Pressure on golf clubs as Lothianburn faces axe

Lothianburn Golf Course. Picture: Greg Macvean
Lothianburn Golf Course. Picture: Greg Macvean
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GOLF clubs have been warned they must adapt or risk extinction after it emerged one of the Capital’s leading courses could shut down within months.

Lothianburn, which has a proud history dating back to 1892, is on the verge of going into administration after officials were given until the end of the season to keep it afloat.

Clubs across Scotland are struggling due to falling memberships and while Lothianburn would be the first established club in the Lothians to lose its battle for existence, there are fears more could find themselves seriously bunkered in coming years.

The recession hitting the squeezed middle, an increase in the number of courses nationwide and more choice in leisure time activities have all been cited as factors behind declining memberships.

Other factors threatening the region’s courses include diminishing housing development land making the fairways seem attractive coffer fillers, hikes in green fees to cover public insurance liability hikes and even a change in attitude to drink-driving laws putting paid to extended time at the 19th hole.

Allan Shaw, secretary of the Lothians Golf Association, said traditional entry-level clubs are at risk.

“Traditionally, most clubs in and around Edinburgh had waiting lists and people would start off at clubs like Lothianburn, Swanston New and Torphin Hill before graduating into the other clubs,” he said. “But the likes of Lothianburn are being hit due to the fact people are now getting straight into these clubs.”

To offset the grim outlook, Lothianburn and neighbour Swanston New are exploring the possibility of the two clubs sharing a clubhouse, courses and staff, the Evening News can reveal. The clubs, which have a combined membership of 1000, are situated on land rented from Swanston Farm in the foothills of the Pentlands.

Lothianburn captain Alan Greenshields said: “Due to falling income, sustainability of golf at Lothianburn is in question and options to preserve the club’s name have been discussed at meetings with the membership. Indeed, the situation is becoming critical and the danger of falling into administration currently hangs over the club.”

Kevin Fish, club development manager with Scottish Golf, said the sport’s governing bodies have been in contact with Lothianburn to offer support to the ailing club.

He said: “There are 20 per cent more courses in Scotland than there were 20 years ago. Sadly, it’s no surprise that clubs are struggling.

“People have more leisure options and clubs are having to work harder to compete for the public’s time and income.

“Clubs are not businesses, but they recognise that they need to be more business-like.”

North Berwick-based Mr Fish said he supported the principle of clubs working more closely together. Earlier this year, the Scottish Golf Union helped 13 Capital clubs, including Swanston New and Lothianburn, form a partnership called Edinburgh Golf.

He said: “Clubs have come through two world wars and many economic downturns. In my experience, a club’s members are generally very proud of belonging and would rather change and adapt to the market place than take a fast-buck option of selling up.”