Last summer, Alasdair Rae at the University of Sheffield wrote a blog post showing that about 0.54% of the UK is golf course. It’s not much, Rae described it as roughly the same area as Greater Manchester; although in comparison it is roughly twice as much space as urban parks (0.27% of the UK), and more than four times as much as the amount of continuous urban fabric (0.13%) (Rae 2017).
As Rae points out, the amount of space given over to golf courses has come up several times in the UK media, including on the BBC, in the FT and the Independent, amongst others. These discussion often revolve around the environmental impact of golf (generally negative, though I found little research on it) and whether golf is the best use of that space. In the environmental side, golf’s apologists, such as commentator Peter Alliss quoted in the BBC article above, claim that much of a golf course acts as a “sanctuary for wildlife” and that they use less pesticides and fertilizer than a farm. However farms produce food, and anyone who believes that golf courses are in any way natural has simply lost sight of what natural, untouched land actually looks like. And while a golf course can serve as a sanctuary for some wildlife, so too can a park, only parks can also be enjoyed by the vast majority of the non-golfing public,
My interest here is not in the environmental debate, but rather questions about the most appropriate land use. With that in mind, I’m taking a look at the amount of land given over to golf close to train stations in London, South East and East England, the three region of the UK with the highest house prices, reflecting the high demand for housing in the London commuter belt and other cities in these areas. I’ve arbitrarily selected a 2km radius from each train station, where it would take roughly 25 minutes of walking at a moderate pace to travel from the edge of the circle to its centre if travelling in a straight line.
Overall, there is some 191,085,035 m2 of golf course land within 2km of a train station in London, the South East and East of England. That’s some 47,218 acres, or 19108.5 hectares. That’s enough for 573,255 new homes at a very low density of just 30 homes per hectare. At a higher density, such as 80 dwellings per hectare terraced housing, that’s some 1,528,680 homes. There is 7,740,649,126 m2 of land and water within 2km of a train station in London, the South East and East of England, and 2.47% of it is golf course.
If we lower the radius to 1km, there is still 41,212,837 m2 (10,184 acres, 4,121.3 hectares) of golf course within a single kilometre of a train station, enough space to build 123,639 low density suburban houses, or 329,704 higher density houses. Certainly not enough to solve the UK’s housing issues, but it could still make a big difference.