Jurong Country Club closes for good on Saturday

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 31 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: Jurong Country Club closes for good on Saturday (Dec 31), as it makes way for the new Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail, as well as the development of hotels, offices, residences and retail outlets.

Members of the public got one last look at the 67-hectare site on Friday, before it opened for one last day for club members on Saturday.

Club members told Channel NewsAsia that the place had become an institution of more than 40 years of history. Many said they joined the club in the 1970s and 1980s, when Jurong was being redeveloped from a swampland into the industrial estate it is today.

“When Jurong Country Club was conceived back in the early '70s by our then-Deputy Prime Minister, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, it was conceived to attract industrialists, investments, to help build up the Jurong region into the industrial estate that it is today,” said the club’s Chairman for Marketing and Communications Michael Liew, who joined in 1976, a year after the club’s founding.

Retired businessman Foo Jong Peng, who joined in 1982, said Jurong Country Club’s atmosphere was why it stood out from Singapore’s other country clubs.

"Go to other clubs - yes, we can play golf - but the atmosphere is different,” he said. “Here we are very, very friendly, especially those who are elderly people. This friendship - now it’s going to end. Tomorrow, where can we find a place like this?"

Others said they cut their teeth on the 18-hole course, which once played host to wildlife like the crocodiles adorning its former logos.

“It has always been a place where families grow up,” said professional golfer Sharon Lee. “I played golf here from the time I was a kid.

“My dad introduced my brothers and myself to the game and we literally grew up here. My nephews are also golfers and they grew up here. In fact, one of them has also turned into a golf professional like the three of us in our family.

“I’ve come full circle – starting as a golfer, now teaching here for the last nine to 10 years.”

RECOVERING INVESTMENTS AND MEMORIES

The club's last few days involved selling much of its assets – much of it to recover its initial capital outlay, according to the club.

This included golf equipment such as its buggy fleet, course machinery and gym equipment, which came up to around S$500,000, along with auctioning off paintings which once decorated its hallways.

“I don’t think they (the paintings and memorabilia) total up to more than S$10,000 or S$20,000,” said Mr Liew. “It’s not that much. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not exactly an extremely affluent club with a lot of things to sell away and that’s not the purpose in any case.

“It’s not the monetary value, but the sentimental value of what these memorabilia and paintings represent to members.”

The club is also hoping to receive S$168 million from the sale of the site - a valuation given by real estate firm Knight Frank. This is more than double the valuation of S$89.8 million given by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) – which the club said is a scant compensation for the many millions invested in the place over the years.

This included more than S$30 million paid upfront to the Government for lease of the land until 2035, as well as a roughly S$23 million revamp of its 18-hole golf course completed in 2012.

"There's a mistaken notion that Jurong members are going to make a windfall out of this acquisition,” said Mr Liew. “Nothing could be further from the truth, because some of the members actually paid S$150,000 at its peak (in the mid-1990s).

“So we have everything to lose – in fact we'll lose a lot.

“More than just the money, but this was a place for us to come to, not only to play golf, but to retreat to - it was our personal sanctuary. So definitely when this place goes, it will be a very sad day. I can’t begin to describe the heartache that some of us will feel, but it is what it is, and so we will have to look forward from here to see what becomes of this piece of land."

Club members will play their final rounds of golf on Saturday, before taking part in a mass walkabout of the grounds and lowering the club’s flag for the final time. They will then proceed to a dinner to usher in the New Year – though Mr Liew said there might not be much to cheer about.

“All the Jurong members invested, heeded the call to come and join the club to help build this region,” he said. “And now 40 years on, interestingly, we’ve had to answer the call of duty again - but this time round it’s to make way for the high-speed rail as it ploughs through Tuas and Jurong.”

- CNA/ek

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