By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – A huge expansion of the Wimbledon tennis championships which would transform the tournament and bring qualifying on-site moved a big step closer on Thursday after a local golf club decided all members would benefit equally from a proposed buyout.
Wimbledon Park Golf Club members voted by more than the necessary 75 per cent to amend their constitution. Now all members would benefit from the 65 million pound ($85.83 million) windfall, not just those of more than 10 years standing.
Under the All England tennis club’s buyout offer, the golfers will receive a reported 85,000 pounds ($112,285) each to sell the declining asset — the tennis club already owns the freehold to the land which would revert to the All England club in 2041 in any case.
The golfers are expected to vote on the offer before the end of the year.
Wimbledon wants to use the land – landscaped in the 18th Century by English landscape architect Capability Brown – to move qualifying on-site from its current location some three miles (5 km) away in Roehampton.
“The whole experience of being at Wimbledon we think could be transformed,” All England Club chairman Philip Brook said recently.
“And this isn’t about building new big stadia, it’s about a wonderful opportunity…tennis in an English garden.
“We are not planning to build hotels, multi-storey car parks, a helipad, a shopping centre.
The aim was to move the qualifying event on-site, he said.
“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. Bringing that event on-site would be fantastic.”
Should the golfers accept the offer, then part of the land will become available to the tennis club at the end of 2021, and other parts available at a year’s notice.
The heritage of the land means it comes with numerous constraints, including some 40 trees which could never be moved, Brook said, adding that the club had already done initial work with external consultants who are familiar with Capability Brown land.
“We’re going into this eyes wide open in terms of that aspect of it. We are very interested in building grass tennis courts over there.”
($1 = 0.76 pounds)
(Reporting by Ossian Shine, Editing by Angus MacSwan)