Categorized | 2014, Golf Insight, June 2014, News

Singapore bids farewell to two golf courses

By: Antony Sutton

Keppel Golf Club

Aerial view of Kepell Golf Club in Singapore, established in 1904.

Two percent of Singapore’s land is given over to golf courses. A pretty remarkable statistic given how small the city state is and its reliance on Indonesian sand to expand!

It seems the government there now feels that 2 percent, or approximately 1,500 hectares, is too much and Singapore’s golfing fraternity will have to lose some of their 17 odd courses so more apartments, condominiums, office blocks and shopping malls can be built.

It is not just golf of course that is feeling the pressure. A historical cemetery was recently wiped off the map to build a new highway while familiar landmarks are frequently sacrificed in the name of progress.

First to go will be Keppel Club. Situated just off the West Coast Highway, this 5,917 meter par 72 course will close its doors for the final time on 31st December, 2021 when its lease expires.

This historic club saw its first drive back in 1904 but the land has been eyeballed by developers for a residential area.

Members did ask if they could have a short extension on their lease but the government said nope, as soon as the lease expires, the developers will be moving in. At a public consultation meeting, members also said it wasn’t fair as they had paid their membership fees in good faith, or words to that effect.

The government was less than sympathetic, saying that as golf club leases were for a fixed period any aspiring member should have factored that in when contemplating a membership. And anyway, they continued, the Keppel members should have known the land would be needed for other purposes as the plan had initially been proposed back in 2001.

At least Keppel boasts some history. Marina Bay Golf Course only opened in 2006 and immediately drew rave reviews, being awarded 7th Best New Course for the year at the Asian Golf Monthly awards.

More honours followed as it was placed in the top three for value for money and best course in Singapore a couple of times.

The 6,542 meter course was designed by South African Phil Jacobs and plays at par 72 and its signature par 3 13th comes with an island green design. The club also offers night golf and a four tier driving range.

But not for much longer! The 18th will be putted for the last time in July, 2024.

A number of other courses will see their leases extended until 2030 and 204 while losing some of their land along the way. Orchid Country Club, for example, gets an extension until 2030 before it too will be consigned to the history books.

Golfers are of course none to happy at the news.

Jessica Phua is a former member of parliament and belongs to three golf clubs. “Most members join the club for the purpose of playing golf. After golfing hours, most golf clubs become as quiet as graveyards.”

A member of SICC, Tanah Merah Country Club and Laguna National Golf and Country Club, Ms Phua expressed concern that membership prices at the golf clubs to be axed would fall. However, the optimistic golfer says she hopes the plans are reconsidered as golf courses are ‘green lungs’ for the city state.

M. Murugiah is the president of the Singapore Professional Golfers’ Association and he too is unhappy with the planned closures. In fact, he feels Singapore needs more courses, not less!

“We have so many people playing golf and people keen to take up golf as well,” he said before adding the game could become more expensive with fewer courses and that could discourage more people from taking up the game.

Looking at all this from an Indonesian perspective, a couple of things spring to mind. Firstly, all that forward planning! But secondly, there is surely an opportunity for Indonesian golf courses.

The islands of Batam and Bintan have long been favoured by Singapore expats and locals as a weekend getaway with some quality beach time and spectacular courses.

Indeed, just last month, the St Andrew’s Society of Singapore held its annual Chieftan’s Trophy at Ria Bintan with some 40 bekilted members taking the ferry across for a weekend.

With the steady rise in budget airlines and the Asean Economic Community just around the corner promising even greater integration between South East Asian nations, savvy clubs should be looking at how they can tap into the Singapore market and how they can entice casual and serious players over for a weekend.

The courses of Jakarta, Bogor, Sentul and around Surabaya don’t just offer great golf. They also offer spectacular scenery at no extra cost!

About Antony Sutton

I am a freelance writer who has been hanging round South East Asia for about 20 years. Unfortunately, I haven’t picked up a club in anger since my days in Bangladesh on the Kurmitola course where I benefited greatly from the words and wisdom of Nelson, the one armed caddy. Today, I keep threatening to head to the local driving range to shake off the cobwebs but haven’t yet made good with that promise. Instead I content myself with a few quiet, cold beers once in a while and helping my son become a good Arsenal fan!

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