Which golf courses will get the chop?

Flurry of speculation over clubs with leases that expire in eight to 10 years' time

Since news broke that the leases for some golf clubs will not be extended, the big question being asked is: Where will the axe fall?

There has been a flurry of speculation among golfers, much of it swirling around clubs with leases that expire in eight to 10 years' time.

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.

Three clubs are widely regarded as the most prestigious and sought after - SICC, Sentosa Golf Club and Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC). They are also the priciest in terms of membership.

Traditionally perceived as a game for the affluent, golf has opened up to the masses somewhat in the past two decades.

The Orchid Country Club opened in Yishun in 1993 for union members. Similarly, the National Service Resort and Country Club opened in 1994 to cater to national servicemen and has two locations now.

Of the handful of public golf courses here, the nine-hole Executive Golf Course at Mandai was ready in 1993. In 2006, Marina Bay Golf Course - Singapore's first and only public 18-hole course - opened.

Mr Oh Kian Beng, vice-captain of golf at Warren Golf and Country Club, said he has seen people from all walks of life at some courses. "The myth that golf is for the elite has to be busted," he said.

Singapore Golf Association president Bob Tan estimates there could be up to 100,000 people playing the game here.

"Certainly it has become more accessible," he said. "Children are taking up golf through their schools, and clubs are also offering opportunities for the children of non-members."

Still, he acknowledges that golf is open to a limited number of the population. And in land-scarce Singapore, it is not much of a surprise that some courses may have to go, he said.

One that has already gone is Seletar Base Golf Course - a public nine-hole facility - that was shut in 2007 to make way for the Seletar Aerospace Park.

Of the golf clubs whose leases expire in eight years' time, observers concur that Keppel Club - sited on prime land - is unlikely to have its lease extended. The club has declined comment.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong noted that Keppel's golf course sits next to residential properties worth $1,600 to $2,600 per sq ft.

The Telok Blangah MRT station nearby can also be better utilised by intensifying land use for the plot of land occupied by the golf course, he added.

Said Mr Ku: "Removing Keppel Club will not cost us much in terms of green space because Labrador Park is nearby."

One Keppel member who declined to be named believes the club will get a replacement plot of land for a new golf course.

In the event that it does not, he said the members' club has two options: to distribute its reserves to members and dissolve the club, or hold on to the funds and bide its time for future developments.

The last time a club relocated was in 2000, when Warren shifted from Clementi to Choa Chu Kang.

The fate of other clubs is still up in the air, but some have expressed confidence that their fairways will remain open.

Sentosa Golf Club president Low Teo Ping told The Straits Times: "Looking at the map, it doesn't look like Sentosa will be affected."

TMCC general manager Kok Min Yee said there has been no indication that the club's lease will not be extended beyond 2021.

Golf professional and consultant Lip Ooi reckoned that the axe could fall on SICC, which has four 18-hole courses, the most among any club here.

With the club also having the largest member base of about 7,800 principal members, he said the impact on the club would be huge if any of its courses are taken away.

When contacted, SICC said it is awaiting a response from PUB about the renewal of its lease.

As for the golf course at Seletar Country Club, Mr Ooi said the course is sitting on land where not much can be done.

The 18-hole facility is next to a reservoir and there are height restrictions for the area due to its proximity to Seletar Airport.

Seletar golf captain Phua Hua Seng said the club is waiting to hear from the Government and has no comment at this point.

Some believe Orchid Country Club should also be safe as it is located right beside the Lower Seletar Reservoir, though several property analysts said the site could eventually be used for development.

The golf manager of a club here said he had heard talk that Orchid might be taken back.

He said: "Orchid was a project by the union to bring the masses to golf... I'm quite surprised that area has been marked as a reserve site."

Mr Ku said there are also question marks over Green Fairways, a public nine-hole course off Eng Neo Avenue which welcomed new owners last month.

While owners Champions Golf have a three-year lease with an option for a further three years, he noted that the new Downtown Line MRT station coming up at Sixth Avenue in 2015 might push planners to build more homes there.

Should the number of golf courses decrease, golf club membership prices could go up and the sport as a whole could become more expensive.

Questions have also been raised about whether that could reduce the accessibility of golf and impact the budding amateur scene here, which has seen a steady stream of talented young golfers come through the ranks to enter the national golf squad in the last decade.

National golfer Jerome Ng, 23, believes the development of young players will not be affected even if the number of courses shrink.

He said: "We should be able to work around things. In comparison to other countries like Australia, we don't have facilities as good as theirs but we're still doing okay. And compared to Hong Kong which has four courses, we'll still have more."

roysim@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Daryl Chin and Sanjay Nair