A golf club has faced criticism after it closed a popular path for dog walkers to protect its members and course from vandals.

David Lloyd Leisure, in Staines Road, Hampton, said troublemakers damaged its flags and equipment every day and motorcyclists have torn up its greens.

It closed its gates to the public last week in a bid to crack down on the problem, but dog walkers have complained about its decision.

Neil Hankey, of Rivermeads Residents’ Association, said it had collected about 500 signatures for a petition opposing the move.

He said: “Reading between the lines, it’s an exclusive health club and they want to keep out the riff-raff.”

Hampton North Councillor Geoffrey Samuel, deputy leader of Richmond Council, accused the club of refusing to meet councillors to find a compromise, such as erecting a fence or signs. He said: “They’ve behaved very shabbily. Their refusal to meet us is simply outrageous.”

The club claimed it met the council at the end of last year to try to find a solution.

It said vandals had been targeting its 70-acre grounds for many years but the problem has got worst over the past 12 months.

Staff had to clear up discarded needles and litter after intruders held overnight parties on the course and yobs damaged its irrigation system more than a dozen times last summer, wasting thousands of gallons of water.

Vandals also broke nine outside lights and took four gate locks last weekend.

The club said in a statement: “Following several further incidents of vandalism and health and safety issues, David Lloyd Leisure Hampton has regretfully taken the decision to close access to the golf course, which is not a public right of way but leased property for which we are responsible.”

It said it did not believe putting up new fences or improving its signs would keep the vandals out.

The spokesman said: “We have carried out a thorough review of risk assessments and are no longer prepared to put at risk members of the public or our golfers as we take the safety of all parties extremely seriously.”

David Lloyd Leisure apologised for causing any inconvenience to walkers, but said they could continue to use a public footbath in front of the club and a field backing on to Uxbridge Road.

Coun Samuel said the council had no proof golfers’ safety was under threat and its lawyers were scrutinising the lease to see if it could take legal action.

He said: “I would wish to reassure residents that we will be pursuing this matter with vigour and hope that the gates can be re-opened shortly.”