The latest figures show England’s golf course count has almost doubled since 1990 and more people are playing golf than at any time since the mid-19th century
Most people have probably heard the story of the golfer and the ice rink. Nick Faldo is considered the last person to drop by a rink in it, only to hit his putt so hard that the ice melted on the tarmac while it still looked in pristine condition.
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The theme fits golf more than most, for as many people think it is merely a pastime as are proficient players of the game. While golf course counts do not yet have exact figures, the latest figures suggest England has more than doubled its golf course count since 1990.
The daily average of players at courses dropped slightly in 2018 to 17,634 from 17,949 in 2017, a 1.9% fall. But that is still up on the 7,121 recorded in 1990.
Northumberland, North Yorkshire and North London saw the biggest annual increase in courses in England – 35%, 29% and 28% respectively.
England’s golf is still, however, on the decline elsewhere, with the country having almost half the number of courses than it did in 1950.
In the 1990 census, there were 13,284 courses in England and Wales, just half as many as the 28,000 total in 2018. In fact, the golfing topography in England has changed. In the previous census, the topography of eastern England was dominated by Atlantic swampland, whereas in the 2020 census, it is largely farmland.
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Melquiades E Silva, the golfing sciences expert at the University of Exeter, said: “England’s golfing landscape was driven primarily by the development of human settlements along the Atlantic coast. There were many clear environmental barriers to the development of golf, with the Atlantic swamps and rivers.
“This was also the time when England was largely unspoilt and virgin land. Over the last 130 years the landscape has been transformed so that since the 1990 census we are far more evenly spread.”
England has also lost some golf courses. Over the last 40 years around 1,000 have closed, according to the latest available Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs annual report.
As well as replacing clear-felled plantations with farm land, courses on primary and other agricultural land have been less affected by development.
Golf as an association is relatively new. In 2010, it was recognised by the UK parliament as a separate registered institution of state, unlike sports such as rugby union or football. The golf British Association was established the following year and today has over 900 member organisations and more than 320 affiliated clubs, including players in India and Zimbabwe.
• This article was amended on 19 December 2018 to remove a photograph of pro-golfer Nick Faldo.