for socially relevant, age- and lifestyle-related residences and activities. All this whilst potentially still providing market-driven golf products and then using the released areas, so creating capital for investment to change the product offer to match the modern market and avoiding the need for additional land purchase.
Where are the opportunities for developers?
Possible solutions need careful analysis of supply and local demand, coupled with drive-time analysis and assessment of highways/traffic. Different types of golfing and other sports leisure activities have very differing acceptable journey times associated with them. Additionally, local stakeholder groups generally exist to preserve status quo not to support change. New solutions must be presented with attractive and compelling cases for backing change – it is not beyond hope that local stakeholders could support inspired, mixed development, rather than resist new thinking, if the product on offer adds substantially to the community.
Clearly, careful consideration of local planning implications is a ‘must have’. Whatever the continuing debate on the efficacy of building on the Green Belt – and it’s a perpetual hot topic – this need not be like a form of Animal Farm: ‘green belt good, golf course bad’. Indeed, many golf courses already occupy the green belt and provide valuable biodiverse enrichment: there is plenty of scope for golf both to preserve and add to the national stock of protected nature reserves and/or public open space. Opening up hitherto privately-held golf course land to wider access is compatible with good business by clubs and homebuilding on a variety of scales. Indeed, homebuilding is at the core of the business opportunity for the existing golf clubs. So, intelligently provided public amenity access is to be welcomed as a benefit to all parties.