Kent’s only championship golf course, the Royal St George’s at Sandwich, which will be hosting the prestigious British Open in 2020, faces losing its rights to host any future Opens, unless Kent councils agree to pay almost £1.4 million towards improvement works to Sandwich Station in time for the 2020 tournament.
In a document discussed by the South East Local Economic Partnership on 22 September 2017 it was reported that British Open Championship organisers, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club had confirmed that “without the transport improvements .. Kent will not be invited to host the Open at all, and the area will lose the resultant economic impact”.
The works, which are estimated to cost £4.29 million, include an extension of Sandwich station’s platforms to cope with the longer trains which will be laid on during Open week 2020, and the construction of a second passenger footbridge to better manage the large number of spectators who are expect to travel to Sandwich by train to attend the tournament.
Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils have already agreed to make a joint contribution of £100,000 towards the cost of the works. Kent County Council will contribute £250,000 and £1,025 million in projected grant underspends for railway improvement works at Ashford is also being earmarked to fund the works, making Kent’s contribution towards the station upgrading a huge £1.375 million.
The Department for Transport has indicated that it will pay £1.504 million towards the works and the organisers of the Open Championship, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club have said that they will contribute £1.418 million (33% of the total).
The report estimates that the 2020 Open will attract at least 200,000 spectators to the Royal St George course and “the economic impact is forecast to be in excess of £85m, of which at least £26.8m is forecast to be direct additional spend”. However, critical transport improvements are required at Sandwich Station to enable the expected number of spectators to access the Royal St George’s Golf Course when The Open is underway”.
Suggestions that the station improvements will benefit the local economy are, in my opinion, utter nonsense. The works are aimed specifically at maximising the numbers of day visitors to the Open. These day visitors will not be staying in local hotels, not renting out property in and around Sandwich. Nor will they be eating or drinking in local bars, cafes and restaurants. Most of their spending will be passing through the cash tills and online payment services of the Royal and Ancient and the Royal St Gorge’s golf clubs and filling up their pockets with tens of millions which will never find its way into the East Kent economy.
The British Open Golf Championship is one of the most lucrative sporting events in the known universe. Television rights to broadcast the Open were recently sold to Sky TV for £15million a year. Add to this the income generated by ticket sales, sponsorship, branding rights and Open Golf related product sales then it’s quite possible that the tournament could easily generate a profit of £10-15 million if not more. With profits of this order then I would expect the Royal and Ancient and the Royal St George Golf Club to agree to pay all the costs for improving Sandwich station, instead of bullying, blackmailing and threatening Kent’s hard-pressed council tax payers and the Department of Transport into paying 70% of the bill.
Surely £3million of public money would be better spent on dealing with the housing crisis, or problems in the NHS and education instead of being used as a public subsidy to support an elitist sport played by well-heeled rich boys.
And rich boys is not an inaccurate description of the majority of golf players, With expensive green fees and membership fees, playing golf is unaffordable for many people and that’s probably why participation in the sport has been declining for a number of years. There is also a massive gender imbalance in golf. According to KMPG’s 2017 Golf Participation Europe report only 13% of golfers in England are female. This is one of the lowest female participation rates in Europe. Probably because golf in England has a long history of being a bastion of macho power and control. Indeed some golf clubs still refuse to permit women to become members. Many people, myself included, are angry that such a large amount of public money is to be invested by Kent’s councils, and national public bodies, into a sport which is played mainly by the wealthy and a sport which is hardly an example of gender inclusivity in a modern society.
The threats, bullying and blackmail used by the Royal and Ancient to force hard-pressed and struggling council tax payers into subsidising a sport for elitist non-inclusive, macho-men who like to bash their balls around with sticks is utterly shameful.