Driving ambition

If you love the occasional game of golf but cannot afford a club membership, there are three courses here you can head to.

Of the close to 20 golf courses in Singapore, only Champions Golf Course, Mandai Executive Golf Course and Marina Bay Golf Course are public.

Charges at the three courses range from $13.90 for a nine-hole game at Mandai Executive Golf Course to $120 for an 18-hole weekend game at Marina Bay Golf Course. These rates are far more accessible than private golf clubs, where memberships for Singaporeans go from about $9,000 at Changi Golf Club to $260,000 at Sentosa Golf Club.

Fees run from $13,000 to $320,000 for foreigners at the same clubs. These amounts exclude transfer fees (if you buy your membership from a member), monthly subscription fees, which range from about $100 to more than $200 a club and green fees for each golf game. Only one of the public courses, Marina Bay Golf Course, has a full 18-hole course.

Open since 2006, it has seen an average of 330,000 visitors a year for the past five years. Of these, about 75 per cent are Singaporeans or permanent residents. The other two are nine-hole courses.

Mandai Executive Golf Course sees about 35,000 golfers a year, 85 per cent of whom are Singaporeans or PRs. Champions Golf Course, which is located on the former Green Fairways Golf Course next to the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, now sees more than 60 players a day on weekdays and 200 a day on weekends, double the numbers seen prior to its renovation in July last year.

The weekday crowd is expected to exceed 100 players a day this year. Mr Matthew Murray, its manager, says the increase is due partly to tournaments such as the Barclays Singapore Open and the upcoming HSBC Women's Champions 2014 tournament, which have raised the profile of golf in recent years. He estimates that Champions' patrons are made up equally of expatriates and Singaporeans.

Mr Arthur Lim, 46, a finance executive who started playing golf 16 years ago, has been going to Champions twice a week for more than 10 years. While he is drawn to its affordability and proximity to his home, he points out the drawbacks to public courses.

"As there are so few options, they tend to be quite busy. In some cases, they are also not as well-maintained as private courses."

 

The well-kept Marina Bay Golf Course, he notes, is one exception. However, the Government announced last week that its lease will not be renewed when it expires in 2024. To fill the gap left by Marina Bay Golf Course's impending closure, one of Singapore Island Country Club's two 18-hole courses will be converted for public use. But golfers say having one public 18-hole course is not enough.

Mr Jason Tan, 50, founder and director of JT Golf Academy, a golf school and club in Nature Park Driving Range in Bishan, says more diversity in public courses is needed. "Nine holes are good for beginners to learn and gain confidence in playing.

But those who have been playing for years need a full-sized course. "There are many Singaporean players who play really well yet who have no choice but to go overseas," he says.

While regional courses are "good to explore", the travelling is a hassle, he adds.

Singaporeans make up the bulk of customers at many golf courses in Malaysia, Bintan and Batam: 70 per cent of golfers at Palm Springs Golf & Beach Resort in Batam and 80 per cent of golfers at IOI Palm Villa Golf & Country Resort in Johor are from Singapore, for example.

These courses allow members of the public to play at their courses, often at rates that are cheaper than or comparable to those that courses here charge. And most do not require a handicap, unlike Singapore courses.

A handicap is an official measure of a golfer's proficiency.

It is usually administered by a golf club or association and can be difficult to maintain for occasional players. While Mr Veron Wee, 56, chief operations officer for a maritime securities company, has a membership with Sembawang Country Club, he often prefers to golf with friends in Malaysia.

A social golfer, he likes to take his time on the course and not feel rushed, which he says often happens on courses in Singapore. "I would go to Horizon Hills Golf & Country Club or Palm Resort Golf & Country Club in Johor, where you do not have to be a member to play and it's about 50 per cent cheaper than Singapore.

"In Singapore, if you miss your tee-off time, you've missed your chance to play, whereas in Malaysia, you can say 'around 8'. It is a good place to go with someone who does not have a handicap or who does not usually play golf, like my wife," he adds.

Ms Julie Yeo, 58, an administrative manager for a telecommunications company, and her husband, Mr William Leow, 59, an engineer, go to Palm Springs Golf & Beach Resort in Batam to golf with family and friends every Saturday.

The couple bought a membership with the resort for about $2,000 two years ago. "I enjoy the ferry ride across, the course is well-maintained and after golf, we can go for a massage and a seafood dinner," she adds.

Though she has thought about buying a membership here, the cost is a deterrent. "I don't think I can sink $60,000 to $80,000 into a club, especially if I'm not sure if the lease will be extended," she explains.

Instead, she paid about $300 for a three-year membership with My Golf Kaki, an NTUC membership group set up in 2002 to promote golf benefits, recreation and competitions among NTUC union members.

Today, it has about 6,600 members. All NTUC members can apply to join the club, which issues and maintains USGA handicaps, provides golf insurance and preferential rates at selected golf courses here, such as Marina Bay Golf Course, Keppel Club and Orchid Country Club, and overseas ones such as Ria Bintan, for its members.

For example, My Golf Kaki members pay $16.50 a golf pass at Orchid Country Club, which will allow them to take guests in and pay $36 for an 18-hole game on a weekday morning and $80 for an 18-hole game on the weekends compared to the charges of $125 on weekday mornings and $275 on weekends for an 18-hole game for walk-in visitors.

Though Orchid Country Club is a members club, walk-in visitors are allowed to use its golf course, provided they are a group of three, book three days in advance and there are slots available.

My Golf Kaki also organises three to four golf activities a month, including tournaments and overseas golf excursions. While other golf organisations, such as JT Golf Culture, offer golf lessons, handicap maintenance and regional tournaments, none offers as wide a range of benefits as My Golf Kaki.

Ms Yeo, who joined the club last year, says: "Between golfing with my friends who have local memberships and My Golf Kaki membership, I get to play on different golf courses."

vlydia@sph.com.sg

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