The future of golf at a Bath course remains in doubt despite thousands signing a petition to save it.
Ben Reed, who launched the campaign, disputed Bath and North East Somerset Council’s claim residents want to see an end to any commercialisation of High Common.
He hopes to lead a volunteer-run takeover, with support from the authority funded by a new concession at the site’s cafe – but said if the golf course is allowed to grow too much it will be impossible to go back.
Bathonian Mr Reed, who works for Defra and has been playing golf for 25 years, said: “There’s been a gradual decline at the Approach. That’s not the current administration’s fault.
“It’s never been at the forefront of anyone’s priorities. That resulted in a rubbish course no one wanted to play on.
“It used to be one of the best courses of its type in the South West. It’s a really unique place, central to the city, with great views. It was very popular with tourists, students and families.
“It’s not realistic for them to pay £150 to play. Going to the Approach is more comparable to a trip to the cinema or a game of tennis. It’s not elitist.
“If it’s left as parkland for long enough it will be impossible to turn it back into a golf course.”
More than 4,800 have signed his petition to save the golf course.
The council went out to tender for a new operator for the Approach but the cabinet rejected the only bidder – rumoured to be offering disc golf not traditional golf – saying there were not “sufficient benefits”.
“I don’t want that cabinet decision to be seen as final,” added Mr Reed. “It’s not impossible to see people playing golf there this year.
“Councillor [Paul] Crossley seemed to suggest people didn’t want any sort of commercial activity in High Common. That’s clearly not what the petition says.”
Mr Reed said volunteers could help mow the greens and put the flags out, and a new concession at the cafe could rent out clubs and balls to help the council pay for maintenance.
Cllr Crossley, cabinet member for community services, said: “It’s clear that there is much passion and value for this site amongst the community and we appreciate everyone who has taken time to share their views on its future.
“The Approach has operated at a cost to the council of around £28,000 a year and it’s not the case that we have neglected the site.
“The grounds maintenance costs of managing a golf course are higher than those of maintaining a park.
“We have gone out for a golf operator on two occasions and received no tender. Prior to this tender exercise we spoke with several golf operators. None of these chose to tender to provide golf.”
Lansdown ward councillor Lucy Hodge and Mark Elliott said in a joint statement they understood no one wanted to see over-commercialisation of High Common.
They added: “The petition to save the golf course has had very considerable support from golfers and non-golfers alike and we feel a future which includes both golf and space for exercise or relaxation, together with a vibrant café, is something which would be viewed very positively by local residents and the wider Bath community.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter