Golf club owner ‘devastated’ by planned closure of Cleeve Hill course

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Cleeve Hill Golf Club’s manager Joe Vaughan says he is “devastated” by Tewkesbury Borough Council’s decision to end the course’s licence next year.

The authority confirmed the golf club will close next Spring after it decided to terminate the licence for the course due to its financial unviability.

It will mean the end of more than a century of organised golfing on the slopes of Cleeve Hill, an iconic Gloucestershire beauty spot, for the club which has approximately 170 members.

Mr Vaughan told the LDRS the club is “gutted” and they “love the hill and the community”, adding that himself and his 15 members of staff would be made redundant.

Yesterday the borough council issued a statement saying an independent expert concluded that golf “could not be financially sustainable” at Cleeve Hill without “significant investment and an ongoing subsidy from the council”.

The authority also said the current tenant of the club, Share Club Ltd, ended its 25-year tenancy for March 31, 2021, and the land will return to the Cleeve Common Trust the following day.

The clubhouse, which the authority owns as well as the land, will likely be torn down in longer term plans as it is in “a very poor condition” and “there is no other affordable option”.

The trust which manages the Common said the golf course will “return to the natural state of flower-rich limestone grassland” after it closes next year.

The borough council said the decision has no effect on the current use of the remainder of the common, and that it will remain open for “the public’s continued enjoyment”.

‘You cannot mistake the history as soon as you walk through the doors’

Organised golf began in 1891 when Cheltenham Golf Club was formed and the Common has been home to a succession of golf clubs and several variations of the course itself.

Mr Vaughan said the club “never wanted to be the custodians that shut the course after more than 100 years of history” at Cleeve Hill.

The view from Cleeve Hill Golf Club’s course
(Image: LDRS)

He said: “We are devastated for the members and also for the staff. We are all facing, myself included, redundancy at the end of March at a time when it is not really the best time to be looking for employment.

“We never wanted to be the custodians that shut the course after more than 100 years of history on Cleeve Hill. Unfortunately it has not worked out the way that we planned. Events have not helped in terms of Covid-19 shutting us down for so long.

“We are devastated. You do not go into a business with the intention of it failing, it has just been a very unfortunate time. We are gutted, we love the hill and the community. That is why we are here. It is sad news.

“I understand feelings are high. There is a lot of history around the club. I have only been here for three years but you cannot mistake the history as soon as you walk through the doors.

“You feel that history when you come to work, and we have tired tirelessly over the last few years to turn it around. Events have panned out the opposite it way.

“There are about six of these courses in the world where it is truly where golf started, and what ever can be done to save that must be at least tried.”

‘It is for the community, not just us’

Speaking in the clubhouse’s garden, Nigel Wilson said he is was one of the current golf club’s first members, signing up to a green card in 1976.

He said: “We share the golf course with walkers and ramblers. It is for the community, not just us. For the most part they are oblivious to us, we just have to apply safety rules and not hit balls where they are walking.

“This is not all about golf on the hill, it is to do with a leisure facility. You have got the Cotswold Way walking right by this place.

“Between Winchcombe and Dowdeswell, which is 12.6 miles, this is the only watering hole, place to get refreshments or go to the toilet in that distance.”

Nigel Wilson (L) and Jock Steven (R) who are Cleeve Hill Golf Club members
(Image: LDRS)

Jock Steven, also a member of the golf club, said they knew the club was struggling but “we did not expect golf on the hill would just cease”.

He said: “We were all devastated when we heard the news on Friday. We knew financially this club was struggling because of furlough and not being open during the pandemic.

“Quite a big turnover is from the food and because of the Covid-19 situation people have not been coming here. We knew the owners of the lease were struggling, but we did not expect that golf on the hill would just cease.

“Since the lockdown finished the hill has become even more popular for walkers and ramblers. People just want to be outside.

“This place at the weekend is heaving with walkers, it is one of the few places that you feel safe and out in the fresh air.”

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Councillor Helen Munro, who represents the Cleeve Grange ward on the borough council, said she is concerned there won’t be enough funding “to keep the Common looking as beautiful as it does.”

She said: “My concern now is about ensuring that the Common is maintained. Without income from the golf club, I’m concerned that there won’t be enough funding to keep the Common looking as beautiful as it does.

“There’s also the question of facilities. For example if the club is closed, the public toilets will close as well. What are people meant to do?

“I just think that the council hasn’t thought this all the way through regarding their decision. I will be looking into this with Tewkesbury Borough Council and ensuring that they have a plan to maintain the Common.”

The borough council also said any long term option would only be considered if it could meet four crucial themes, which are: facilitate and enhance the space for use by the community; protect the local environment; protect public access; and be commercially sustainable.

Councillor Robert Vines, lead member for finance and asset management on the borough council, said in a statement: “It is a shame that local authority golf will end here at Cleeve Golf Club, and sadly this will be a particularly difficult time for the club’s employees.

“I would like to reassure those who use the common regularly, that Tewkesbury Borough Council is very much in support of public access to the area and we will continue to work with Cleeve Common Trust to ensure this remains the case.”


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