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Less Golf Courses Means More Golfing

Fewer golf courses in the future will make some more accessible in the short run.

Lately, golf in Singapore got its time in the sun – or, more accurately, its share of space in the local papers. No, it wasn’t the launch of a new driver that would give a 24-handicapper an extra 20m without time in the gym. And sadly, no, it wasn’t the news of a sponsor for the still-missing Singapore Open.

More poignantly, and certainly of more interest to those who are members of Singapore’s golf clubs, it was the announcement by the authorities regarding land-lease renewals.

Out of the 14 golf clubs in Singapore, seven will see their leases up for renewal within the next nine years: Keppel Club (2021), Sentosa Golf Club (2021), Tanah Merah Country Club (2021), Seletar Golf Club (2021), Singapore Island Country Club (2022), Orchid Country Club (2023) and Marina Bay Golf Course (2024).

The recent release of the Draft Master Plan 2013 was of particular interest to the golf fraternity. A few things were made clear. The land that Keppel sits on has been rezoned “Residential”, which means that the course will have to go. Many of the current golf sites have been rezoned “Reserved”, which pretty much means that anything can happen. It just hasn’t been decided.

These changes have major impact on the golf clubs from many perspectives. For one, refurbishment planned for ageing courses will be put on hold. From a more immediate point, the esteemed Garden Course at Tanah Merah Country Club, a previous venue for the HSBC Women’s Champions, will see 10ha taken away as soon as the end of this year for airport expansion works.

And most poignantly, the Singapore Island Country Club will have to give up one of its four 18-hole courses when its master lease expires to make way for a public course – seeing that Marina Bay Golf Course, which is open to the public, will not have its lease renewed. The next few months will see most of these clubs scrambling to decide how to bring their establishments forward – how to upgrade or renovate their courses or clubhouses, given the current scenario. And they will need to figure out how they will pay for the lease renewals, in the event that they get to that stage.

While all this is happening, there is also more interest in golf club membership transactions. There is every expectation that clubs with longer leases, and a clearer future, will see their prices firm up. And it doesn’t mean that those that will not have their lease renewed will see no takers.

Keppel Club, going for around $14,000, amounts to about $2,000 per year for the remainder of the current lease and is quite an attractive option if you’re looking for a short-term membership at a well-located, full-service club. Compare this to $30,000 or more for one-year term memberships that some of our premier clubs charge.

Presently, only a few things are certain. Three of the 14 clubs here (Keppel Club, Marina Bay Golf Course and Orchid Country Club) will not have their leases renewed. For the others, the specifics of renewal are still vague.

Where does that leave the game in Singapore? A recent newspaper article claimed that the “lack of response” from the golf industry reflects a decreasing popularity in the sport. If the missing ire of the community is misconstrued as such, this conclusion is not only naive, but also simply wrong.

Golf is alive and well in Singapore, thank you very much. Every weekend, golfers either pack the tee times in local clubs, or make their way to Bintan, Batam or Johor to play. Companies and charities book dates way in advance to hold their annual fund-raising or customer-relation events.

Beyond this, golf is a game of admirable countenance that offers lessons in life skills that few sports teach. Its very nature of respect, etiquette and self-rule builds the kind of Singaporean we all hope to be. That is something worth fighting for.