Tuesday 18 February 2014

Some 15% of golf club land to make way for other use

About 220ha will be freed up from 2030 for housing and infrastructure
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2014

SOME 15 per cent of land now occupied by golf courses will be making way for new homes, public amenities and infrastructure.

Some of this land will come from Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course, which is a public golf course. They will not get their leases renewed after they expire in 2021 and 2024 respectively.

It also includes the land from Orchid Country Club in Yishun, which will be offered a lease extension through to 2030, after which the land will be taken back for housing needs.

Other clubs with a decade or less remaining on their leases will be given shorter terms upon renewal, up to 2040 at most. Some will also have to give up part of their land to other developments.

One of Singapore Island Country Club's four courses will become a public course when its lease runs out in 2021. This course at its Bukit location off Lornie Road will be managed by the labour movement.

The announcement puts to rest months of speculation about the fates of clubs whose leases are expiring within the decade, after the Government said early last year that it may take back some land for higher intensity uses.

There are 14 private clubs and three public courses here, with the majority on 30-year leases.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told the media yesterday that the Government wants people to enjoy golf and make available the facilities for it. "But the question is: how many courses do we need, when a significantly large proportion of the population does not golf? Their needs also need to be taken into account."

Under the proposed changes, Keppel Club will lose its 44ha site in Telok Blangah, while Tanah Merah Country Club and the National Service Resort & Country Club in Changi will lose some land for Changi Airport's expansion.

Marina Bay Golf Course, the only 18-hole public course, sits on 68ha of land slated for commercial and residential uses, and will not have its lease renewed.

These changes are in line with Urban Redevelopment Authority plans to raise the proportion of land allocated for housing from 14 per cent to 17 per cent, and from 13 per cent to 17 per cent for industry and commerce uses by 2030.

Golf courses currently make up about 2 per cent of Singapore's total land area, or about 1,500ha.

The ministry said the Government has informed the stakeholders of lease extensions seven years in advance to facilitate planning and investment decisions.

Economist Song Seng Wun said: "Despite protests by some golf club members, I think they know that ultimately, golf courses will have to make way for other needs.

"Replacing some golf course land for mixed-use developments such as offices, residential units or commercial spaces, creates business for those in the construction sector and benefits residents living in the area."

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said it is heartening to know the Government prioritises housing and office space needs above that of golf. "Some may argue that golf courses act as the green lungs of a city, but the recent Draft Master Plan released last year shows that the Government is mindful of setting aside enough green spaces," he said.

One of SICC's two Bukit courses to become public after 2021
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2014

ONE of the four courses at the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) will be converted for public use after its lease expires in 2021.

This is in line with the Government's move to put less-utilised golf course land to more efficient use while keeping golf accessible to the public, national servicemen and the labour movement.

The Ministry of Law said last week that the minimum requirement is to have at least one 18-hole golf course for public use.

Marina Bay Golf Course is the only 18-hole public course, but its lease will expire in 2024.

SICC's affected course is one of the two at the club's Bukit location off Lornie Road. But its members can suggest an alternative, subject to government approval.

SICC president Tay Joo Soon said the club was "naturally disappointed that the outcome has fallen short" of what it had hoped for. "With the loss of one of our courses, it will put a strain on our remaining facilities, given our large membership base (of about 7,800)," he said.

It was a sentiment shared by veteran golf membership broker Fion Phua.

She said: "It will be hard to convince SICC members, whose memberships are valued at about $208,000 now, to share their amenities with the public. It's like asking residents of a condo to share their facilities with someone who is not living in the estate."

The golfing fraternity was abuzz over the government announcement yesterday that some land occupied by golf clubs and courses will be taken back for more pressing needs such as housing and infrastructure. Some club members who will receive compensation for the changes were unperturbed, but others worry that their golfing spots will be less enjoyable in future.

Members of Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) and National Service Resort & Country Club (NSRCC) will be the first to feel the impact of the plans.

Part of TMCC's Garden Course will be acquired for Changi Airport's new taxiways by the end of this year, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Land Authority.

The club's members learnt at a closed-door briefing with government agency representatives yesterday that it may lose six holes of its 18-hole Garden Course and three tennis courts.

The land is required for the three-runway system that will accommodate long-term air traffic growth for Singapore.

Yet veteran broker Ms Phua, of Tee Up Marketing Enterprises, expects membership prices at TMCC to rise. The club has sufficient land to reconfigure an 18-hole course and will receive some compensation to fund it, she said.

NSRCC will also become smaller, as the temporary occupation licence of one of its three nine-hole courses will not be renewed after it runs out in August.

An NSRCC spokesman told The Straits Times that the club will hold a townhall meeting next week to let members know how they can be compensated.

