Golf Course Architecture - Issue 64, April 2021

Muni renaissance FEATURE 48 T he general malaise that has affected golf participation numbers over the last 10 years or so has made for particularly tough times for the municipal sector. The very nature of municipal golf is that it tends to be an entry route to the game for many new players, who, if hooked on golf, tend to trade up over time. The result of this is that municipals need a constant f low of new players to prosper, and hence will be in the front line of any downturn in the game. Municipal golf has a long and proud history. Obviously, the St Andrews Links, the home of golf, has been publicly owned throughout the majority of its history. The Links was confirmed as common land belonging to the citizens of St Andrews by a charter granted by King David I of Scotland as far back as 1123, long before golf was ever thought of, and has remained so ever since, with the exception of the period between 1797, when the town council went bankrupt, and the Links was sold, and 1894, when the town regained proprietorship with the establishment of the Links Trust. But when golf started to spread in the nineteenth century, it did so mostly in the form of private clubs establishing their own courses, from which the public were excluded. The return of publicly-owned golf would start in the late part of the nineteenth century, when golf had begun its progression from Scottish curiousity to global game. Oddly, the idea seems to have evolved almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. In Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, at the start of 1893, the town decided to create a new public park on land that had been gifted to it by the locally-important Meyrick family. The park was named after its benefactors, and as part of its creation, the council resolved to start the town’s first golf course – this was a time when golf was exploding across England and seaside towns in particular, whose income depended so much on visitors, feared being left behind if A few years ago, municipal golf seemed to be in terminal decline, the victim of falling golfer numbers and local government budget cuts. Now, across the golfing world, there are signs of munis finding a new role and new life. Adam Lawrence reports