A row broke out at the millionaire’s playground in Sandbanks after the local authority took control of the crazy golf course – then closed it for safety reasons ahead of the Easter holidays.
Outgoing operator Tony Unsworth built the 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 each year, negotiating a model lighthouse, shipwreck and many bumps and bumps on their course.
But Mr Unsworth was expelled after 17 years and the course closed a few weeks before the bumper Easter season.
He accused officials from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council of making a ‘seizure’ of the crazy golf course after it refused to renew its lease.
They announced they were taking over the management of the lucrative business that Mr Unsworth, 70, built.
The crazy golf course is a popular attraction with the Redknapp family who are regularly spotted playing. Pictured: Jamie Redknapp with his father Harry Redknapp and son Beau on the golf course when they filmed the ITV series Harry Redknapp’s Sandbanks Summer
The Redknapps are often seen at the popular seaside resort which has now been closed by the council
They have now closed the attraction to carry out “safety upgrades” ahead of a planned reopening this summer.
Fans fear prices will rise when it reopens.
Vikki Slade, a local councilor 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 crazy golf as a “business opportunity”.
Ms Slade said: “Tony has done such a great 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 a closure which I thought was very strange.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council officials are accused of making a ‘power grab’ after they refused to renew a lease for the Sandbanks mini-golf course so they could run it themselves
Tony Unsworth (pictured) was forced off the course (pictured) after 17 years
“I made inquiries with the head of tourism and they said they had identified the ability to manage it themselves.
“They said after 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’s too expensive.
“It seems to be an over-commercialization of traditional seaside activities.
“It feels like they’re exploiting everything they have to make as much money as possible.
“I understand they have to make money – but they also have to make sure families can afford to go out and have a good time.
“The council said they plan to make improvements and hope to open by the summer season. It is only a few weeks before the Easter holidays, when we expect many tourists to visit. Why couldn’t they do 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 have been 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 initial lease was for 10 years, but I managed to extend it several times. This time they made it clear they wanted to handle it themselves.
“I knew it was going to happen, but I tried to talk to them. It’s a power grab – they do it with a lot of other attractions.
“They see someone who’s done something right and they think ‘Oh throw it away – we’ll get it’.”
In 2018 the local council took over running a popular miniature railway in Poole Park, which has not operated since.
A BCP Council spokesperson said: ‘The lease agreement to operate Sandbanks Mini Golf recently expired and the decision not to renew has been 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 work has been completed and will be operated directly by the BCP board.
“This will provide local taxpayers with a financial return and facilitate longer term investment options.
“Updates of work in progress will be posted on the council’s website and social media account.”