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England is, apparently, one of the most "crowded" countries in the world with a high population density and the population is growing quite quickly. This has prompted a variety of concerns about immigration and the possibility of "concreting over the countryside" with new build housing.

But a campaign group for the homeless and for better housing, Shelter, recently claimed that England uses as much land for Golf courses as for homes:

According to a comprehensive government assessment in 2011, that’s the same amount of land in England used for homes.*

*Data on homes is from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment by Defra. Around 10% of land in England is classified as urban, but the majority of this is gardens, parks, roads, lakes and rivers. 2.27% of land in England is built upon while 1.1% is domestic buildings.

For golf, Colin uses the figure of 2,700 courses in the UK scaled to England. The average size of playing area is 30-40 hectares with the average full size of a course (including space between fairways) adding another 30-40 hectares. Colin therefore assumes 75 hectares per course multiplied by 2000 courses which is 150,000 ha, or 1.1% of England’s 13.4m hectares.

Are their assumptions reasonable? Is their claim correct?

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  • Quick back of.envelopes calculation. Greater London area in acres? 388480. Given average golf course size of 150 acres, the courses take up 412,800 acres. Quite a.lot, but I dare say no.more than space given housing, at a guess. Nov 13, 2013 at 20:04
  • That “growing quite quickly” link points to a report about future population growth projections, which can be pretty unreliable (PDF). Nov 15, 2013 at 15:44
  • I think it is worth pointing out that many people live in blocks of flats, whereas golf courses are rarely stacked up on each other. We could easily house everybody (including the homeless) in much less space than we currently do. That is not to say though that homelessness and lack of good housing are not a substantial issues.
    – user18604
    Nov 15, 2013 at 16:28
  • I don't think that taking roads (with sidewalks) and railways out of the picture is correct. Expanding the population or simply the housing to move part of the population far from where they work requires additional infrastructure.
    – FluidCode
    Jan 18, 2022 at 14:19

2 Answers 2

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My stats:

This gives 412,500 acres of golf course in the UK.

More stats:

This gives around 662,000 acres of urbanised acres in the UK.

BUT: The golf course number is for 18 hole courses. 9 hole courses are "common", and presumably take less space than the 18 hole courses, so the coverage of golf courses should be considered an upper limit, rather than a true number.

The assumptions are broadly reasonable, but are at the optimistic end of reasonable and it seems that there is more housing land in the UK than golf land, but the numbers may be of the same order of magnitude, it seems.

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  • Please don't provide links to google searches as they are volatile. Can you fix your third link?
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 15, 2013 at 17:15
  • 1
    Are you using UK-wide stats? I think the original estimate was for England only. Scotland, Wales and NI are far less densely populated than England which has >80% of the people.
    – matt_black
    Apr 26, 2014 at 11:21
  • Google says 243,610 km^2 = 60197342 acres. 1.1% of that is 6,605,126 acres. Jan 18, 2022 at 7:19
  • @Acccumulation You have an error when taking the percentage, and appear to have taken approximately 11%. Jan 18, 2022 at 8:21
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According to the financial times, Shelter over estimated the amount of space used by golf courses. Shelter also only counted the space used for bricks and mortar when calculating space for housing, they didn't count gardens or anything else (driveways, paths, roads the homes are located on). You might also need more road space for the same area homes occupy compared to golf courses.

The head of Shelter admitted the errors.enter image description here

Acronyms from graph:

UKNEA - UK National Ecosystem Assessment

ASGCA - American Society of Golf Course Architects

CABE - Chartered Association of Building Engineers

https://www.ft.com/content/79772697-54e4-32c9-96d7-5c1110270eb2

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  • 6
    There are a lot of abbreviations on that graph, can you please explain what they mean and include the answer to the claim? As it stands I have no clue if you are saying the claim is true or not.
    – Joe W
    Jan 17, 2022 at 14:39
  • Updated @JoeW. I do feel the comparison isn't as relevant as it first appears. For every person in the UK we need, as well as a roof and walls, some parkland, farmland, roads, retail, other transport infrastructure, sports facilities, industry, power, natural habitats. This kind of comparison seems to downplay the difficulties that high population density brings, that which England suffers. That being said I'm not a golfer and can think of many better uses to golf. My favoured alternative use of a golf course would be natural habitat due to the current mass instinction episode caused by us
    – atreeon
    Jan 19, 2022 at 15:49
  • I see your update but I am still not how we are getting housing uses X land and golf courses use Y land
    – Joe W
    Jan 19, 2022 at 18:00
  • @joeW, Shelter made errors in overestimating the amount of land golf courses take up. They also underestimated the size homes occupy in the UK. The graph shows more accurate sources.
    – atreeon
    Jan 24, 2022 at 13:13
  • Maybe it is just me but I get nothing about how land is used from this answer.
    – Joe W
    Jan 24, 2022 at 13:20

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