TThe proposed expansion of the Wimbledon tennis championship site has not been well received. The All England Club plans to triple its premises and build 39 new courts, one of which will have an 8,000-seat stadium. The application received more than 1,000 objections and only 27 letters of support, although to be honest, I’m not sure who is writing letters of support for building applications. It would be like contacting Ofcom to let them know that you enjoyed a TV show. So that’s 27 letters from the stadium architect’s mother.
Why does Wimbledon want to get bigger? Isn’t it beautiful the way it is? Why the desire for change? It is atypical of an institution that has resolutely withstood the pressure to abolish the grass or dress code. What do you need all that extra space for? “Our goal is to keep the championships at the forefront of tennis and to bring tangible benefits to our communities,” said a spokeswoman for the club.
Well, for now, the club’s communities don’t seem to want the tangible benefits, whatever they are, so let’s focus on the first part. Wimbledon is apparently intended to be kept at the forefront of tennis by allowing its qualifying tournament to be held on site instead of in nearby Roehampton. All other Grand Slams have their own preliminary rounds so this may be a longstanding embarrassment for the All England Club. It feels like it doesn’t have any off-street parking or has to take its laundry to a laundromat.
I don’t know what to think of it. On the one hand, I don’t blame the club for wanting the additional space and the bonus stadium. On the other hand, the current system seems to be working well and I am suspicious of arguments based on the premise that “if you don’t move forward, you move backward” – that apparently something has to change in order to maintain something “to keep the championships at the forefront of tennis”. It’s conservative rhetoric used in support of enlargement, and it’s one of the reasons we’re a society obsessed with GDP growth and dutifully making the planet uninhabitable without having so much fun.
I was trying to draw my conclusions when I noticed what the land earmarked for the Wimbledon extension is currently being used for. It’s a small golf course. Eighteen holes, but only occupying 73 acres and most of the 18-hole courses are well over 100. For context, the total current All England Club site is 42 acres. Wembley Stadium is under 20 years old.
One of the greatest linguistic injustices in the world is the name “crazy golf”. Why is it crazy? I would say a compact, light-hearted game by the ocean that involves hitting a ball into a hole through various fun and eye-catching obstacles has its mind completely under control. The ease of presentation is consistent with the time-consuming futility of the activity. It can be fun, but it doesn’t matter. Wrapping it up like it was what would seem crazy.
Golf takes up a lot of space, but it’s still less than one-thirtieth of the land owned by the aristocracy
It’s normal golf, not mini golf, that’s crazy. Imagine if golf was presented to you as a sport in a world that didn’t exist before. It is a game for two or four players that involves hitting a small ball into a hole with a club and whoever does it with the fewest hits is the winner. So far, so sensible. You need a ball and a bat, maybe a couple of clubs. Gloves, shoes, a bag for the clubs, these are nice extras. Oh and one more thing: You also need about 120 hectares of land, which must be extensive and strangely landscaped, must be constantly maintained and from which all but the small handful who actually play golf must stay away. In terms of coexistence with other outdoor users, this is an activity that is only slightly more extensive than testing nuclear weapons.
It reminds me of my childhood when my parents closed the living room in winter to save on heating bills. So I would keep it busy with my Star Wars toys for long cool months. Then, when the time came for the whole family to use the room again, I would resist. All of my figures and ships and tiny cannons were arranged the way I liked them, tucked between sofa cushions and footstools, ready to recreate the Battle of Hoth amid the icy fibers of the chimney rug. But I’d have to move it because, as my father said, “We can’t give up a large part of our living space just so you can play your game.”
Britain is a forgiving parent to its golfers, which allows them to turn a total of the size of Greater Manchester into golf courses. That is not much less than the total area of the roofs of houses. And that’s despite the fact that fewer than 1 in 10 of us play golf. My parents’ living room was probably a similar proportion of the area of the whole house and garden as golf is played in the UK today, and yet I made up a whopping 25% of the population. I only asked that Star Wars receive 40% of the respect that society routinely pays for golf.
I don’t mind all of golfing. While it takes up a lot of space, it’s still less than one-thirtieth of the land owned by the aristocracy, and there are many more golfers than aristocrats. I also think it’s nice to leave a bit of a mystery behind to future civilizations trying to figure out what we were all about. The carefully reconstructed archaeological remains of all the giant golf courses, all the greens and fairways and bunkers and flags and pro shops will, like the heads of Easter Island, astonish and divide the academics of future eons. What was that for Was it a religious thing? A fertility rite? What was the meaning of the holes?
However, the notion that each of the world’s four tennis grand slams could occupy roughly the same area as each of the world’s 38,864 golf courses doesn’t feel particularly crazy.