Wimbledon’s UK£65m expansion plans head to final hurdle

Members to decide in December on whether sale of 73-acre site proceeds.

Wimbledon’s UK£65m expansion plans head to final hurdle

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The future of the All England Club (AELTC), the home of tennis’ Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament, has moved a step closer to resolution.

The venue’s neighbouring golf club has voted to approve constitutional changes that will allow a final decision to be made on the UK£65 million sale of its land. Wimbledon Park Golf Club’s 750 members will vote again in December on whether to accept the bid, which would see each member receive UK£85,000.

The initial decision – made at a general meeting on Wednesday – was the first part of a two-step process that, if rejected, would have seen Wimbledon’s entire expansion project delayed for more than two decades.

However, having been approved by more than the 75 per cent threshold required to bring about the alternations to the constitution, a final vote on whether to accept the AELTC’s offer will now be taken before the end of the year.

The AELTC owns the lease to the golf club, and it has stated that this marks its final and best offer for the 73-acre site, with the alternative being that the land would return to its ownership in 2041 for free.

However, there is a recognised need at AELTC to bring forward expansions to the Grand Slam site, with those in charge well aware of redevelopments taking place at the other three major events – at Roland Garros, the home of the French Open; Flushing Meadows, the New York location of the US Open; and Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is held.

The AELTC is keen to move its qualifying event, which currently takes place in Roehampton, to the site of the tournament proper. Additionally, the move would enable the AELTC to increase its number of Championship courts from the current number of 18. The venue has experienced increased difficulty in housing the 40,000-strong crowds that the Grand Slam attracts daily.

If the final deal were to be agreed, the golf club’s 18-hole course would remain active and usable until the end of 2021, while a nine-hole course would remain in action for a further year.

Wimbledon Park’s board had supported the acceptance of the initial vote to facilitate the final decision on the UK£65 million bid. However, it has given no indication as to its position on the sale itself.

An AELTC spokesperson said following Wednesday’s decision: “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.”

Speaking before the initial vote, AELTC chairman Philip Brook said: “It’s a declining asset because in 2041 the land reverts to the All England Club for free, so this is money just to accelerate the process by 20 years.”

Brook added: “We’ve made it very clear, our interest in doing this is we’d like to move our qualifying event on site. Most of the people who play qualifying lose and don’t ever make it inside of the gates of SW19, and we think that’s a shame, and we’re the only grand slam where that is the case.

“The whole experience of being at Wimbledon we think could be transformed. And this isn’t about building new big stadia, it’s about a wonderful opportunity, tennis in an English garden, there might be a second Henman Hill, all sorts of things.”