Keppel, Marina Bay golf courses "could give way to private housing"

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 17 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: An expert on land use says freeing up prime land at Marina Bay Golf Course and Keppel Club could make way for more private housing, in line with what's already being built in the area.

The government on Sunday announced that Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course will not have their land leases renewed after they expire within the next 10 years.

Assistant Professor Harvey Neo from the National University of Singapore's Department of Geography said: "For Keppel...quite a significant number of private housing (could be) built there.

"From what I've seen in the area, there are a lot of very high-rise condominiums. So it's not surprising if those kinds of condominiums - very high density and many storeys high - (are built there).

"For Marina Bay, it could be a combination of housing and other uses - housing mixed with office buildings, this kind of integrated development is a possibility."

Dr Neo also said that the reduction of space allocated for golf courses is a significant step for land-scarce Singapore.

He said Singapore would still have about 1.5 per cent of its land allocated for golf course use, which is high relative to other countries.

He said that more golf courses may go the same way in future, especially for those with leases being extended till 2030.

"Even for those who have a reprieve...for most of them their leases will end in 2030 and with no further indication of what's going to happen (after that)...I think, the next round of adjustments - closer to 2030 - we may see another round of taking away of golf course land," said Dr Neo.

Some golf club members unhappy
Claire Huang and Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - The government on Sunday announced the fate of golf clubs in Singapore, after days of speculation over which of the golf courses with leases expiring within the next 10 years will have to make way for redevelopment.

Of the nine golf clubs with leases expiring within the next 10 years, two - Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course - will not have their leases renewed.

Three others -- Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC), National Service Resort and Country Club (NSRCC) and Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) -- will have their leases extended but they will be giving up part of the land they now occupy.

The remaining four will have their leases extended with no change. Of the four, however, Orchid Country Club’s lease will not be further renewed after 2030.

Meetings were held with hundreds of members of the different golf clubs on Sunday to explain the government's decision and address members' concerns.

Some members of Keppel Club and The Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) were unhappy with the news.

Mr Manoj Sharma, a Keppel Club member for about 10 years, said: "The decision most definitely will impact a Keppel member adversely, whichever way you slice it and dice it. The decision is hugely unpalatable...

"The precedence for golf courses in Singapore previously has always been that when a golf course is removed, the government has always given the previous golf course an additional plot of land to continue as an ongoing entity."

Mr Yeow, another Keppel Club member for 10 years, said: "They should not use the same yardstick to measure Keppel because Keppel is more than just a club. We are a club that cares for the community, cares for the public."

While alternatives were raised for the club to be a social club, members are still not quite convinced.

Mr Manoj Sharma said: "If the option for it is to be a social club, that means without a golf course, I don't think that will be an option that will be hugely welcomed by Keppel members. And the reason being, while we've got about 5,000 members, the bulk of them actually play golf. They joined Keppel to golf, not to join a social club."

The SICC said in a statement that the club has been in discussions with the government on the renewal of their leases since March last year.

It said it "understood that the authorities had a wider national agenda to consider".

So while its president, Mr Tay Joo Soon, expressed disappointment, he said now that there's more clarity, the club will be able to plan for its future.

But its members are still unhappy.

Dr Allan Ng, 71, speaking as a SICC member but who also holds Tanah Merah and Keppel membership, said: "They have to make a difficult decision, about the needs of the population, and it's an unpopular move. But I think a lot of the members, although they don't express their disapproval they are unhappy. Perhaps it could have been done a little bit more gently and more gradually."

Dr Ng, a retiree, added that the SICC had spent more than $200 million on renovation, mainly at the Island location and partly on the Bukit side. He said if the management had known about this, they would not have spent the money redeveloping the Bukit site.

Golfers from other clubs reacted with some relief.

Mr Koh Boon Check, a member of National Service Resort and Country Club since 2002, said: "The club is saying it is going to review issues like whether it is going to compensate us with a fee review or whether there's an expiry extension or et cetera, and that's good. As I said, it's inevitable, but what's good is that finally we get to know, for sure, at least it puts to rest all the speculation that's going on."

A spokesperson for Tanah Merah Country Club said they are "very pleased" that the leases for both their golf courses are to be extended.

"The government will acquire the strip of land at our Garden Course for the new taxiways at the end of 2014, which will impact six of our existing holes. One hole will be lost, while five other holes will be partially affected," said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that the club will work immediately on the reconfiguration of its course, saying: "As the land acquisition at Garden Course will only be at the end of this year, there will be ample time for the club to have our Garden Course properly reconfigured, while minimizing interruptions to play. We understand that the club would be fairly compensated at market rates but details of the compensation are not available as yet."