200 ha of golf course land freed
No lease renewal for Keppel Club, Marina Bay Golf Course
By Andrea Soh, The Business Times, 17 Feb 2014

Some 200 hectares of land, roughly one third the size of Ang Mo Kio town, will eventually be freed up for other uses when the land leases for Keppel Club, Marina Bay Golf Course and the Orchid Country Club expire.

The government said yesterday that it would not be renewing the leases for both Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course when they end in 2021 and 2024 respectively. Orchid Country Club's lease expires in 2021 but will be renewed for another nine years to 2030 after which there will be no further extension.

Parts of the fairways at Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) and National Service Resort and Country Club (NSRCC) will be acquired by the end of this year for the expansion of Changi Airport, and one of Singapore Island Country Club's (SICC) golf courses will be made public.

SICC has, however, been given the flexibility to decide which golf course it wants to give up, contrary to earlier expectations that one of its courses at the Bukit location would be affected.

At a briefing yesterday by government agencies, SICC members who questioned why the Bukit location, next to MacRitchie reservoir, was chosen instead of the Island location - next to the Pierce Reservoirs - were told that they could decide for themselves which course to give up. The course next to the one to be offered for public use would have its lease extended to 2030, while the other unaffected courses will have their leases extended to 2040.

The SICC course set aside for public use will be run by the labour movement, and will replace the 18-hole course at the Marina Bay Golf Course.

With the exception of Keppel Club, all the private clubs with less than a decade left in their leases will be allowed to renew them till between 2030 and 2040 - a change from the previous practice of 30-year leases.

Explaining the shorter leases, Law Minister K Shanmugam said at a doorstop after the SICC meeting: "The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) can predict reasonably up to 2040. They didn't want to tie themselves up beyond the period."

And while utilisation rate of the golf courses had no bearing on the renewal of land lease in the latest review, it might be taken into consideration in the future, said the Law Ministry.

The government has said that its two main considerations for the renewal of golf courses are whether the land is needed for other uses, and ensuring that the general public, National Service men and the labour movement have enough access to golfing facilities.

"Where we can give a fresh lease, we will do so. If it's needed for development, then the golf course will have to give way," said Mr Shanmugam. "As the number of courses shrink, we'll have 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 to have some equity."

Yesterday's announcement, which comes after much speculation on the fate of the golf clubs, evoked strong reactions from Keppel and SICC members.

While the fate of Keppel's current golf course has been known for a while - it was reflected as a residential site as early as the Urban Redevelopment Authority's 2001 Concept Plan - members had been hoping for a replacement site.

"It's a very unpalatable announcement," said Keppel Club member Manoj Sharma, a managing director. "The precedence was that when the government took a golf course away, they would give a replacement. This time they did not give that option."

Keppel members also said that the club's closure was a loss to Singapore heritage. It was founded in 1904 and is one of the oldest here.

"We need to be a country with heritage, with a soul, with playgrounds," said Khor Chee Kok, a financial adviser, though he conceded that the decision was made in the best interest of the country.

The government will offer Keppel an alternative site to operate as a social club, and encourage the manager of the new public course to consider a tie up with Keppel.

At SICC, the mood was also downbeat.

"We are naturally disappointed that the outcome has fallen short of what we had hoped for. With the loss of one of our courses, it will put a strain on our remaining facilities given our large membership base," said its president Tay Joo Soon.

"Nonetheless, as with all golf clubs in Singapore, SICC has to accept that change is on the horizon, and necessary in the broader context of the national interest."

Some members expressed concern over how the demarcation of the public and the SICC course will be made and how facilities are to be shared.

SICC has to work with the labour movement on how the courses can be reconfigured, and make the necessary arrangements by end-February 2015 in order for the course next to the public course to be renewed till 2030.

For TMCC, which will have 10 ha of its land acquired by the government for Changi Airport's new taxiways by the end of this year, reconfiguration work will start immediately, said the club's general manager Kok Min Yee.

This will be done while keeping the 18 holes still in play, he said. "The reconfigurations should not cost us too much as it is not expected to be very extensive. It is hard to estimate the cost right now as we have not finalised the design as yet."

Meanwhile, NSRCC, which will lose about 26 ha of land after its temporary occupation licence expires in August, is undertaking a strategic review to reconfigure the golf courses and provide more social facilities. The club will hold a townhall session next Monday to speak to members on its future plans.

NSRCC to get replacement land after govt takes back current site
Channel NewsAsia, 28 Feb 2014

The National Service Resort & Country Club (NSRCC) has been given 12 hectares of replacement land in return for the 26 hectares of its current temporary occupation lease (TOL) site, which the government is claiming back for Changi Airport’s development.

