Rookwood Golf Course should not be concreted over

My first experience of golf was as a teenager at accessible, council-owned facilities, writes West Sussex Gazette editor Oli Poole.

Rookwood Golf Course
Rookwood Golf Course

After cutting my teeth on the local pitch-and-putt, I spent countless hours on the municipal nine-hole layout, trying (in vain) to break my record score of 38. The Coke and burger I was treated to by my late grandparents every week tended to soften the blow.

This low-cost facility was not in West Sussex. It was Broome Manor, in Swindon. But it is not dissimilar to Rookwood in Horsham, which I played for the first time on Sunday.

Rookwood has been in the headlines due to the potential of the facility being developed for housing.

Rookwood Golf Course

Its owner, Horsham District Council, has been under sustained fire from supporters of the course. The letters pages of the West Sussex Gazette’s sister title, the West Sussex County Times, have been saturated by correspondents urging the council to think again.

I can understand why many feel losing Rookwood would be a travesty.

Pulling into one of the last remaining parking spaces on Sunday afternoon, it was clear Rookwood is a popular place.

What was not to like? Staff were welcoming and friendly, the course was well maintained with an interesting layout which made the most of features such as lakes and trees and the halfway hut serving delicious hot food was an unexpected bonus. As explained, food goes a long way to mitigating the odd shank and missed par opportunity.

Nature lovers making the most of intertwined public footpaths enjoyed not only the reserve but following the trials and tribulations of the golfers they encountered along the way...some playing more successfully than others!

Rookwood is not the only golf club in the area – but it was the most popular among friends when I sought recommendations.

Most of those who praised it were not local to Horsham and were not actively engaged in the anti-housing campaign, so evidently it has left a lasting, positive impression on previous visitors.

Crucially, with a friend newly introduced to the game, we were seeking a course accommodating to beginners. Rookwood certainly did the trick.

Golf has reportedly experienced a huge boost in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. Given its suitability for the times – an outdoor pursuit in which social distancing is easy – much of the sport’s rise could be attributed to a Covid ‘bounce’.

Golf has struggled to boost participation numbers in previous years but there is no reason why many of the newcomers to the game cannot be persuaded to keep it up.

Far from being a burden, clubs like Rookwood could, with the right approach, be a helping hand to cash-strapped councils.

If Horsham District Council no longer wishes to own Rookwood, what could be done?

My boyhood club perhaps holds a clue. According to planning documents, Broome Manor in Swindon was sold to a private company in 2014, having been loss making for several years.

In 2013, the council conducted a review of its leisure services and, with closure a very realistic scenario, decided the sale was the 27-hole complex’s best hope for survival.

Now, a planning application is under consideration to build on part of my old nemesis, the nine-hole course. Judging by social media, this is not a universally popular idea.

At least it is not homes proposed, though. It is leisure facilities.

Horsham, much like Swindon, is under pressure to deliver a significant number of new homes. But residents old and new need a varied offering of leisure facilities.

They do not need assets like Rookwood concreted over.