WANING ATTRACTION: Barnard Castle’s mini-golf course has experienced a slump in visitors
WANING ATTRACTION: Barnard Castle’s mini-golf course has experienced a slump in visitors

ARE visitors to Barnard Castle falling out of love with the town’s mini-golf course on Scar Top?

Figures released by the town council, which operates the facility, show that fewer people played a round last summer than in any of the previous five years.

Usage has dropped by more than a quarter in the past two summers compared to those of 2015 and 2016, members of the services committee were told.

This year, the mini-golf season ran from Friday, March 30 to Sunday, October 28.

A review of the season stated the course was open at weekends, on bank holidays and every day during the school summer holidays.

There had been 112 operating days during a 32-week period, with the course closing early once due to flooding and two days being lost to bad weather.

In all, the mini-golf attracted an average of 43 visitors per day. A total of 4,787 rounds were played, compared to 5,471 last year and 7,040 in 2016.

Councillors were told one of the reasons for the drop-off in visitors could be the cash-only ticket system.

Town clerk Michael King said there was “anecdotal demand” from the public to pay for tickets by credit or debit card.

“It is increasingly the case that customers expect card payment options to be in place.”

He said an initial investigation suggested a card payment system could be introduced for next season.

Services chairman Cllr Roger Peat said as part of the mini golf review, members should consider a new system of pay for the attendants.

In 2018, the course was run by a team of five attendants.

All were aged under 25 and were paid at the same rate – the national minimum wage for 21 to 24-year-olds of £7.38 per hour.

This rate is due to rise to £7.70 an hour in 2019.

Cllr Peat suggested lower rates of pay should be introduced in line with national minimum wage rates.

For 2019, this would mean attendants aged 16 and 17 would receive a minimum of £4.35 an hour and those aged 18 to 20 would get at least £6.15 an hour.

Anyone aged 25 and over would receive the £8.21 per hour national living wage.

Cllr Peat asked: “Should we be paying a 16 or 17-year-old the same as a 21-year-old?”

“We are running this as a business, not a charity.

“The more we make, the more we can spend on other things.”

Deputy clerk Jane Woodward said the current pay levels were in place to reflect the level of responsibility the attendants had – irrespective of their age.

She pointed out that any extra money accrued by a restructure of pay levels could only be re-invested in the golf course.”

The town council currently has £11,466 available for repairs and maintenance to the course.

After further discussion, members agreed to recommend to the council’s resources committee that attendants aged 16 and 17 should be paid £5.50 an hour, rising to the national minimum wage of £6.15 for those aged 18 to 20 and £7.70 for 21 to 24-year-olds.

The also agreed that a card payment system should be available to visitors for the 2019 season.