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Golf merger makes sense - but it's still sad
THE economic forces behind plans to merge two neighbouring golf courses in Darlington are clear for all to see.
Stressholme is a municipal course owned by Darlington Borough Council, which is facing huge budget cuts. Blackwell is one of many struggling private clubs around the country and it happens to lease part of its land from the same local authority.
The two clubs are within a pitching wedge of each other and, in today's depressing economic climate, that makes no sense. Something has to give.
By merging onto one site at Stressholme, the council frees itself of subsidies to the municipal course it can no longer afford, and is able to unlock valuable land at Blackwell to sell for executive houses. In theory at least, Blackwell's membership is boosted at a stroke and everybody wins.
How can a council in the austerity age argue that it is right to go on subsidising a golf course when even its social care responsibilities are coming under intense pressure?
That is the cold financial reality and, if the right kind of investment is made in the merged club, Darlington could yet end up with a tremendous facility.
But despite all of that, there are a number of concerns which should be expressed and plenty of questions which require answers.
So soon after the closure of the Arts Centre, it is sad that Darlington is losing a superb public asset such as Stressholme and having to put it into private hands. How will the casual player, who can't afford private membership, be accommodated? The answer, for many, is that they will simply have to look further afield.
It is also sad that precious green belt land is being lost in such a pleasant part of the town. The executive housing plans are bound to be controversial and will need to be pursued with extreme sensitivity.
Meanwhile, feedback on our website today already shows there are clear sensitivities over the coming together of the two memberships. It is akin to a marriage between two people from very different backgrounds and it will not be easy.
Darlington is an attractive place to live. Its green land, Arts Centre and a municipal golf course which is the envy of many towns, have all been part of that attraction and quality of life for generations. Will the Dolphin Centre be next?
It is hard to argue that the move to merge Stressholme and Blackwell does not make hard financial sense. But many people will be deeply concerned about the implications.
Their heads will say "yes" - but their hearts will say "no".