Belfast Telegraph

Tax rift driving a wedge between golf clubs

Commercial course owners urge 'fair way' on tax as job cuts feared

By Clare Weir

WHILE world leaders met this week to discuss taxpaying protocols at Lough Erne Resort and golf course, it's emerged there are disparities in the taxes paid by golf clubs in Northern Ireland.

Proprietor-owned clubs could close and jobs may be at risk if the balance, which favours member-owned clubs, is not evened out, insiders have warned.

Vivien Saunders, a former British Women's Open Golf Champion, is chairman of the Association of Golf Course Owners, an organisation that has been fighting for fairer treatment regarding Vat and tax in the golf industry.

Ms Saunders has claimed that the UK golf industry has been brought to its knees financially by successive governments.

"The position is simple. If, like David Cameron (below), you belong to a private club owned by its members you don't pay Vat on your fees," she said.

"If you belong to a club owned by an individual or company, they have to charge you Vat of 20%. It isn't fair on golfers; it isn't fair on businesses.

"They cannot compete and the Vat distortion is literally driving those commercial clubs out of business.

"Those new clubs were the ones that made it possible for a whole new generation of golfers to play golf."

Ms Saunders claims that one club near London takes an average of £600,000 a year in visitors' fees.

"In one year that London club took a virtually identical amount in green fees as Royal Portrush," she said.

"Royal Portrush correctly paid £75,000 in corporation tax. The smart club in London paid nothing. Nor did some other top English clubs – one with green fees of £1.3m in 2011. It's a scandal.

"If I was a member of Royal Portrush I would be very angry that my club pays tax and the great and good in England and Wales don't.

"If I was a member of a commercial club in Northern Ireland I would be very angry at having to pay 20% Vat on my subs while the members of member-owned clubs don't.

"If I owned a commercial golf club in Northern Ireland I would despair at the unfair competition facing my business."

Kenneth Logan of Edenmore Golf Club in Craigavon said that action is needed to save jobs and create better competition 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 that are suffering an unfair disadvantage compared to member-owned clubs.

"In the case of Edenmore our members each pay £118.33 in Vat on their membership while perhaps their neighbour paying membership at a members golf club pays no Vat," he said.

"As Vat rates have moved from 15% to 20% the problem has been made even more critical in this cost-conscious climate we live in.

"In our case if we could get say 500 full members we are disadvantaged approaching £50,000 each year.

"As another added bonus to member-owned clubs they receive a discount on their local rates.

"Government have been approached time and time again about this matter. It cannot go on," he said.

Belfast Telegraph