Thorough deliberations made on golf course fate: Shanmugam
Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Law Minister K Shanmugam said the government had looked at alternatives and different approaches when reviewing the lease renewals of affected golf courses.

He also stressed that both Keppel Club and the Singapore Island Country Club had been made aware of the government's redevelopment plans since 2001.

Mr Shanmugam made these remarks after attending meetings with the two clubs.

"Our approach is, as I've said, first, if we can, we will extend (the leases). Two, if development is coming through, we will have no choice. Three, as the number of (golf) courses shrinks, we'll have to try to be fair to all, not just existing members but also members of the public and people who are losing their courses. So we try and have some equity," he said.

Mr Shanmugam said the government will also help Keppel Club, as the club makes way for housing redevelopment.

It has offered the club an alternative site to operate as a social club without golf facilities.

"We've said to them, 'Look, we got approval from Cabinet, Ministry of Law, to allocate to them a clubhouse direct, without tender, for social purposes and we will also speak with the operator operating the public course to see whether some arrangements can be worked out with Keppel'," said Mr Shanmugam.

"But at the same time, I think maybe not a lot of Keppel Club members realise that if a new golf course is offered to them, they will need to pay the premium for it, and the chairman was saying that even for the social club, they were not sure whether they can pay the premium."

Some golf courses to make way for redevelopment plans
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Golf courses make up two percent of Singapore's total land area and this number is expected to drop as golf clubs make way or make adjustments for redevelopment plans.

Keppel Club and the Marina Bay Golf Course will not get new leases when their current ones expire while the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) will lose one of its 18-hole courses.

This was announced by the Law Ministry on Sunday.

Singapore has 17 golf courses -14 private and three public - most of which operate on a 30-year lease.

Nine of these have leases which will expire in the next 10 years.

Authorities said that Keppel Club - whose land is needed for housing development - will not be offered a new lease when its current one expires in 2021.

The plan was announced in 2001 in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Concept Plan.

If keen, it will be offered an alternative site to operate as a club without golf facilities.

The Law Ministry and the Singapore Land Authority said discussions on a possible location are ongoing.

Similarly, the public Marina Bay Golf Course will not get a new lease when its current one expires in 2024.

Instead, one of the Singapore Island Country Club's two 18-hole golf courses at its Bukit location will be reallocated as a public golf course once its current lease expires in 2021, and will be operated by the labour movement.

This will make sure the public gets continued access to golfing facilities when the Marina Bay Golf Course is phased out for redevelopment.

SICC's other golf course at the Bukit location will be offered a new lease until 2030 on the condition that the club works with the labour movement on how the courses can be reconfigured and the facilities shared.

Both sides have till February next year to work out an agreement.

Two golf clubs located close to Changi Airport -- Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) as well as National Service Resort and Country Club -- will also see their courses affected, to accommodate the airport's expansion plans.

The government will acquire about 10 hectares of TMCC's land - which now includes six holes of its Garden course - as the space is needed to build new taxiways. It will also lose three tennis courts and two storage sheds.

And some 26 hectares from the National Service Resort and Country Club will go to airport expansion and related road works. The club's 9-hole Air Force course already sits on State land on a short fixed term and is renewed on a yearly basis.

TMCC will be compensated for the acquisition.

Still, TMCC and the National Service Resort and Country Club are two of seven golf clubs which will have new leases for their golf courses.

The other five are Changi Golf Club, Orchid Country Club, Seletar Country Club, Sentosa Golf Club, and SICC's three other courses.

These leases will end between 2030 and 2040.

But, it is likely that golf courses with leases ending in 2030 - such as Orchid Country Club - will eventually have to make way for redevelopment.

Golf courses occupy lots of land, and authorities say there is a need to balance the competing demands for land in Singapore.

What this means is that the amount of land that is set aside for golfing will have to be reduced over the years and the space set aside to meet the needs of the wider public such as for housing and public infrastructure.

Currently, golf courses sit on some 1,500 hectares of land.

Following this review, the figure will drop to about 1,300 hectares.

Other golf clubs, which currently have more than 10 years left on their leases, are still being reviewed by the authorities.

The Law Ministry said that golf club leases are for a fixed term with an end date.

This has always been made known to the public and to those who become golf club members.

When the lease ends, the land reverts, by law, to the government. This applies for all State leases, whether they are for residential, commercial, industrial or other uses.

