COVID-19 will ravage the sport, leisure and recreation in Scottish communities, with a raft of facilities expected to either never re-open or close in 2020-21. But golf is one sport reacting ambitiously by finding another way to deliver public services that could increase participation.
The R&A golf organisation has confirmed that they are in talks to buy a public golf course in Glasgow in a bid to create a new model to attract children to sport. Glasgow City Council served notice in February, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, that they were seeking to “retrovision the golf service” in relation to the five municipal golf courses they own – Linn Park, Lethamhill, Littlehill, Alexandra Park and Ruchill. Essentially, they were looking to close them as part of cost savings, which virtually all Scottish councils were seeking before Covid-19. They were then planning to retain the nine-hole course at Knightswood under the management of Glasgow Life, the charitable organisation that manages the city’s sport, leisure and culture facilities and services.
Now, the situation is even more worrying for councils, with leisure trusts, including Glasgow Life, forecasting the possible closure of 90% of sport, leisure and culture facilities if more funding is not provided by the Scottish Government to councils, and then by councils to the sport, leisure and culture provision.
Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, confirmed to The Scotsman (full article here) that the St Andrews-based organisation has stepped in and offered to purchase Lethamhill Golf Course, which sits between the M8 and M80 in the north of Glasgow. Golf is one of many sports acutely concerned at the falling rates of participation over the past decade and longer, with sustainability of clubs forced under more servers pressures by the coronavirus lockdown. Indoor sport including badminton, basketball, netball and football are all watching the situation closely fearing the loss of key club and community facilities.
The R&A is seeking to remodel the Lethamhill course as a golf centre aimed partially at attracting young players to a sport heavily reliant on older generations. A spokesperson told The Scotsman: “We are exploring the possibility of acquiring the public golf course at Lethamhill and are currently involved in on-going discussions of our proposals with Glasgow Life. We continue to follow the process outlined by the local authority with the aim of reaching an agreement for the site.
“We believe that this is an opportunity to create and establish a popular blueprint for how golf can be offered in many appealing ways to be enjoyed by men, women, young people and families of all ages and backgrounds. It reflects our wider strategy to ensure golf is thriving 50 years from now.”
SNP councillor David McDonald, the chair of Glasgow Life, is a big advocate of finding new ways to manage sport facilities in order to keep them open and accessible to all communities. He has welcomed the deal with the R&A for Lethamhill, according to bunkered.co.uk.
“It will help develop a whole new way to play and access the sport for a wider audience including local groups and schools,” he tweeted. “In addition it brings added community benefits, jobs and training opportunities.
“During our golf review we promised to deliver a sustainable future for golf. This agreement represents just that. A partnership between the city and an internationally-established sport governing body that will lead to the development of new ways to participate in and enjoy golf.”
Much discussion is ongoing behind the scenes across a raft of sports fearing for their future. With many facilities guaranteed not to re-open, Scottish sport and government need to follow golf’s lead in an urgent rethink before community facilities, and the widespread physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits they bring on a daily basis, are lost for good.