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COURSE CONVERSATION

19-06-2009

Birmingham Council’s new Cabinet Member for Leisure and Sport Martin Mullaney has been using The Stirrer Forum to defend his controversial plans for the city’s seven golf courses – which are expected to lose £600,000 in the financial year to March 09.

The courses were expected to make a profit of £283,000, forcing Mullaney’s predecessor Cllr Ray Hassall to announce a 14% increase in green fees last December.

During the first five years of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, the cost of a round of golf in Birmingham soared 60%.

Now Mullaney is advocating more radical measures to broaden the sport’s family appeal, such as introducing pitch and putt facilities, developing shorter (six or nine hole) courses, and trialling driving ranges. He’s also proposing schools’ based centres and “adventure golf”.

"That’s led to speculation that some of the existing courses might be flogged off for developers, but writing on our message board, Mullaney denies this: “The intention is not to sell any golf courses off for housing, but instead get into place a strategy to broaden the appeal of golf.

"The problem we have at the moment is that we have Tri-golf activities for Primary school children and then seven full scale golf courses for experienced golfers - nothing in-between.

“Nothing to attract novices, nothing to attract teenagers, nothing to attract families.”

Mullaney says his officers are investigating the possibility of re-opening Stechford Hall Park pitch and putt, at the request of local Labour councillor Anita Ward.

And he adds: “At the moment, no money has been identified to implement these changes. There is still along way to go before implementing any (if any) changes, so identifying a pot of money at this stage is not so crucial.

“What we do need to do is look at how the municipal golf courses fit into an overall strategy of attracting a broader range of people into golf.

"Using prudential borrowing is one option, but a robust business case would be required to justify this.

“This is not going to happen overnight, but we do need to agree a strategy.”

Whatever your views on the best way forward, Mullaney is to be commended for taking part in a genuine, open-ended debate with readers – let’s hope that more of his fellow councillors are encouraged to do the same.

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