Ntuc takes golf to the masses

U Golf Academy offers classes by local pros at subsidised rates, aims to train 1,500 golfers

It used to be an elite sport, reserved for the rich, famous and those belonging to the upper echelons of society.

But in the last 20 years or so, it has taken on a different complexion. And thanks to the efforts of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the game of golf is now even more accessible to the ordinary Singaporean.

It was kick-started by the opening of the Orchid Country Club (OCC) in 1993, a joint effort by the Government and the labour movement which wanted golf to be available to the common man, narrowing the divide between the haves and have-nots.

The club also has many social and recreational activities and offers a selection of well-maintained venues - members and the public can even book staycations at affordable rates at its cosy Orchid Golf & Resort Hotel.

So at least one of the 5Cs - the country club - is accessible to the ordinary Singaporean who would normally have difficulty attaining the other four Cs, namely car, condo, cash and credit card in the status symbol chase.

The architect of the country club in Yishun was former president Ong Teng Cheong, who once also led the labour movement.

Now, the NTUC is taking the dream further by trying to increase the pool of golfers by promoting the game further and making it more affordable and accessible to all workers.

The late Mr Ong had an underlying passion for two things: golf and benevolence for the working class. Combining the two aspects, he founded OCC so that "golf will no longer be a game for the executives only".

Working with the Singapore Golf Association (SGA) and the Singapore Professional Golfers' Association (SPGA), the NTUC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in July to popularise the game.

One of the more tangible outcomes of the three-year pact is the setting up of an academy (U Golf Academy), with programmes to facilitate the learning experience for workers and the masses.

Classes have just been rolled out for union members first, and then gradually to the public. Initial classes will be conducted at OCC, with plans to expand to satellite training centres and golf outreach events island-wide, making the sport more accessible.

Leveraging on the partnership with SGA and SPGA, U Golf Academy is able to offer affordable rates for professional coaching at about 20 per cent below the market rate. A curriculum endorsed by SGA has been drawn, with a road map for new golfers to progress from basic to advanced level.

When the trainees are ready to attain a handicap and graduate from the academy, they will be encouraged to sign up for OCC or my golf kaki membership, where they can access golf amenities at OCC and Marina Bay Golf Course.

Teaching at the academy is conducted by SPGA professionals, and two of them, Amanda Tan and Jack Solomon, have already started on the 10-lesson programme at Orchid for beginners and proficiency certificate holders. The academy hopes to train 1,500 new golfers and reach out to 50,000 union members in three years.

"Beyond the MOU, we hope to make this spirit of partnership permanent and continue to work with the coaches and expertise of SGA and SPGA to make golf more inclusive and accessible, to engage communities, as well as strengthen symbiotic and tripartite ties, said NTUC Club chief executive Lim Eng Lee.

"When Covid-19 restrictions ease, we look forward to running events and tournaments, as well as collaborating with golf courses in Asia and beyond to further our engagement," he said.

"We also hope to leverage new technology and digital applications to facilitate the golfing experiences in the areas of training, tour bookings, as well as event and e-marketplace offerings."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2021, with the headline 'Ntuc takes golf to the masses'. Subscribe