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  • Alistair Tait

Municipal golf still matters

Interesting article by Martin Dempster in today’s Scotsman which bodes well for our game. New figures seem to reinforce the theory that golf is one of the silver linings of this pandemic.

Well, at least Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has some competition.

According to Martin’s story, Edinburgh’s municipal golf courses have seen a huge increase in rounds played during the Covid-19 pandemic. Martin states:

“After reopening at the beginning of June following the first full lockdown through to the end of December, a total of 22,097 rounds were played at the Braids, Wee Braids, Carrick Knowe, Silverknowes, Craigentinny and Portobello. That represented a whopping 65 per cent increase on the corresponding period in 2019, with the number of Edinburgh Leisure golf members also having increased by 58 per cent, rising from 2,057 to 3,251, in that time.”

The reason for this increase? Ken Harvey, Edinburgh Leisure’s head of customers operations, proffers one:

“The increase in players can, of course, be attributable to the restrictions on other activities, but we hope that having picked up their clubs these customers will continue to participate in golf.

We all share that hope.

The Edinburgh figures are welcome news considering municipal golf has been under attack in Scotland. There were plans last year to close municipal courses in Glasgow and Ayrshire. A motion was tabled in Glasgow to shut five of the six municipal layouts - Littlehill, Lethamhill, Linn Park, Alexandra Park, and Ruchill. Just one 9-hole course, Knightswood, was set to remain. Meanwhile, Ayrshire was considering closing Maybole, Dalmilling, Girvan, Seafield and Belleisle.

Public courses like the ones above are vital. You don’t need a PhD to figure out closing down municipal golf courses in Scotland or anywhere else does not help the grow the game effort that is such a buzz phrase these days. Take them away and we lose a vital entry point for new golfers.

After all, the most famous golf course in the world is a municipal course. The Old Course and the town’s other public courses have provided an excellent pathway into golf for St Andrews and Fife citizens for generations. Imagine the very idea of shutting down these courses? It would be sacrilege.

I’m a prime example of someone who benefitted from municipal golf. Rockway Golf Club is a municipal layout on King Street in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. This course, along with Merry Hill Golf Club on the outskirts of the city, helped stoke my interest in this stick and ball game.

Moe Norman wouldn’t have graced this great game if not for Rockway. Norman became the straightest hitter the game has ever seen because he honed his swing on Rockway’s practice ground. I still remember glancing over towards the practice ground and seeing him feverishly ripping balls. Fittingly, there is now a Moe Norman room at Rockway.

You can take a bus to Rockway. I occasionally did as a university student. Merry Hill had three short 9-hole loops that were perfect for beginners like me get into the game. I graduated from Rockway and Merry Hill to other courses in the area when I bought my first car.

Hopefully Ken Harvey gets his wish and the numbers in Edinburgh last year continue or even improve this year. The bottom line is the figures Martin has reported prove municipal golf still matters.

#JustSaying: “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 end are wanted.” Sir Henry Cotton

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