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Govt to reacquire land from 2 golf courses, 3 to give up land

SINGAPORE — After weeks of fevered speculation, decisions on the fate of Singapore’s golf clubs have been unveiled by the Ministry of Law, with four that were at the centre of the most debate — Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Keppel Club, Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC), and the National Service Resort and Country Club (NSRCC) — in line for significant changes.

Singapore Island Country Club (Thomson Location). Photo: Ernest Chua.

Singapore Island Country Club (Thomson Location). Photo: Ernest Chua.

SINGAPORE — After weeks of fevered speculation, decisions on the fate of Singapore’s golf clubs have been unveiled by the Ministry of Law, with four that were at the centre of the most debate — Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Keppel Club, Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC), and the National Service Resort and Country Club (NSRCC) — in line for significant changes.

Of the nine clubs with land leases expiring in the next 10 years, Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course will not have their leases extended after 2021, while TMCC, NSRCC and SICC are getting lease extensions, but will have to give up some land.

For the other courses, it is business as usual for the time being, with leases extended to at least 2030.

Finding the balance between Singaporeans’ interest in golf and public needs such as infrastructure and housing was central to the decision-making process. “We have been working on this for more than a year or close to a year with the clubs concerned and we had looked at alternatives and different approaches,” said Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who conducted briefings to explain the moves to concerned golf club members in a day of fevered activity.

“We wanted to take a step seven years ahead of expiry to tell people, to be transparent, to explain to them what is happening.

“Our approach is, first, if we can, we will extend. Two, if development is coming through, we will have no choice.

“Three, as the number of courses shrinks, we have to try to be fair to all, not just to existing members, but also members of the public and people who are losing their courses. We try and have some equity.”

Singapore’s 17 golf courses — 14 private and three public — take up about 1,500 hectares of land, which is about 2 per cent of Singapore’s total land area.

In January last year, the Government’s Land Use Plan had highlighted plans to phase out several golf courses and put the land to better use. The changes announced yesterday will affect around 200ha of the land from the golf courses.

Keppel Club, which was founded in 1904 and now boasts about 5,000 members, will be hardest hit by the Government’s decision. The 110-year-old club will not have its lease extended after Dec 31, 2021, as the 44ha land is slated for housing development, which was announced in 2001 in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Concept Plan. However, the club will be offered an alternative site to operate as a social club, with the possibility of relocating close to the SICC’s Bukit location, where a new public golf course will be sited.

The SICC’s Island facility at Thomson Road will get to stay till 2040, but the club — which boasts around 7,800 members and has four golf courses, the largest number in Singapore — will see one of its 18-hole golf courses at the Bukit location in Sime Road handed to the labour movement when the lease expires on Dec 31, 2021. This is to allow public access to golfing facilities as the 68ha Marina Bay Golf Course is slated for commercial and residential development. However, SICC’s other golf course at Bukit will get a lease extension only if they can come to an agreement with the labour movement on the reconfiguration of the courses and arrangements for sharing of facilities by Feb 2015.

While Keppel Club Chairman Fock Siew Wah declined comment after yesterday’s briefing at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Keppel Club member Joseph Ng was unhappy with the decision. “It’s a lose-lose situation for us ... I cannot grapple with the government’s decision to use it for residential purposes,” he told TODAY. “Given that it’s a prime piece of land, I think it will be developed into condominiums or high-end housing, which will not benefit 100 per cent of Singaporeans.

“If they are building HDB, it will be worth it. However, taking over 4,500 members’ benefits for something which does not benefit all Singaporeans, I think it’s not equitable.”

Responding to such concerns, Mr Shanmugam said: “We want people to enjoy golf, we want people to play golf … There is also a significant number of people, a large percentage of the population, which doesn’t play golf and their needs also need to be taken into account.”

Other clubs such as TMCC and NSRCC will lose part of their golf courses as a result of Changi Airport’s expansion plans for a new terminal and three-runway system built to accommodate long-term air traffic growth.

Approximately 10ha of TMCC’s land — which consists of six holes from its Garden course, three tennis courts and two storage sheds — will be acquired by the Government to construct the new taxiways, and the club will be compensated in cash with the valuation to be done after the acquisition is gazetted by the Singapore Land Authority today.

The Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) for NSRCC’s nine-hole Air Force Course and part of the Executive Course (nine-hole) — which occupy about 26ha of land — will not be renewed after it expires in August 2014. Part of the land will be used for the new taxiways and realignment of the Changi Coast Road, with government agencies exploring uses for the remaining space.

While utilisation rates of the 17 golf courses were not taken into consideration for this exercise, the authorities are exploring the possibility of working with the Singapore Golf Association and golf clubs on usage in future.

Among other clubs, Changi Golf Club, Seletar Country Club, and Sentosa Golf Club’s Tanjong course will see their leases extended until Dec 31, 2040, while the lease at Sentosa’s Serapong course was extended only to Dec 31, 2030, as the land is expected to be affected by infrastructure development after that. Meanwhile, Orchid Country Club’s lease, which has nine years left, will not be renewed after 2030 as the land is required for housing development. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ADELENE WONG, WOO SIAN BOON

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