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  • Alistair Tait

Yet another fight for municipal golf

Four thousand, two hundred and seventy-three people had signed the petition when I started this blog. One Ryder Cup hero had signed, with a plea to another Ryder Cup legend to do likewise.

Whether it’s enough to save Stockwood Park Golf Club in Luton remains to be seen. A similar petition didn’t stop Derby City Council from closing down Allestree Park Golf Course.

Five-time Ryder Cup player Ken Brown put out a plea on twitter to get people in the Luton area to sign the petition, with an appeal to another former local Ryder Cup alumni in Ian Poulter. Brown knows the course well. He lives about five miles away in nearby Harpenden. His tweet reads:

Local resident Sarah Jolley started the petition, which states:

“There is currently an open consultation with plans to close the golf centre due to significant shortfall in budget due to COVID-19
“Stockwood Park Golf Centre is a gem in our town, it caters for all ages and is an affordable golf centre. …This is a PUBLIC golf course and many walkers/runners also use this space for exercise. This golf course is enjoyed by young children up to senior citizens, by families and friends. At a time when people need these facilities do not let the council take them away.”

As Luton Today reported, Stockwood Golf Club Captain Paul Hume didn’t mince his feelings towards Luton Borough Council:

"I am disgusted that during a pandemic, when golf participation is on the rise and we need green space more than ever, the council is considering closing such a valuable asset to the people of Luton.
"Stockwood Park Golf Centre has over 250 members, and attracts business from many golfing groups and casual players from a wide area.
"If the course is closed, the council is reinforcing the prejudice that golf is a game reserved for old, rich, white men. Golf is a sport for life and should not be reserved for the elite.
"Stockwood Park provides a public golf course accessible to all ages and backgrounds, where tens of thousands have taken up the sport over the last 50 years."

Scratch golfers in Bedfordshire know the course well, too. As one friend pointed out to me:

“Almost every Bedfordshire scratch player came through playing county trials and matches here. … What a shame if it closes, particularly as it seems there is renewed interest in our game.”

Twenty-five thousand signed the Allestree petition, and locals are still fighting to save the golf course. The future of the Harry Colt-designed layout looks bleak, however, even if the course has been in use since Colt laid it out in 1930.

The Stockwood news come on the back of similar plans in Scotland to close municipal courses in Glasgow, Ayrshire and Dundee.

It’s easy to think that maybe 30, 40, 50 years from now there will be no such thing as municipal golf courses, considering how cash-strapped local councils seem determined to shut them down. Quite where anyone living in inner cities will begin their golfing lives in future remains a mystery. We can't all have a public links such as the Old Course in St Andrews just down the street from us. If only!

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. As Alistair Dunsmuir reports in The Golf Business, a proposal to close three of four public courses in The Wirral looks set to be scrapped after local councillors listened to the pleas of local residents.

Hopefully Luton Borough Council will pay heed to its locals too, and save a valuable golf centre that’s served the community for 50 years. Municipal golf centres like Stockwood are important pathways into the game that need to be preserved.

#JustSaying: “(Moe) ventured over to Rockway, a public course owned by the City of Kitchener. … The green fee was 10 cents for 18 holes. … He’d play 18, 36, 54, and sometimes 72 holes a day. It became his merry-go-round of golf. In the summer, between grade 8 and 9, he’d spend entire days at Rockway.” From Tim O’Connor’s book The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story

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