Closure is more than virtual reality for Tom

Tom Gilhooley with Galashiels' first 'Virtual Golf Centre' in Channel Street.
Tom Gilhooley with Galashiels' first 'Virtual Golf Centre' in Channel Street.

A decline in footfall in central Galashiels since the opening of the Borders Railway in September has been cited as a “major factor” in the demise of a town centre business which opened just a year ago.

Owner Tom Gilhooley confirmed this week that the Borders Virtual Golf Centre, in the extensive first-floor premises at 36-38 Channel Street, will close at the end of this month.

“I’m very saddened and disappointed,” said Mr Gilhooley, who says he has lost the £120,000 he invested in the venture, which launched on February 7, last year.

Most of that cash went on the purchase of state-of-the-art simulators which let customers “play” more than 100 top golf courses, including Augusta National, Pebble Beach and the famous Old Course at St Andrews.

Another simulator includes a football option, allowing players to take penalty kicks against some of the world’s best goalkeepers. But despite the centre having a drinks licence and being open from 9am till 10pm seven days a week, the punters have failed to materialise in anything like the numbers Mr Gilhooley required to break even.

“I cannot go on working for no wage and getting deeper and deeper in debt so I’ve reluctantly had to call it a day,” he told the Southern. “It was the first leisure facility of its kind in the Borders and, in contrast to a lot of other businesses in this part of town, I had no competition from the major supermarkets.

“However, although I was hoping to cater for large corporate parties, the success of the business always depended on passing trade and it’s just not there.

“The first six months were okay, but since the railway opened, the number of people walking around Channel Street has fallen dramatically and the visitors I was hoping to attract are just not there. I share the view of many other local traders that the railway has taken more customers out of the town than it has brought in.

“I can see it for myself when I get the train into work from my home in Tweedbank every day and it’s full, but I’m the only one who gets off in Galashiels with most passengers heading to Edinburgh shops.

“The lack of footfall has been a major factor, but I’m also disappointed in the local golf clubs for not getting involved in the venture. I wrote to all the Borders clubs at the start of this year offering them a half-price package for parties of eight or more to mark my first anniversary and, out of around 20 clubs, I did not receive a single reply.

“That really was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The problems in the traditional town centre of Galashiels were highlighted last week by Councillor Gavin Logan (Con, Tweeddale East) during a Scottish Borders Council debate on a centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

He said that Galashiels and not Tweedbank would be a better location for the visitor attraction.

“This council has already spent a huge amount of money in Galashiels [on the transport interchange] yet even the charity shops are leaving,” said Mr Logan, adding: “Galashiels is falling apart.”