Friday, 27 December 2013

Is Britain over-golfed?

My stroll today around Duffield was diverted when I came to this notice, which has not been here in past years. The Chevin golf club has put up signs preventing walkers from crossing its land, though for decades there has been a public right of way. Health and Safety, the new god that must be obeyed - one stray ball, one pedestrian struck in the head (or maybe a near-miss) and the walking public is now barred from this path. What was particularly annoying was that this path was dry, unlike the alternative, which would have involved me getting ankle-deep in mud.


On the plane to England, I read in BA's High Life magazine about how much of England is now covered in golf-course. The English county of Surrey (1,663km2), the article said, is now home to 420 golf courses. (Poland, by contrast, a country of 312,679km2 - the size of 188 Surreys - can boast only 20 full-size golf courses and maybe another ten or so nine-hole ones.)

But Surrey is not the most intensively golfed English county. The record holder here is Merseyside, where over 2.5% of its surface is actually covered in golf course. Although the High Life article did not have access to data from all English counties (Scotland, home of the sport, was not included), the conclusion was that around 1% of England lies under fairway, bunker or green.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Golf courses are well-maintained, their groundsmen stewards of the countryside, ensuring the grassland, hedgerows, coppices, ponds and streams thrive sustainably, buttresses against the onward march of housing, shopping malls, roads and assorted eyesores. Golf courses offer the chance of exercise to large numbers of middle-aged people who'd otherwise be flopped out in front of the telly and thus burden the health service.

On the other hand, golf courses are aesthetically unnatural; they can deprive walkers of access to the countryside, they are haunts of middle-class folk who drive miles in their SUVs around narrow country lanes to enjoy the privilege of knocking a golf-ball about. Badly needed housing cannot be developed because so much land is owned by golf clubs.

On balance then... taking all the above factors into consideration... (and speaking as someone who's obviously not a golfer, who's not swung a club for over 16 years)... a good thing. I would certainly like to see far more golf courses appear across Poland - and not just exclusive clubs, but ones set up and run by local authorities, as in England, where the sport is far less elitist than in Poland.

Before swapping London's suburbia for Warsaw, our house found itself within 5km of no fewer than eight golf courses, public and private, 9- and 18-hole (Perivale Park, Ealing, Brent Valley, West Middlesex, Horsenden Hill, Sudbury, Northolt and Hangar Hill).

If Poland were to have the same saturation of golf courses as Surrey, it would need another 80,000 golf courses. Having said that, half of Surrey's golf courses are under water as I write...

As I turned back into Duffield to walk along urban pavements rather than rural footpaths, a fluorescent-yellow golf ball whizzed past my ear, sailing over the wall of an adjacent house, then rolling down the lawn into the flower bed. I decided not to tell the golfer where his ball had landed and continued with my walk. "You're obviously not a golfer..."

This time two years:
Everybody's out on the road today

This time three years ago:
50% off and nothing to pay till June 2016


Bob said...

The course is just playing games so to speak. If they were not being disingenuous they would simply put a sign up warning walkers of the hazards and that to walk on the course one accepts that there is danger and hold the course and players harmless for any and all injuries.

Now, if Chris and I were playing, the likelihood of hitting something (or someone) other than the fairway or green is very likely!

White Horse Pilgrim said...

If it's a public right of way then it's a simple matter to request that the local council enforces it. If the gold club doesn't back down, prosecution would result.

Plus the owner of the golf course has a duty of care towards people on the right of way. Under English law a notice does not absolve the owner of that. It does however fall to the user of the path to take reasonable care, such as not deviating from the path.

On occasions it is possible to apply for a legal order to divert a footpath, which would be considered by the council and would be subject to public consultation. I recall a case where a footpath ran quite close to the runway of an airfield - it was diverted to a parallel course nearby. Some footpaths crossing railway lines on the level have also been diverted to reduce risk.