SINGAPORE - Club memberships have long been regarded as one of the five "Cs" - more so with the growing number of golfers in Singapore. About 30,000 golfers here collectively hold some $3 billion worth of this asset. And for many, it is as valuable as any other asset class they own.
Golf club membership is an aspirational purchase. Besides the enjoyment of the game and facilities, it also provides members access to affiliated clubs overseas.
Of the 12 clubs dotting this island, 11 have tradeable memberships (Marina Bay, a public course, is the exception). About half are "members" clubs, where members have voting rights and, theoretically at least, share ownership of its assets. The rest, like Laguna Golf & Country Club, Sentosa Golf Club or Orchid Country Club, are proprietory clubs owned by individuals or entities.
Open market membership prices range from about $226,000 for the exclusive Sentosa, to as low as $5,000 for the 9-hole Changi Golf Club.
All golf clubs in Singapore sit on leasehold land, which, until now, has been renewed for 30 years at a time by their respective landlords, such as the Public Utilities Board, Singapore Land Authority and JTC. The assumption among members has been that this will continue in perpetuity.
But renewal is never guaranteed.
Singapore has one of the highest acreages of land, relative to its physical size, allocated to golf courses.
But most golf courses were originally built on land deemed unsuitable for intensive economic use. TMCC sits just below the flight path of Changi Airport. Others sit next to reservoirs, nature sanctuaries and other restricted areas where buildings and other infrastructure cannot be constructed.
However, Singapore's land use policies and practices are evolving.
Keppel Club's precious real estate at Bukit Chermin Road is now owned by the Singapore Land Authority, which could offer it up for mixed use property development after 2021. With nine years to go, the club has yet to secure (or at least, has yet to reveal) a new location.
Though newly renovated Jurong Country Club has the longest lease of 23 years, it sits at the centre of the growing Jurong Town hub, where demand for land has been rising.
Tanah Merah, Seletar, Sentosa and Laguna also have their leases running out in nine years, while SICC has 11 years. Laguna is on the verge of clinching a lease renewal in return for building a hotel.
But with golf regarded as an elitist sport by many non-golfers, there has been growing opposition to allocating precious land for golf courses. In recent years, there have even been calls to convert some of the land to public parks. Policymakers cannot entirely ignore such calls indefinitely. And the crunch, when it comes, will centre on lease renewals.