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Raffles Country Club faces its final tee-off next year
ANOTHER Singapore golf club will soon bite the dust.
The government will take over the Raffles Country Club's (RCC) premises in Tuas by July 31, 2018, to build the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) tracks that run immediately after the bridge crossing near the Second Link.
In a media briefing on Wednesday morning shortly after the the club had been informed of its fate in writing, representatives from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) stressed to reporters that the decision was made after "extensive, careful reviews with development agencies".
The reviews showed the RCC site to be the most suitable location to run at-grade (or same-level) HSR tracks after the bridge crossing, and also to place the tunnel portal leading to the underground tunnels that will take the HSR to the Jurong East terminus.
In other words, the tracks go from above-ground to underground on the RCC site.
The government said it has considered all options and this is the best choice. When asked if there are any other golf clubs that will have to give way for future rail projects, SLA chief executive Tan Boon Khai said: "We don't target golf clubs specifically. Having said that of course, golf clubs do take up substantial space in Singapore."
Property consultants generally agreed the decision makes sense. Acquiring one large swathe of 143 hectares of land would be cheaper than buying back individual factories in the vicinity, for one thing.
SLP International executive director Nicholas Mak said: "I look just further south where the industrial land parcels are located. If the government wants to acquire something of the same size, they have to relocate 30 factories. The cost would be much higher to the government."
Chesterton Singapore managing director Donald Han added that acquiring a recreational country club is also less detrimental than forcing small and medium-sized enterprises and even some multinational corporations to move. The number of jobs affected will also likely be fewer.
Knight Frank head of consultancy and research Alice Tan said that as the country develops, it is inevitable for the government to have to make some sacrifices when optimising land use in land-scarce Singapore. Thus, golf courses in future growth areas will have to go.
In addition to the tunnel portal, the RCC site will also house:
- the HSR crossover tracks;
- a siding facility to temporarily house a train near the border for safety or operational reasons;
- the Cross Island Line's (CRL) western depot for stabling and maintenance facilities; and
- other transport related needs, which may include train testing facilities.
SLA said it will work closely with the management of RCC on the acquisition process, adding that the compensation will be based on the market value of the land at the date of acquisition, in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act.
RCC's land acquisition comes one-and-a-half years after the government announced the buyback of Jurong Country Club (JCC) to make way for the HSR terminus.
In recent years, the government has reviewed the lease expiries for various golf clubs in a bid to free up land to make way for the country's development plans.
For instance, it has said it will 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, which expires in 2021, will be renewed for another nine years to 2030, after which there will be no further extension.
R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said golf courses and club members may increasingly have to accept the "sad reality" of uncertainty in their membership and tenure of their golf clubs. "If they think about hopping to another club, this string of club closures affected by infrastructure and other pressing new developments will make them wonder if the new club can offer them any certainty in membership."
In JCC's case, the club will be handing over its 67ha plot to the government on Feb 1. The club is appealing against the S$89.8 million (equivalent to S$33,000 per member) compensation awarded to them, which is a fraction of the S$168.1 million it had requested, amounting to about S$62,000 per member.
When contacted by The Business Times, RCC - which has a separate recreational wing with ballroom, gym, pools, several tennis courts, squash courts and playroom - said it could not comment as its general committee had not met to discuss the matter.
But member Amos Ng said he had half-expected the announcement since the HSR project was unveiled.
"We did not expect to lose the whole club. We have 36 holes, so we thought we may just have to give up one 18-hole course, at least we can still play, so it came as a little bit of a surprise. This is a bit like an en bloc exercise, except that this time, it is unlikely to be a windfall for all."
He had bought his membership at S$40,000. The going price for membership right before the announcement was around S$31,000 to S$33,000. The golfer plans to join another golf club after RCC closes but has not decided on which one.
Lee Lee Langdale of brokership Singolf said that considering RCC is being acquired with 11 years left on its lease, the compensation could be lower than the S$33,000 SLA offered to each JCC member. JCC's lease was originally due to expire in 2035, meaning that it was acquired with 20 years left on its lease (taking the gazette date).
But overall, she expects membership prices of the remaining golf clubs to increase on lower supply once the two affected golf clubs exit the market.