Backer withdraws rental guarantee, leaving future of Brackenwood Golf Course in limbo

In a shock decision, Wirral Council will not transfer one of its golf courses to a community club.

An email sent to leading councillors said the local authority would no longer be transferring Brackenwood Golf Course in Bebington over to Brackenwood Golf Limited (BCGL), despite a decision by councillors to finally approve it in July 2023.

The golf course was closed in 2022 after sweeping budget cuts that year but there was hope the golf course would reopen.

The email said the transfer would not be going ahead because RM Estates, which is linked to renowned former golf champion Ian Woosnam, would no longer be providing a rental guarantee.

However, RM Estates have confirmed they are putting forward an alternative proposal for a small golf course they argue will be more sustainable and attractive for beginner players.

Golf club secretary Keith Marsh said they would still be putting forward an alternative proposal which would be the same as the one previously approved by councillors. A report on what will happen next will come to a policy and resources committee meeting on 12 June this year setting out the current position and options for councillors to consider.

The bid by the golf club was previously being supported by RM Estates who would provide a rental guarantee of £48,000* over an initial five years of the 30-year lease Wirral Council was planning to hand over to the golf club.

The email said: “RM Estates have advised the Council that they do not consider an 18-hole golf course viable in the current economic circumstances and, as a result, they are withdrawing the rental guarantee previously given and will no longer, at their own cost, maintain the greens on the golf course.”

Tony Minshall, the managing director of RM Estates, said due to the current economic climate the previous plan was not viable, adding, “We are talking to the council about doing it in another way.”

He said there were currently too many 18-hole golf courses in the area, with 11 in Wirral and RM Estates is proposing a smaller golf course that would also have a driving range, adventure golf, and pitch and putt to encourage beginners to get involved.

Eight to 10 football pitches are also proposed, more than that put forward before alongside a nine-hole course but Mr Minshall said the public would still have access to walk the golf course under their plans.

He said, “We do not want it to have it just as a golf course for people who are well off and it would end up with 100 members,” adding, “We have got to have youngsters coming through.”

Since the decision was made in July, he said, “The economic climate has changed. The way people are spending now, I do not think it is an easy market at all. That is where we are basically. It’s not going to be easy for the next few years because the country is in such a mess.”

He said the larger football offer would bring in a new crowd who might then move onto golf supporting both in the long run, adding: “We have got to look at it from the point of view where it works. It’s not going to open if it doesn’t work.”

He added, “That way going forward is a lot easier to finance than it is to have another 18 hole golf course that has got no life in it. In the last few years, golf has changed.”

According to the council email, Keith Marsh and Robin Clarke who were directors of Brackenwood Golf Club Limited are no longer in those positions as “they do not agree with the view now being taken by RM Estates or BCGL.”

Mr Marsh said they had resigned and has been working alongside Mr Clarke with another golf operator to bring forward a plan with the exact same terms as agreed by councillors last year. He said, “We are obviously highly disappointed to learn that Brackenwood Community Golf Ltd, supported by RM Estates are unable to continue to progress the community asset transfer of the course under the current heads of terms negotiated with Wirral council.

“This has been a lot of hard work over the past two years or so to get to an agreeable position with Wirral Council that would provide so many community benefits for golfers and non golfers alike. We have had such huge support from our local community and know how disappointed they will be with the news also.

“However, we have been working alongside another well-established golf course operator who also shares our vision for the future of the course, and would like to honour the commitments made including protecting this greenbelt land for the community, improving the biodiversity of the area, providing affordable golf and growing the game on the Wirral amongst lots of key under represented groups.

“We will continue to work with Wirral Council to see if we can navigate this setback alongside councillors to secure the future of Brackenwood Golf Course.”

Wirral Council leader Cllr Paul Stuart said the council was looking at options for what happens next, adding, “I know this will be heartbreaking for those who have been passionately involved with trying to make this CAT (community asset transfer) a success.

“The council, its officers, and elected members have worked hard with the community to get this done and I share the frustration the golfing community will feel in light of this development.”

Bebington councillors Judith Grier, Jason Walsh, and Ed Lamb said they were shocked, adding, “We know how hard BCGC and the community has worked to create a sustainable future for the historic club that also factored in improvements for wildlife and sports pitch provision that is important for our Local Plan ambitions.

“Our priorities remain the same protecting the green belt and community access to green spaces. We will work closely with fellow councillors, officers, club members and the wider community to secure the future of what is a real asset to the people of Wirral.”

*and earlier version of this article had the incorrect figure. This has now been corrected.

Image: Protestors outside Birkenhead Town Hall in 2023. Credit: Edward Barnes

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