Move to take back golf course land a significant step towards planning, say analysts
Amanda Lee Today Online 17 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — Analysts TODAY spoke to felt the Government’s move to take back land occupied by golf courses for redevelopment is a significant step towards planning for land-scarce Singapore’s growing population needs and noted that more of such land would probably be needed if the development plans released by the authorities are any indication.

Although the 200ha affected by the announcement yesterday forms only a fraction of the 1,500ha of land currently occupied by golf courses, ERA Key Executive Officer Eugene Lim said the affected area is enough for the Changi Airport expansion and other plans outlined by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. For example, the southern waterfront area, where Keppel Club’s 44ha site is located, is fairly large and undeveloped, providing space for future plans. “Eventually, I think it will be prime estate,” he added.

Assistant Professor of Geography Harvey Neo at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said yesterday’s announcement would meet some of Singapore’s immediate needs but, with the population projected to reach 6.9 million by 2030, more land would be needed. This is evidenced by the fact that the Government has said it would not be extending Orchid Country Club’s lease after the latest extension to 2040.

Asked whether he felt the land being taken back could be conserved as green lungs for the public, Dr Neo said: “The Government should, as far as possible, no matter how small the space seems to be. It could consider greening whatever spaces it has.”

Associate Professor Tay Kah Poh from the NUS Department of Real Estate noted that, even in land zoned for residential or commercial use, pockets of green are becoming an integral part of most developments. A development such as Gardens By The Bay, he said, is probably the last of its kind as a land devoted to open spaces and parks. “In terms of priority between green spaces and the pursuit of economic growth, I think the latter is deemed more important,” he added.

Analysts were upbeat about the potential of the Keppel site, noting its prime location and capacity to be used for a mix of developments. Noting that the Government had said it would offer Keppel an alternative site to function as a social club, some suggested the alternative site remain in the zone, given Keppel’s 110-year history. Said Suntec Real Estate Consultants’ Director of Research and Consultancy Colin Tan: “When you preserve a heritage, the building must be somewhere in there.”

SICC members generally relaxed about loss of a course
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 17 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — Members of the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) yesterday expressed relief at the Law Ministry’s announcement on the fate of their golf courses, with some noting that the changes were not as drastic as some had feared.

Speaking to reporters after attending a meeting, chaired by Law Minister K Shanmugam, where they were able to air their concerns about the forthcoming changes, many members felt that it was acceptable for them to give up one of the club’s two courses located at its Bukit site near MacRitichie Reservoir so that it can be run by the labour movement for public use.

Said a member who wanted to be known as Mr Khor, 72: “It’s quite extraordinary that we have four 18-hole golf courses, so I think it is reasonable for us to give up one for the public, given the limited land space that we have in Singapore.”

The SICC also has two other 18-hole courses at its Island location near Lower Pierce Reservoir, and the leases there will be extended until the end of 2040. But the lease for its other Bukit course will be extended only if it can work out with the labour movement how to reconfigure the courses there, with the possibility of sharing facilities, by Feb 15 next year.

SICC President Tay Joo Soon said a meeting between the club’s committee and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will be set up soon, adding that he hopes to “come to an early agreement” before the stipulated deadline.

“With the loss of one of our courses, it will put a strain on our remaining facilities given our large membership base,” he said. “Nonetheless, as with all golf clubs in Singapore, the SICC has to accept that change is on the horizon and necessary in the broader context of national interest.”

While some raised questions about the impact of losing a course on the value of their membership, members generally felt the impact may not be drastic. “We can still enjoy it for the next seven years — that’s how I see it,” said lawyer Thomas Lee, 57.

“The arrangement is that if the things go through, the likelihood is that we operate as a different club, there will be a partition and they will have their own guardhouse,” he added.

One SICC member for more than 50 years, Mr Chua, 73, questioned the authorities’ decision to appoint NTUC to manage the public course, pointing out that it would be “fairer” to call for an open tender. Some also queried whether it would make more sense to sacrifice one of the Island facilities as those at the Bukit location are interconnected, making a split more challenging.

Mr Tay said giving up one of the Bukit courses is logical, given that the club had spent S$150 million on a new clubhouse at the Island location.

Mr Shanmugam, however, said that the Government is open to the suggestion and will consider any request. Nevertheless, he added that this will be subject to factors such as the availability of the peripheral facilities, such as changing rooms and restaurants, needed at golf courses.

According to the Law Ministry, the push to transfer one of the SICC’s courses to the NTUC was to ensure that members of the public have enough access to golfing facilities once the Marina Bay Golf Course (MBGC), which is open to the public, is phased out for redevelopment in 2024.

Responding to queries, an MBGC spokesperson said an estimated 330,000 people visited the course last year.