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Review likely to hit Keppel Club and one SICC course

[SINGAPORE] Keppel Club is unlikely to be able to keep its golf course once its current lease expires in seven years, and at least one of the Singapore Island Country Club's (SICC) locations may be affected under the government's plans for land use.

The fate of these and other golf courses has been much bandied about in the lead-up to Sunday, when representatives from government agencies will meet the members of four clubs - Keppel, SICC, Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) and the National Service Resort & Country Club (NSRCC) - at separate briefing sessions.

"The government is not reducing golf course land for the sake of reducing golf course land," the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said yesterday, as it tried to "curb speculation and anxiety over the decisions".

In considering the renewal of golf courses' leases, the government looks at whether Singapore needs the land for other uses such as infrastructure and housing, the parent ministry of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said.

The 18 golf courses take up 1,500 hectares of land, or about 2 per cent of the Republic's total land area. Last February, MinLaw had said that some of these golf courses will have to be phased out and the greens put to other uses. Most operate on 30-year leases, the majority of which will expire between 2021 and 2030.

"There will be no new land allocations for golf courses," the Ministry said yesterday, in response to media queries on whether Keppel will be offered an alternative site when its current lease expires in 2021.

Keppel's golf course sits on prime land in the Telok Blangah area, but has been reflected as a residential site as early as the Urban Redevelopment Authority's 2001 Concept Plan. Golf courses are meant to sit on land zoned for sports and recreation.

A second consideration for the government, when looking at renewals of golf course leases, is whether the general public, National Service men and the labour movement have enough access to golfing facilities.

"The Marina Bay Golf Course is an 18-hole public course whose lease will expire in 2024. As the site is zoned for commercial and residential uses, the government will find a replacement site for a public course," MinLaw said.

It added that it "should come as no surprise" that at least one of the SICC's locations - Bukit, next to MacRitchie Reservoir, or Island, near Upper and Lower Peirce Reservoirs - may be affected. The lease held by SICC, whose four 18-hole golf courses cover the largest acreage of land among the 11 private golf clubs, also expires in 2021.

As for TMCC and NSRCC, both clubs' courses may have to be reconfigured to accommodate Changi Airport's expansion plans. According to the URA's Draft Master Plan released late last year, parts of NSRCC's course are designated as a reserve site, for which specific use has not been fixed.

"The meetings this Sunday are to explain the decisions and address members' concerns in person. Thereafter we will make the announcement public. These will be for courses whose leases are ending in the next 10 years. We are doing this seven years in advance so that the clubs will be in a better position to make their investment and membership plans," MinLaw said.

The 11 private clubs have about 30,000 members, who hold an estimated $3 billion worth of golf club memberships. Open-market prices of transferrable golf club memberships have tumbled in recent years, hit by the uncertainty over lease renewals.

Clubs have also put off development plans. After Raffles Country Club members voted down a $26-million plan to revamp one of its golf courses in September last year, SLA urged golf clubs to base investment decisions only on the outstanding tenure of their lease.

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