AN award-winning Sussex wine maker is set to expand its empire at the expense of a golf club.

Nyetimber, the sparkling wine producer, has bought the entire 108-acre site of West Chiltington Golf Club, which closes on Sunday.

The club, near Pulborough, was designed by former Rydcr Cup star and Open champion Brian Barnes.

Its owners, Martin and Deborah Ormrod – who bought West Chiltington in 2009 – admitted they made the decision with "great sadness" due to rising costs, a downturn in the golf market and its rural location.

Mr Ormrod said: "It takes a while to play a round of golf. Gone are the days where dad would go to the golf club on a Saturday and Sunday, so there's a social change too.

"We have even seen numbers increase but not to the halcyon days of what it was 15 years ago.

"This course was set up for everyone. It's a community hub and that's the saddest thing, really."

The news of the closure of the course, which had an 18 hole and nine hole layout, was met with sadness from members both past and present on Facebook, where the club issued a statement.

The decision marks a stark contrast in fortunes with neighbouring Nyetimber, which began planting grapes in September 1988 - just three months after the golf course opened.

Nyetimber remains tight-lipped over its plans for the golf course - it is not known how much of the acquired land would be used for growing grapes.

Julia Trustram-Eve, marketing director of trade body English Wine Producers, said the move was an exciting development for the industry.

She told The Argus: "Nyetimber is a very solid producer and a market leader. It's extremely exciting news for the industry and any developments in growth are warmly welcomed.

"This shows commitment and longevity."

The purchase of the 108-acre site pushes Nyetimber, currently 430 acres, further into the lead as the UK's biggest wine producer by land currently under vine.

Its estates are spread across West Sussex and Hampshire. Denbies in Surrey is the largest grower on a single estate at about 265 acres while the Rathfinny estate is East Sussex has 600 acres but not all of it is growing grapes.

Experts said it would take at least seven years to go from planting vines to producing a finished bottle.

A spokeswoman for Nyetimber said: "We can confirm that a takeover of the land and buildings associated with West Chiltington Golf Club has now been agreed.

"Further announcements will be made as to future land use in due course."