Singapore is no country for 18 golf courses

From ‘Which golf courses will get the chop?’ 3 Feb 2013, article by Royston Sim, Sunday Times and ‘Let’s debate land use for golf course’, 2 Feb 2013, Voices, Today

…In its Land Use Plan unveiled last week, the Government flagged golf courses as one area that could be consolidated to free up more land. The Ministry of Law said some of the 18 golf courses here would be phased out, and the land put to other uses. It did not specify which would be affected, saying only that it would be working with planning agencies over the next few months to “provide clarity” to various golf courses on whether their leases could be extended.

Golf courses here are a mix of public and private ones. They occupy a total of about 1,500ha – 2 per cent of Singapore’s total land area. Eleven clubs are private, with membership prices that range from $223,000 for the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) to $5,000 for Changi Golf Club. These 11 clubs have about 30,000 members altogether, and most lease land on 30-year terms from government agencies including the PUB.

(Chng Koon Beng):…There should be a debate on the Land Use Plan for such a vast space of land, which is now only accessible to a fraction of our population. It is not only a question of which courses will be closed, which would lead to arguments over why others can have their lease renewed. Do we need private golf clubs at all?

Would it be fairer if all remaining clubs could be converted to public golf courses when these leases are renewed, so that everyone can enjoy this recreation, the lush greenery and fresh air?

The ‘club’ C in our ‘5 Cs’ may very well refer to the golfing kind. This land-gobbling sport took up a total of  5-10 % of the total land area in the early eighties. We also assumed that the government knew how precious a resource land was – and still is – for a tiny pinprick of a nation like ours, but lacked the (wait for it) FORE-sight to manage them properly, otherwise we wouldn’t need a policy today to skim them down.

Some compared this devotion to golf to the analogy of setting aside land for a nudist colony – giving up a large area of secluded space just for a few privileged individuals. I myself have never stepped on the green nor handled a golf club, though I’ve always wanted to cruise around in a golf tram with a glass of champagne and act all hoity-toity. Now my dreams of living the high life are dashed, reduced to swinging imaginary clubs in front of the Xbox Kinect in my jammies. Thanks a lot, White Paper!

Even avid golfers questioned the need to allocate so much space to a sport that sells luxury watches and striped polo T’s, and were aware of the runaway profiteering that comes with the acquisition and transfer of exclusive golf memberships. And all I did as an NBA fan in my teens was trade Michael Jordan cards.  Expensive golf memberships are as prized an asset as property, with some investors holding on to multiple memberships, not ever having need to swing a club, or step onto the green, even once. It explains why the majority of golf course remain private, and why opening some up to the masses is like having vagrants crash your cocktail party to sip off your designer punchbowl. Asking the government to let go of these money-spinners is like turning the F1 into a Mario Go-Kart theme park. But I shudder at the thought of what the alternative could be. For such highly coveted land, I would imagine another high-end condo or a shopping megacomplex at least. You could use the existing ponds as a reason to make the name of your monolith sound as aquatic as possible. Or how about an aviation hub like the Aerospace PARK in Seletar and adding insult to injury by naming something a ‘park’ when it’s anything but. It’s like calling a landfill ‘Serenity Gardens’.

Even if enthusiasts claim that the sport has become more accessible over the years, one can see why clubs like SICC are unlikely to let go of their exclusive brand. Former NMP Jessie Phua and member of 3 clubs thinks golf courses have a role to play as ‘GREEN LUNGS‘, a last-ditch attempt to play the eco-card. Does anyone have any idea how much water is consumed to maintain these things? If all we had were golf courses to replenish our carbon dioxide we’d all be in respiratory distress. Instead of public golf courses, I’m more in favour of green untouched spaces, parks, prawning lagoons or playgrounds and courts which encourage team sports like basketball or football rather than one where people spend more time standing around amidst vast tracts of ‘lush greenery’ sealing deals and hobnobbing than hitting balls into holes, pretending that they’re the King of Versailles having a garden party. I would also rather see more land set aside for CRICKET than golf, safe in the knowledge that our foreign workers are entertaining themselves productively over the weekend instead of planning strikes or fooling around with maids.

In fact, I see little reason to promote golf as a recreational sport at all, knowing how hazardous it is, having to expose yourself to deadly lightning strikes or even knocking innocent bystanders out cold, for the price you pay to be a part of it. Let’s have artificial ponds, neighbourhood petting zoos and dog-runs by all means, create safe, social spaces to foster community spirit and active ageing rather than just staging them for royalty to see in Queenstown. For the golf aficionados with more club than credit cards, time to pack your golf bags and pursue your fairway dreams elsewhere like you can afford to, or you could mope around stroking your gear singing Tom Jones’ Green Green Grass of Home.

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