Historic Edinburgh golf clubs fear closure

Historic golf clubs in Edinburgh claim their future is under threat due to the process for allocating tee times on public courses in the city being changed on the back of golf’s Covid-19 boom.

Silverknowes Golf Club. Picture: Jon Savage Photography
Silverknowes Golf Club. Picture: Jon Savage Photography

Officials at artisan clubs based at the Braids and also at Silverknowes are furious with Edinburgh Leisure after losing pre-booked tee-times that had been in place for decades.

They feel the step has left the clubs with nothing to offer new members, with the Braids clubs – Braids United, Edinburgh Thistle, Edinburgh Western, Harrison and Comiston Ladies – fearing that a combined history of more than 700 years is being put in jeopardy.

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Club members at Carrick Knowe, Craigentinny and Portobello are also being impacted by the change, which was implemented after Edinburgh Leisure courses recorded a 65 per cent increase in rounds played in a seven-month period last year.

Golfers at Portobello are among those being hit by a change to Edinburgh Leisure's online tee-booking system. Picture: Ian Georgeson

An Edinburgh Leisure spokesperson explained: “Due to the pandemic, we changed our booking procedure for all activities to an online booking system. This means for Edinburgh Leisure golf members can book eight days in advance, and non-members seven days.”

Neil Porter, a Braids United member and former secretary of the Braid Hills Association, is leading a fight on behalf of all the impacted clubs to have the pre-booked times restored before it is too late.

He said: “Without pre-booked times, guest rates or any other incentives from Edinburgh Leisure that we used to have in droves and have gradually been watered down over the years, the clubs have nothing to offer new members.

“Previously, we would have allocated club times and we could hand back any unused in advance, allowing us to easily organise competitions and groups.

Craigentinny is also one of the Edinburgh Leisure-run courses in the city. Picture: Bill Henry.

“Now we end up playing with random people, or groups are split and you end up with random one-balls or two-balls on a Saturday morning in between four-balls playing competitions.

“Edinburgh Leisure’s argument is they want all times to be filled to maximise income. You could make the same argument for a tennis court booked by two people, why can't you force them to play doubles?

“Yet Edinburgh Leisure is happy for starters to split a four-ball to maximise their income and play in two tee times with five-minute intervals, effectively inventing an extra tee time.”

Another Braids United member, Dr Sanjoy Das, believes Edinburgh Leisure are ripping the heart of the artisan clubs due to the change.

A golfer tees off at the Braids, where members of the affiliated clubs based at the course are being impacted by the change to how tee times are booked. Picture: TSPL

“This kind of club represents something which is unique about Scottish golf, that is the artisan golf club, where people from all backgrounds can get together and compete every Saturday, in a game that they love,” he said. “There are members from all walks of life here.

“There is a huge feeling of inclusion in this golf club and I, for one, would not have found the true joy of golf without it. My membership is around £50 per year.

“The value of the course is to a large extent the history of the course, and that is really the history of the clubs that played upon it.

"For many decades times were set aside for the four clubs and, of course, a club needs to play together to be viable.

Carrick Knowe, were Carrickvale Golf Club is based, is another of the courses where the demand for tee times has soared in the past year. Picture: Jane Barlow.

“Edinburgh Leisure has taken away that allocation and, if the club times do not return, the clubs will slowly die. The club members will lose something, the course will lose its identity, and the citizens of Edinburgh will lose a unique historical asset.”

Though not Edinburgh Leisure’s intention and with a meeting taking place this week with Silverknowes Golf Club to hopefully solve the matter, the change to the booking system has been stopping clubs from running fun competitions, some of which involved guests having to pay a percentage of a green fee. Clubs also claim they are being hit in their clubhouse.

“Socialising doesn't work because players are playing across the day and, with some clubs having member-run bars, there isn't someone there all day,” added Mr Porter.

“With pre-booked times we can all be in the club at the same time, which keeps the clubs going and makes them more attractive. For similar reasons, you can't attract new members because you can't guarantee them a game with other club members,

“Some members have already left because, for a combined ticket price with club membership, they can join a private club, which gives them perks such as £15 guest fees. No one brings guests to Edinburgh Leisure courses as the price is prohibitive.

“Clubs are more than happy to hand back unused times in advance. Most of our golfers pre-pandemic used to sign up for the competition two weeks before the date.

"We have even offered to always play in four-balls if it's that busy, but we don't feel it is since other sports started reopening post-lockdown. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are pretty quiet at all the courses outside of the traditional club times.

“The clubs are the long-term support to Edinburgh Leisure by attracting season-ticket holders. We have asked Edinburgh Leisure for the breakdown of members who are members of clubs, but they have not shared it despite asking the clubs individually for this information three months ago. We estimate clubs contribute £300-500,000 in fees annually, not to mention fees for matches etc.”

Silverknowes Golf Club has faced disruption over matches in this season’s Edinburgh Summer League due to the change.

“It’s caused us a lot of problems,” said club member Kala Renton. “It would be a huge blow to golfers in our areas if the clubs based at Edinburgh Leisure-run courses die, but I'm afraid that's what will happen if Edinburgh Leisure doesn't give us some times back.”

Carrick Knowe Golf Club, once a very popular club, has already gone to the wall, having closed in November 2011 due to a dwindling membership.

David Atkinson, golf and grounds maintenance manager at Edinburgh Leisure said: “Whilst restrictions during lockdown required most sports to close, golf was in the fortunate position of being able to remain open.

“This has been very positive for Edinburgh Leisure with many new customers buying a golf membership, wishing to take advantage of the variety of courses that Edinburgh Leisure has across the city and the value for money it offers.

“As a charity, it has also been very beneficial in allowing us to continue providing our services, as well as maintaining the running of our venues, even though the majority had to remain closed.

“As a result of Covid-19, and to keep our customers and staff safe, customers have had to adapt with the requirement to pre-book activities, pay in advance and self-serve. The current arrangements ensure that tee-times, particularly at peak times, are fully used and means all Edinburgh Leisure golf members have the same booking privileges.

“We have more than 3,100 golf members, with only approximately 20 per cent of them having an affiliated club membership.

“We have repeatedly requested to meet with the affiliated representatives to see if we can support them with their events, Opens and interclub competitions, but, up until last week, we had only received two responses out of the ten clubs to meet with us.

“We have reviewed our processes and considered the requests from clubs to restart the preferential advanced booking times at our courses. The current systems are working well, giving an equal opportunity to all Edinburgh Leisure golf members and maximising the use of tee times at peak times.

“We will therefore continue with the systems we put in place during Covid-19 and will not give preferential weekly advanced booking times to golf clubs who use Edinburgh Leisure facilities. And while we realise that our booking system is not perfect, we are awaiting improvements in the software that will support all customers with their booking process in the future.

“Ultimately, we see Edinburgh Leisure’s golf courses as being for everyone and not a private members’ club. Whilst we realise this will be disappointing for the affiliated clubs that use our courses, it does ensure that we are not giving preferential treatment to the clubs over other Edinburgh Leisure golf members.”

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