Making the most of those greens

SINGAPORE - Rebalancing the use of precious land here between recreational pursuits, like golf, and utilitarian purposes has been always deemed inevitable. This week's notice of golf land re-acquisition comes against a backdrop of rising development pressures to cope with population growth and the needs of industry and defence well into mid-century. Five locations are affected, with three (Keppel Club, the Marina Bay public course and Orchid Country Club in Yishun) to lose their facilities in toto at different points in time. Two others will have part of their fairways shaved off for Changi Airport's expansion.

It was fair that members have been given some years to adjust to their loss of amenity. In general, land lease terms for golf clubs have been generous. Otherwise, the return of state land tended to a manicured lushness over the years could have been activated sooner. Golf courses occupy "only" 2 per cent of the land mass, which some golfers might regard as statistically insignificant. It is not when translated as 1,500 ha of land, some of it choice real estate with water views or wrapped in woodland.

A graphic representation is that the 219 ha that will be returned to productive use in the first instance is equivalent to a third of Ang Mo Kio. It's a lot of homes and facilities. The most ardent golfers might accept the exchange as fair. As lease renewals for a number of clubs will expire by 2040, while leases of several others are being reviewed, the expectation is that exclusive golf land on a tiny island will continue to be properly balanced with recreational spaces all can freely access. Golf is a great sport but the proportion of the populace who choose to enjoy the game will remain relatively small.

Exclusivity is one reason why an active thread of views arising from the announcement is over gyrating club membership values. Singapore is one of the few countries where golf club memberships are traded as an investment asset. This may indicate that the game is valued by some as a commodity more than for its intrinsic worth as a healthful pursuit which doubles as a vehicle for networking or family recreation.

Golfers put off by high joining fees will have a top-notch course to play on when Singapore Island Country Club has one of its four courses converted for public use. Malaysia and Indonesia also offer venues where membership and green fees are much lower. Entrepreneurs could open more pay-to-play driving ranges to accommodate beginners as well as serious golfers wanting to practise their swing. These facilities which are heavily used by busy executives at night are money-spinners in Japan, where club fees are astronomical. Shrinking space here should be no bar to the avid.

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