Little fuss over loss of golf club land

About 220ha of land occupied by Marina Bay Golf Course (above), Keppel Club and Orchid Country Club has been zoned by the URA for residential and commercial uses.

SINGAPORE - One month after the Government's keenly watched move to take back some golf course land for homes and other uses, there has been little public reaction.

Many Singaporeans seem to agree that the move is a step in the right direction - or they simply cannot be bothered to make a fuss.

Last month, the Law Ministry said Keppel Club will not be able to renew its lease when it expires in 2021. Orchid Country Club in Yishun will face a similar fate come 2030, and Marina Bay Golf Course will lose its greens when its lease runs out in 2024.

The three sites occupy about 220ha in total, equivalent to a third the size of Ang Mo Kio town. They have been zoned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for residential and commercial uses, although residential use includes more than just homes.

"Land zoned for residential (needs) will not be used for housing alone," said a URA spokesman.

"The land is usually planned to include other amenities and local services - such as parks and schools that will benefit future residents in the area."

The lack of an outcry over the land use decision may signal that golf, once the business world's sport de rigueur, could be losing its lustre here, observers say.

Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo of the department of real estate at the National University of Singapore (NUS) cited the relatively small numbers of people playing golf today.

"The latest land use decisions affect only an exclusive group of club members," he said.

There are about 36,360 golfers with registered handicaps here, according to data from the Singapore Golf Association.

He also suggested that Singaporeans are pleased to see the land being put to more productive uses. There are 17 golf clubs and public courses in Singapore occupying about 1,500ha, making up 2 per cent of Singapore's total land area. This does not include the five driving ranges that take up another 31ha (see box).

"The intention of converting golf course land at Keppel Club into housing areas may attract higher economic values," he said.

Of the 308 people who responded to an online survey by The Straits Times, more than half wanted the golf course land to be converted into public spaces and parks.

"We must protect Singapore's natural greenery and history and by removing all these golf courses for other uses, it will only make Singapore more of an urban jungle that has lost its history," wrote one respondent.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, an avid sportsman, believes that another reason for the absence of an uproar is the availability of other options for golfers.

He told The Straits Times that the various government agencies "had also been engaging the different clubs, so the constant communication and early notification" helps with planning purposes.

Another active sportsman, Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng, said the golfers affected by last month's announcement may hold memberships at other clubs or go golfing overseas, and would not find the decision as drastic.

Meanwhile, other sports have been gaining traction with businessmen.

These include cycling, running and tougher sporting activities such as triathlons and marathons.

Mr Baey, the former managing director of public relations company Hill and Knowlton, said he has noticed that C-level executives are picking up a flurry of other sporting activities.

"Other than cycling and running, there are those who are also into dragon boating and other extreme sports," he said.

"While playing a nine- or 18-hole golf game still remains a viable option for bonding and networking, it is time consuming, and that is why I didn't pick up golf," he added with a laugh.

Mr Baey also noted that some politicians are cutting down on golfing sessions, but declined to mention names.

Sociologist Daniel Goh of NUS said that "new business and professional elites here are more likely to take up marathon running and cycling than golfing".

Golf is on the rise in China, but "has been on the decline in the Anglo-American world", he said.

Instead, more professionals here are opting for fitness and wellness regimes, using gyms and spas and doing yoga, noted Mr Goh.

Financial institutions have also contributed to this trend by sponsoring non-golfing events here.

For instance, Standard Chartered Bank has been the title sponsor of a marathon in Singapore since 2002. Last year, 54,000 runners signed up for the event.

OCBC Bank has been the title sponsor of a cycling event now in its sixth year. Ms Koh Ching Ching, OCBC's head of group corporate communications, said cycling encourages teamwork and bonding, and this resonates with the bank's corporate values of people and teamwork.

"It is also a sport that anyone can take up - from toddlers to seniors and from novice riders to serious ones," she added.

Cost-wise, owning a golf and country club membership seems to be losing its lustre among young middle-class Singaporeans.

"The high housing prices have got the attention of younger Singaporeans, who have placed the dream of owning a condo in a higher order of priority than a country club," said Prof Sing. "Higher certificate of entitlement prices have also put pressure on them to set more realistic targets in their dream to acquire the five Cs."

While being members of a club indicates a level of societal status, the tangible nature of owning a condominium home and car will be prioritised before that, he said.

Mr Teo has also noticed the shift of interest in the younger generation.

He said: "Country clubs may be sought after for the gym, pool and other family-friendly activities rather than golfing facilities.

"Golf could become their preference for getting a country club membership at a later stage in their lives when it will be used as a platform for networking."

The 'swing' places

Singapore has 17 golf clubs and public courses occupying 1,500 ha. But this excludes the following five driving ranges.

ASIAN GOLF ACADEMY (4.44 ha)

Sin Ming Avenue. This range is bounded by the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and is within walking distance of Sin Ming Industrial Estate.

PLAYGOLF GAME CENTRE (2.86 ha)

This driving range in Toa Payoh is surrounded by the Central Expressway and Toa Payoh East Road. The site is also opposite the Toa Payoh Industrial Park.

FAIRWAY CLUB AT 60 FAIRWAYS DRIVE (18.95 ha)

Close to Bukit Timah Saddle Club and The Grandstand. The range is off the Eng Neo exit of the Pan-Island Expressway.

PUNGGOL EAST DRIVING RANGE (3.73 ha)

In the north-east, near Punggol Waterway. It is also accessible via the Punggol LRT, and the closest station is Riviera.

HOMETEAMS BUKIT BATOK GOLF DRIVING RANGE (1.29 ha)

Close to Bukit Batok Driving Centre, Swiss Cottage Secondary School and St Anthony's Primary School. It is part of the amenities offered by the HomeTeamNS club that includes an adventure centre and bowling alley.

Sources: OneMap.SG, Singapore Land Authority

rjscully@sph.com.sg

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