Millionaire’s playground Sandbanks is in uproar as council seizes control of crazy golf course beloved of Harry and Jamie Redknapp and shuts it down amid plans to re-open it at a profit
- Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council did not renew lease for crazy golf
- Although Tony Unsworth ran it for 17 years, council will now take over operations
- Mr Unsworth described move as ‘a power grab’ as locals fear price will increase
- Council said course will close for ‘safety improvements’ and reopen in summer
A row has broken out on the millionaire’s playground of Sandbanks after the local authority seized control of the crazy golf course – then shut it down on safety grounds ahead of the Easter holidays.
Outgoing operator Tony Unsworth built Sandbanks Crazy Golf in 2003 and it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions around Poole Harbour, Dorset.
Hundreds of thousands of people, including local residents Harry and Jamie Redknapp, play the 18 hole mini-golf course every year, negotiating a model lighthouse, a shipwreck and lots of humps and bumps on their rounds.
But Mr Unsworth has been forced out after 17 years and the course closed just weeks before the bumper Easter season.
He accused officials at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council of making a ‘power grab’ over the crazy golf course after they refused to renew his lease.
They have announced they are taking over the running of the lucrative business that 70-year-old Mr Unsworth has built.
Officials at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council are accused of making a ‘power grab’ after refusing to renew a lease for Sandbanks crazy golf so they can run it themselves
Tony Unsworth (pictured) has been forced out of running the course (pictured) after 17 years
They have now closed the attraction to carry out ‘safety improvements’ before a planned reopening in the summer.
Fans fear that prices will be ramped up when it does reopen.
Vikki Slade, a local councillor and mother-of-four, said she was ‘horrified’ to hear of the closure.
When she asked officials why they chose not to renew Mr Unsworth’s lease, she said she was told they had identified the crazy golf as a ‘commercial opportunity’.
Mrs Slade said: ‘Tony has done such a good job over the years and we had so much fun there. When I read that it was closing I was horrified.
‘It was the first time I was aware of any closure which I thought was very strange.
The crazy gold course is a popular attraction with the Redknapp family who are regularly spotted hitting a round. Pictured: Jamie Redknapp with his father Harry Redknapp and son Beau at the golf course when they filmed ITV series Harry Redknapp’s Sandbanks Summer
The Redknapps are often seen at the popular resort which has now been closed by the council
‘I made an inquiry with the head of tourism and they said they’d identified the capacity to run it themselves.
‘They said that following the success of Smuggler’s Cove, another crazy golf course in Bournemouth, they could make more money out of it. Our family never goes to Smuggler’s Cove because it is so expensive.
‘This seems to be about the over-commercialisation of traditional seaside activities.
‘It feels like they are exploiting everything they’ve got to make as much money as they can.
‘I get that they have to make money – but they also need to make sure families can afford to go out and have a good time.
‘The council said they planned to carry out improvements and hoped to open by the summer season. This is just a few weeks before the Easter break when we would expect loads of tourists to visit. Why couldn’t they have done this in the winter?’
Tony, who ran the attraction (above) with his wife, described the decision as a ‘kick in the teeth’
The council says it will reopen for the summer season after safety improvements are made
Mr Unsworth, who ran the attraction with his wife, described the decision as a ‘kick in the teeth’.
He said: ‘When we decided to build the site we had to fight like hell to get planning permission.
‘Our original lease was for 10 years but I managed to extend it a couple of times. This time they made it clear that they wanted to run it themselves.
‘I’ve known this was coming but I’ve been trying to argue with them. It’s a power grab – they’re doing it with a lot of other attractions.
‘They see someone who has done nicely out of something and they think “Oh chuck him out – we’ll have that”.”
In 2018 the local council took over the running of a popular miniature railway in Poole Park, which has not run since then.
A spokesman for BCP Council said: ‘The lease agreement to operate the Sandbanks Mini Golf has recently expired, and the decision not to renew was communicated to the outgoing tenant with the appropriate notice period.
‘The course will reopen before the main summer season, once some essential safety and improvement works are carried out and will be operated directly by BCP Council.
‘This will provide local tax payers with a financial return and facilitate longer term investment options.
‘Updates of the ongoing works will be posted on site and on the council’s social media account.’
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