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Into the rough and there's no sign of life on the course; GOLF: Builder's rubble, bunkers without sand, no lady vice-captain... it's a sad sight as Mailman takes a swing at rundown Hilltop LOSS-MAKING public golf courses across Birmingham may be sold to private firms to pull the city council out of a financial hole. Municipal editor and regular golfer DAVID BELL had a round at one of those at risk.

Byline: DAVID BELL

IT'S nearly 9am and there are more signs of life in the cemetery next door than at Birmingham City Council's least profitable golf club.

A sad little notice on the clubhouse wall reflects the pall of apathy that hangs over Hilltop - the club's annual prize presentation night next month has had to be cancelled because of a lack of support.

Another notice asks for volunteers to be lady vice-captain for the year to write their names down.

It is still blank.

Years of neglect and indifference by its council owners have still not managed to snuff out all flickers of hope among the diehard golfers who play around the electricty pylons that scar the course overlooking the Sandwell Valley.

"For many years the committee of Hilltop, professional staff, and many individual golfers have complained to the city council about the state of the course, mainly to no avail", the official notice board reveals.

"Individual complaints have had no effect so we intend to blitz the council with as many of their own complaint forms as possible. Remember, if you sit and moan and do nothing, nothing will get done," the committee exhorts visitors.

A new box hangs on a wall to receive more of the complaints the council has allegedly been ignoring for years. The city's official forms, absurdly, have a small space for a complaint and an ethnic origin questionnaire that takes up a whole page.

The council wants to know if the golfer complaining about the state of the greens is Chinese, Vietnamese, Kurdish, Korean, Gujerati, Bosnian, white gypsy or Romany, or a black Somalian.

What is the point? Do the greens get cut more often if an ethnic minority golfer complains about them?

Inside the grungy, foul smelling changing room a lonely pair of shoes testifies to another slack day at Hilltop, and another notice lets you know what you are in for.

"The bunkers are in a poor condition. Work is in progress," it says.

Poor turns out to be an understatement. Some have grass growing in them. Others don't appear to have been raked since the course was opened in the 1970s.

Only one, on the 13th, seemed to have any sand in it. On the other side of the green its twin contains a hard set mixture of clay and builder's rubble.

And the practice green is hairier than a French woman's armpit. It is no preparation for playing on the rest which are hollow tined and uneven.

Hilltop is a course which cries out for some tender loving care. Greens staff buzz about on shiny new vehicles, but don't bother to trim the grass properly around tees or direction posts.

And they've already put the tees out of commission and are making visitors play off mats.

The neglect is a shame because Hilltop has potential and, from the 17th, a stunning view over the Sandwell Valley.

Just across the road from Hilltop and away from the dead hand of municipal ownership is privately run Sandwell Park - more than a century old and one of the finest courses in the West Midlands.

It's a medal day and the car park is full.

Membership is pounds 820 a year and despite the annual moans from golfers like my friend David "Mr Grumpy" Wisdell, most consider it good value for money.

I paid pounds 7.50 for a nine hole experience around careworn and unloved Hilltop.

Golf is like life. You get what you pay for.

And the practice green is hairier than a French woman's armpit

CAPTION(S):

LACK OF INTEREST... no prizegiving.; UNIMPRESSED... David Bell drives off at Birmingham's Hilltop municipal course, one of seven under threat of sell-off by the city council amid falling attendances and mounting losses. Pictures: Tim Easthope; DISTANT PROSPECT... autumn colours try to lift the gloom at Hilltop; HANDICAPS... Bell faces splashing out of a bunker; an untrimmed marker post; and weeds infest bunker 'sand'.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 16, 2007
Words:659
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