Some of the richest golf clubs in Northern Ireland could be due a massive windfall after a European Union ruling over VAT on green fees.
In June 2013 the Belfast Telegraph revealed how proprietor-owned clubs were warning of potential closures and job losses because of tax disparity which favoured member-owned clubs.
Now this distinction is set to get even bigger following a landmark ruling, delivered after a case brought forward by an English club, which means that non-profit clubs can claim back VAT paid by non-members on green fees.
Kenneth Logan, the boss of Edenmore Golf Club in Craigavon which is not entitled to the rebate, has called for fair action across the board in an industry that has been hailed by our MLAs as a huge boost to the economy and to tourism.
Mr Logan said there are over 20 proprietary clubs in Northern Ireland which are suffering an unfair disadvantage compared to member-owned clubs. He said that someone using his club could pay £118.33 in VAT on their membership, while their neighbour at a members golf club pays none.
"This ruling will mean an even bigger differential between members and proprietor-owned golf clubs," he said.
"I have nothing against member-owned clubs, we work with and play alongside them all year round and they have not done anything wrong.
"We are all having to abide by the rules – all I would like to see is a fairer system across the board. It's very difficult in these economic times to make a business attractive to customers and this difference in tax rates does not help.
"The government needs to take action to narrow this gap."
Vivien Saunders, a former British Women's Open Golf Champion, is chair of the Association of Golf Course Owners – an organisation that has been fighting for fairer treatment regarding VAT and tax in the golf industry. She said that the total amount the Treasury may have to hand back could be as much as half a billion pounds.
"At a time when the country is already struggling financially, this is a lot of money going back to clubs which are already very rich," she said.
"Some clubs may be able to claim back money dating back to 1990.
"If I were a member or an owner of a private club in Northern Ireland, I would be feeling very aggrieved right now."