Wimbledon to assess expansion options after land purchase

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has said it will press ahead with expansion plans for the grounds of the Wimbledon grand slam tournament after Wimbledon Park Golf Club (WPGC) members voted in favour of AELTC’s acquisition offer.

The vote was held at a private meeting of Wimbledon Park members on Thursday evening and came after AELTC in October was given the green light to accelerate development plans after the adjoining golf club approved the terms of a £65m (€72.3m/$81.7m) offer for 73 acres of land at their property.

October’s meeting saw more than the required 75% majority vote to approve a change in the club’s articles of association that will allow all 750 members to share £85,000 each through the takeover, rather than solely those who had held membership for more than 10 years.

AELTC already owns the lease on the golf club, but control of it was not due to revert back to Wimbledon’s organisers until 2041. Wimbledon Park members voted 82% in favour of the deal yesterday, with AELTC’s pursuit of the land dating back to an initial failed takeover approach in 2008.

Pending court approval of the acquisition, the ownership of Wimbledon Park will transfer into the AELTC group of companies effective December 21. Under the terms of the acquisition, WPGC will continue to operate as an 18-hole golf course until December 31, 2021, with at least one further year as a nine- or 10-hole golf course on a rolling basis subject to a 12-month notice period.

AELTC said it will now begin to consider its plans for the land as part of a broader new Championships Master Plan. Wimbledon has been under pressure to keep pace with the development work taking place at fellow grand slam tournaments the Australian Open in Melbourne, French Open in Paris and US Open in New York. The addition of the golf club’s land will triple the size of the Wimbledon grounds from the 42 acres currently in place.

AELTC has stressed that any future development proposals will “protect and celebrate” the heritage of the park, be guided by its landscape advisers who have closely studied the significance and history of the land, and be delivered in partnership with the local community.

AELTC maintained there are no plans to build multi-storey car parks, shopping villages or similar structures that would be “completely out of character” for the Club and the Championships. Over time, AELTC plans to migrate Wimbledon’s Qualifying Competition onto the land in order to elevate the event to world-class standards.

At a community level, AELTC has stated its long-term ambition to offer increased public access to the park outside the two weeks of the Championships. Philip Brook, chairman of the AELTC, said: “The decision of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club members to vote in favour of the acquisition offer is a hugely significant moment for the AELTC and the Championships.

“We have achieved what we set out to do many months ago in having certainty in our planning for the future. In many ways, it will be business as usual for the Wimbledon Park Golf Course during the next couple of years, but the AELTC will use this time to give careful consideration to our next steps.

“We have been open in our long-term ambition to move the Qualifying Competition from its current home in Roehampton to the AELTC Grounds as part of our mission to continue to maintain the position of the Championships as the pinnacle of the sport. Furthermore, we have the ambition to open the land up to increased public use in the future.

“We will work with the local authorities and other interested parties as these plans are developed and I would like to emphasise that we have no intention of applying for change of use, planning permission or other approval to use the land that would be completely out of character for the AELTC and the Championships.”

AELTC is expected to release further information regarding its plans in the spring of 2019. However, its acquisition of Wimbledon Park has not been universally welcomed. Martin Sumpton, a chartered building engineer who has played golf at Wimbledon Park for more than three decades, told The Guardian newspaper: “120 years of playing golf at Wimbledon Park has ended because of greed. People wanted to take the money, and that’s hardly surprising. It is a lot of money.

“But it is a very, very sad day for the history of golf and the future of Wimbledon Park. It’s not just the golf club that will be lost, but also all the employees who will be out of a job through no fault of their own.”

Image: AELTC