A POPULAR Carlisle golf course has been saved - and could reopen within the next few weeks.

The city’s Stony Holme Golf Course closed suddenly five months ago after operator Mack Golf ceased trading and entered into voluntary administration.

But now a new operator has been found to run it.

Jim Douglas - the ex-managing director of the former social enterprise leisure trust known as CLL - is behind it.

He has set up a new company, called Carlisle Leisure, with the sole purpose of providing a viable option to reopen Stony Holme.

The sudden closure angered local golfers, with more than 800 people signing a petition for it to be urgently reopened.

Carlisle City Council, which owns the golf course, pledged to do everything it could to resurrect the Stony Holme course and the neighbouring Swifts Driving Range.

Now it has confirmed that a deal has been struck.

Mr Douglas said that having previously managed the facility for 20 years, he is determined to bring it “back to life, with some TLC, investment and a development plan”.

He added: “The exact date for reopening is not known currently but will be within the next couple of weeks. There is a lot to do but with goodwill, patience and a fair wind, success will follow.”

Mr Douglas said the initial priority was Stony Holme but longer term, he has plans to bring Swifts back into use, using it as a training facility for beginners and young golfers.

Colin Glover, city council leader, said he was “delighted” a new provider had been found and that the course would reopen this season.

He said: “Jim knows and understands the course, knows the people who use it and has the experience to make this a real success.

“Following the disappointing closure of the course last year, we made a commitment to do everything possible to find an alternative solution and reopen the course.”

He added that they had taken impartial, professional advice, looking at all of the options, and spoken to other councils affected by the Mack Golf collapse. This concluded that a local, rather than national, provider would be the best way forward.

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“We needed to look for a good local operator. Jim has completed a full evaluation and come forward very confidently with clear evidence and a viable business plan,” he explained.

“This is a bespoke business that meets the needs of Carlisle. We are really pleased.”

Mr Glover added that since the course closed, the council has continued to maintain the Stony Holme course. “We took the decision to undertake a maintenance programme so the course didn’t deteriorate, to make sure it was in a condition that it could be reopened quite quickly,” he said.

He also revealed that the deal wouldn’t cost the council much more than was previously agreed with Mack Golf, though they may provide more money upfront to help get it opened faster.

A Carlisle City Council statement confirmed that the Carlisle Leisure plan had been approved.

It said: “Following the closure of Stony Holme Golf Course last year, we sought impartial, professional advice from Leisure Republic - an experienced leisure consultancy - on the future options for the facilities.

“Further to this options appraisal, we have received one proposal for the future management of the golf facilities. This proposal has been assessed and the executive has taken the decision to develop a new lease and grant for the delivery of golf provision at the Stony Holme site.”

Mr Douglas said there is a tremendous amount of work needed to re-establish the course and clubhouse, but he was confident it would happen quickly, praising the team who are helping him.

“I would like to thank the city council, grounds staff, reception staff and the golf club and its members, who are keen to dust off their clubs and start playing again,” he said.

Mr Glover admitted that the Mack Golf collapse had been a real blow.

“It has been an anxious time. I’m not going to say this has been easy. We were going through lots of options to try and find a solution.

“We are dealing with public money. We knew that this meant a lot to lots of people, so we had to come up with something that was sustainable.

“To get someone with Jim’s experience is a real boost,” he added.