Plans to build circa 255 new homes in Widnes will improve the fortunes of not one, but two local golf clubs.
Anwyl Homes Lancashire has submitted a planning application to redevelop around 26.5 acres of land at Widnes Golf Club, off Liverpool Road.
If approved, the club’s existing 18-hole course would be replaced with a new 9-hole course, new clubhouse and green-keeping facilities that would secure the club’s future.
In addition, Widnes Golf Club would invest in Blundells Hill Golf Club with its 18-hole course in nearby Rainhill and plan to make improvements to those facilities.
The combined membership would have the potential to play at both courses and ensure the future of those locations. The creation of a top quality 9-hole facility in Widnes would fit perfectly with England Golf’s ‘Golf Express 9’ campaign which promotes the 9-hole game in a bid to increase participation and club membership, especially among juniors and women.
Phil Morris, lifelong member and chairman of Widnes Golf Club, explained: “Finding ways to secure the club’s future and tackle our issue of dwindling membership has been on our agenda for the last 20 years and the problem is getting more pressing. At Widnes we have been losing around 10% of our members every year for the last 10 years and despite continuous campaigns to replace those members we now have just 300 in total.
“We are not alone, the same problem is faced by other golf clubs nationwide and we all have to work that much harder and produce bigger and better courses and facilities to survive and thrive. The problem at Widnes is that our club is on a comparatively small piece of land in golf club terms, we are highly constrained by a main road, schools, houses and a railway.”
Developing part of the course for housing whilst investing in the remaining part is seen as the best solution for the club as it approaches its centenary in 2024.
“We will have a brand new clubhouse with purpose-built facilities instead of our old buildings which have been added to in a very haphazard way over the years. The 9-hole course will be a new, improved facility and very much in line with England Golf’s thinking and our members will still be able to enjoy all the benefits of an 18-hole course in the more rural and less constrained setting of Blundells Hill. We see it as a win-win situation and so do the overwhelming majority of our membership who have voted in favour of going down this route,” Phil added.
“This project will also protect jobs as, in reality, if it doesn’t happen I’m not sure how long we can continue. We are a company limited by guarantee and our members are effectively our shareholders. Currently we are eating into reserves to keep the club afloat. If the club did manage to survive, we will probably have to regress to the position we were in 50/60 years ago with no full time staff, no golf professional and everything run on a voluntary, part-time basis.”
The detailed planning application submitted to Halton Council by Anwyl covers a total area of 26.65 acres, including four acres of public open space, play areas and green infrastructure. It reduces the golf course area by around 50%. The application includes a variety of private sale homes and 25% affordable homes for local people.
John Grime, managing director of Anwyl Homes Lancashire, said: “We understand the sensitivity of this application but we are working closely with club officials to help make Widnes Golf Club financially self-sufficient and able to take charge at Blundells Hill. The existing golf course is privately owned land, inaccessible by the general public. Our plans will provide a way for the golf club to continue, whilst delivering homes for local people which the borough most desperately needs.
Under the plans, the new clubhouse will be built in a different part of the site, allowing the smooth transition from old to new with no need for closure.
Subject to planning approval Anwyl is hoping for a construction start in 2021 and for the homes project to be phased over circa five years. Part of the North Wales based Anwyl Group, the Lancashire business is already active at developments in St Helens, Prescot and Bowring Park Liverpool.
Opened in 1994, Blundells Hill Golf Club is currently in the private ownership of brothers Phil and Steve McKie and has around 400 playing members. “The move would secure the future of both clubs and would benefit everyone involved,” said Steve.