• Alistair Tait

Creating Cotton's dream?

Sir Henry Cotton must be smiling in that great clubhouse in the sky following the R&A’s decision to go ahead with a new community golf facility in Glasgow.

The governing body has lodged a planning application to Glasgow City Council to redevelop the existing public course at Lethamhill. The R&A wants to turn the site into a family-focussed centre with a 9-hole course, par-3 course; putting greens; short-game area; adventure golf; and 25-bay floodlit range. There will also be a café, fitness studio, indoor simulator and movie theatre, education room, and a retail area.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said:

“We want to make golf more welcoming and inclusive for people of all ages and backgrounds, and so we need to appeal to them by offering a variety of fun and affordable activities that entice more families and young people into the sport. “We are excited by the prospect of establishing a facility in the very heart of the local community in north-east Glasgow that provides an accessible pathway into golf.”

Slumbers has made attracting families to the game one of the tenets of his tenure. This initiative is a concrete means of doing just that.

Three-time Open champion Cotton dreamt of such facilities over 60 years ago. He wanted basic, affordable courses on the edges of towns and cities for people to learn the game. In Thanks for the Game, published in 1980, Cotton writes:

“I do not see the luxurious country club type of operation with its necessary steep subscriptions and high green fees as a golf need of the future, but public golf or even private clubs geared to a lower key are wanted.
“This would provide a place to play golf for a small annual subscription and a cheap green fee.

So well done Slumbers and the R&A for taking this step. Most will agree that if this is the sort of project to benefit from money the Open Championship generates, then let’s hope the Open continues to fill R&A coffers for many years to come.

Grow the game is a mantra we’ve become all too familiar with. There hasn’t been much growing in recent years. Perhaps just the opposite. Hard to grow the game in the Home of Golf when so many municipal courses are under threat in Scotland. Cash strapped councils are under more pressure to fund muni golf than ever before, and pathways into golf for beginners are in danger of being cut off as result. So well done the R&A for stepping into the breach.

However, questions have to be asked about the feasibility of this project. Does the R&A have the necessary expertise to make this centre successful? How much will it cost? Will the facility at least cover that cost or lose money in the long run? Twenty years from now, will it be a raging success, introducing vast swathes of Glaswegians to the game, or will it sit like a giant white elephant in North East Glasgow?

More importantly, will it be copied? Will we see similar community golf centres in Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness, etc.? The R&A is the governing body for the entire world apart from the United States and Mexico. Does that mean we will see similar facilities rolled out in the future in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bombay, Kinshasa, and other cities around the world? Will the R&A be accused of parochialism if Glasgow is the only city to benefit from such a project?

Only time will tell if the Glasgow centre is the template for a vast array of R&A golf learning centres or a just one off project. Let’s hope the former is true.

Maybe then Sir Henry’s dream will come true.

#JustSaying: “The chief thing to bear in mind is that golf is a recreation and a means for giving us health and pleasure.” Dr Alister MacKenzie

Images courtesy of the R&A

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