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Wimbledon to gain 73 acres after nearby golf club agrees to dissolve

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/10/2018 Kevin Mitchell
Across the road in the centre of the image is Wimbledon Park golf club whose ground the AELTC will be using rather earlier than 2041. © Getty Images Across the road in the centre of the image is Wimbledon Park golf club whose ground the AELTC will be using rather earlier than 2041.

Wimbledon’s ambitions of trebling its space for the high point of the tennis summer came down to old-fashioned pragmatism and money on Wednesday night as members of the adjoining golf club decided to share equally a £63.75m offer for their precious 73 acres.

After quick discussion Wimbledon Park golf club, across the road from the main gates of its famous neighbour, resolved by more than the required 75% majority to alter its articles of association so it can split the spoils between all 750 members rather than just those who have been there more than 10 years. Smart choice: three years ago it was offered a mere £25m.

Related: Scott Lloyd: the man who will have to save British tennis after Andy Murray | Kevin Mitchell

The club will decide finally in December whether or not to accept the once-and-for-all bid by the All England Club, which owns the dwindling lease. As a Wimbledon member remarked: “This is their Brexit. They have to make a call one way or another – in or out.”

When the club faced the constitutional choice it did not flinch – although the incentives were considerable, even for a well‑heeled constituency.

Annual membership at Wimbledon Park, after a joining fee of £3,000, costs up to £1,450, no hardship for the likes of Piers Morgan and Ant and Dec. But the delicious dilemma for all of them was an obvious one: take £85,000 each after tax and withdraw to a nine-hole course at the rear of the property, or maintain the status quo until the lease expires in 2041 – and blow £63.75m.

Some members of Wimbledon Park are married couples or partners, so they stand to make or lose a combined £170,000. As an insider observed: “There are plenty of alternatives in the area if they wanted to join another club.”

Mick Desmond, Wimbledon’s commercial and media director, said earlier in the day at a business summit in London: “We have a fantastic site but we would like to create a bigger site. We believe we would become a much bigger, more prestigious event by getting that land but also giving something back to the community. We obviously think it’s a very fair bid.”

Philip Brook, the All England Club chairman, said: “What we’ve been very clear with the golf club and their advisers is we’re not going to do this again. We’ve really pushed ourselves financially. There’s a lot of money on the table. It’s a declining asset because in 2041 the land reverts to the All England Club for free. This is money just to accelerate the process by 20 years.”

The All England Club said after the golf club vote: “We are encouraged that the members of Wimbledon Park golf club have taken a decision which enables them to consider the AELTC’s offer for the early release of the land at a vote later this year.”

What the saga demonstrates above all else is that money talks. Not to mention common sense. It would have been ludicrous for Wimbledon Park to resist that much money to die a slow death over two decades, the more so when the alternative is it could withdraw gracefully from the debate.

As for the All England Club, it has been encouraged in its conviction that it can move forward gracefully – and graciously. The three other slam tournaments have made major changes. This one outstrips those efforts by a distance.

There was little ill-will in the discussions. Indeed, there were golfers and Wimbledon members who crossed the divide. It is a small community in many ways. When it is inevitably rubber-stamped, Wednesday night’s decision will give Wimbledon a freedom of movement to expand the experience of the championships, drawing the qualifying tournament into the main arena.

The golf club’s website, under the category of history, notes “content to be added”. That would seem to be rounded out to everyone’s satisfaction.

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