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200 ha of golf course land freed

No lease renewal for Keppel Club, Marina Bay Golf Course
Monday, February 17, 2014 - 06:00

[SINGAPORE] Some 200 hectares of land, roughly one third the size of Ang Mo Kio town, will eventually be freed up for other uses when the land leases for Keppel Club, Marina Bay Golf Course and the Orchid Country Club expire.

The government said yesterday that it would not be renewing the leases for both Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course when they end in 2021 and 2024 respectively. Orchid Country Club's lease expires in 2021 but will be renewed for another nine years to 2030 after which there will be no further extension.

Parts of the fairways at Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) and National Service Resort and Country Club (NSRCC) will be acquired by the end of this year for the expansion of Changi Airport, and one of Singapore Island Country Club's (SICC) golf courses will be made public.

SICC has, however, been given the flexibility to decide which golf course it wants to give up, contrary to earlier expectations that one of its courses at the Bukit location would be affected.

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At a briefing yesterday by government agencies, SICC members who questioned why the Bukit location, next to MacRitchie reservoir, was chosen instead of the Island location - next to the Pierce Reservoirs - were told that they could decide for themselves which course to give up. The course next to the one to be offered for public use would have its lease extended to 2030, while the other unaffected courses will have their leases extended to 2040.

The SICC course set aside for public use will be run by the labour movement, and will replace the 18-hole course at the Marina Bay Golf Course.

With the exception of Keppel Club, all the private clubs with less than a decade left in their leases will be allowed to renew them till between 2030 and 2040 - a change from the previous practice of 30-year leases.

Explaining the shorter leases, Law Minister K Shanmugam said at a doorstop after the SICC meeting: "The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) can predict reasonably up to 2040. They didn't want to tie themselves up beyond the period."

And while utilisation rate of the golf courses had no bearing on the renewal of land lease in the latest review, it might be taken into consideration in the future, said the Law Ministry.

The government has said that its two main considerations for the renewal of golf courses are whether the land is needed for other uses, and ensuring that the general public, National Service men and the labour movement have enough access to golfing facilities.

"Where we can give a fresh lease, we will do so. If it's needed for development, then the golf course will have to give way," said Mr Shanmugam. "As the number of courses shrink, we'll have to be fair to all, not just existing members, but also members of the public and people who are losing their courses. So we try to have some equity."

Yesterday's announcement, which comes after much speculation on the fate of the golf clubs, evoked strong reactions from Keppel and SICC members.

While the fate of Keppel's current golf course has been known for a while - it was reflected as a residential site as early as the Urban Redevelopment Authority's 2001 Concept Plan - members had been hoping for a replacement site.

"It's a very unpalatable announcement," said Keppel Club member Manoj Sharma, a managing director. "The precedence was that when the government took a golf course away, they would give a replacement. This time they did not give that option."

Keppel members also said that the club's closure was a loss to Singapore heritage. It was founded in 1904 and is one of the oldest here.

"We need to be a country with heritage, with a soul, with playgrounds," said Khor Chee Kok, a financial adviser, though he conceded that the decision was made in the best interest of the country.

The government will offer Keppel an alternative site to operate as a social club, and encourage the manager of the new public course to consider a tie up with Keppel.

At SICC, the mood was also downbeat.

"We are naturally disappointed that the outcome has fallen short of what we had hoped for. With the loss of one of our courses, it will put a strain on our remaining facilities given our large membership base," said its president Tay Joo Soon.

"Nonetheless, as with all golf clubs in Singapore, SICC has to accept that change is on the horizon, and necessary in the broader context of the national interest."

Some members expressed concern over how the demarcation of the public and the SICC course will be made and how facilities are to be shared.

SICC has to work with the labour movement on how the courses can be reconfigured, and make the necessary arrangements by end-February 2015 in order for the course next to the public course to be renewed till 2030.

For TMCC, which will have 10 ha of its land acquired by the government for Changi Airport's new taxiways by the end of this year, reconfiguration work will start immediately, said the club's general manager Kok Min Yee.

This will be done while keeping the 18 holes still in play, he said. "The reconfigurations should not cost us too much as it is not expected to be very extensive. It is hard to estimate the cost right now as we have not finalised the design as yet."

Meanwhile, NSRCC, which will lose about 26 ha of land after its temporary occupation licence expires in August, is undertaking a strategic review to reconfigure the golf courses and provide more social facilities. The club will hold a townhall session next Monday to speak to members on its future plans.

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