In a media statement from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Director National Service Affairs Brigadier-General (NS) Tung Yui Fai said: "To mitigate this loss, and to ensure that the Changi club continues to have an 18-hole golf course for NSmen, a 12-ha plot of replacement land contiguous to NSRCC has been identified.

"The land lease for NSRCC's Changi club will also be extended from 2023 to 2040."

MINDEF added that with this extended land lease, NSRCC will undertake a "comprehensive review" of both its Changi and Kranji clubs, to develop better amenities that continue to provide NSmen and their families with high standards of recreational, sports and social facilities.

NSRCC was informed on 16 February by the government that its current TOL site, which has nine holes of the club's golf course, will not be renewed after it expires this year.

Some land will also be needed for drainage and road works.

The total land returned from the existing Changi club is about 40 per cent.

NSRCC was set up to recognise the contributions of all NSmen in the Home Team and the Singapore Armed Forces.

More information on NSRCC's redevelopment plans can be found on the NSRCC website.

Golf club fees expected to surge 50%
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2014

ASKING prices for some golf club memberships are expected to surge by 50 per cent or even more after the golf courses in question won lease extensions.

On Sunday, the Law Ministry made public its lease renewal plans for golf clubs with 10 years or less left on their leases.

It was bad news for some golf clubs, notably Keppel Club, which failed to win an extension.

But the announcement put an end to the misery of other anxious members, unsure if their golf club's land would be taken back for housing, transport or infrastructure needs.

Members of Changi Golf Club, Seletar Country Club and Sentosa Golf Club are the largest beneficiaries of the announcement.

Some Seletar Country Club members are hoping to sell memberships at a 56 per cent premium, or $60,000, after the club learnt that it will be offered a 19-year lease extension through to 2040.

The previous asking price was about $38,500.

Mr Julian Lam, 48, a Seletar Country Club member for more than 30 years, said it was "great news" that Seletar Country Club will be offered a longer lease.

"Prices at the club have been depressed for a while with the uncertainty, so the announcement puts to rest the flurry of speculation and allays the concerns of new potential members," he said.

Market watchers told The Straits Times that Changi Golf Club membership prices may more than double to $13,000. The club was also offered a 19-year lease that runs out in 2040.

"If people were paying $5,000 on the club's existing seven-year lease, the market would reflect that additional 19 years the club would enjoy," said one golf membership broker.

Broker Fion Phua from Tee-Up Marketing Enterprises said the top concerns now for potential buyers are a club's lease tenure and whether or not top-up fees may be required to pay for the lease extensions.

"Some buyers are also trying to take advantage of the situation, like those who offered to buy memberships at Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) for $100,000," she said.

These potential buyers claim the club will eventually lose two of its four 18-hole courses, and therefore, memberships should go at half the prevailing market price. But their argument does not account for land premiums and an overall fall in supply of golf course land and clubs, said Ms Phua.

Separately, SICC president Tay Joo Soon informed club members in a newsletter on Wednesday that the club was originally meant to lose both courses at the Bukit location.

But the Law Ministry agreed to grant a nine-year extension till 2030 for one of its two courses at the Bukit location to facilitate its eventual transition.

Members were told yesterday that a members-only dialogue will be held on March 5 to discuss the club's land lease extension.

Golf club fees may go down and then up again
Prices will rise in the long term with growing demand, say brokers
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2014

MEMBERSHIP fees for some golf clubs might dip in the short term following the Government's decision on leases, but they are almost certain to head up in the long term, brokers say.

They believe the scarcity of land and demand for facilities among golf-mad locals and expats will keep the market bubbling.

For now, however, some members may feel they have landed in the rough after the Ministry of Law's (MinLaw) announcement on leases of nine courses and clubs on Sunday.

Seven of the nine with leases expiring over the next decade have been granted extensions up to 2040, although a few will have their size reduced as the Government needs land for infrastructure development.

Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course will not have their leases renewed once they expire in 2021 and 2024.

And one of the two 18-hole golf courses at the Bukit location of Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) will be reallocated as a public course to replace the public Marina Bay Golf Course.

A day after MinLaw released its decision, brokers who help golfers buy and sell memberships say that their phones have been ringing off the hook.

Queries have been coming in from club members who want to know if they should sell their memberships before prices start sliding, and from those who want to snap up a membership now as they expect prices to rise.

"Membership prices of the clubs that will have their leases renewed and their land untouched will slowly appreciate," said Singolf broker Lee Lee Langdale.

"While the prices of those that will have some land taken away will come down, these will eventually go up again as demand will certainly be there, with a lot of members from Keppel Club wanting to join another club."

SICC is among the clubs likely to see a slide of 5 to 6 per cent in membership fees in the near term, brokers said. It is the second most expensive club here, with memberships for locals costing about $208,000.

"I started receiving a high volume of texts and calls from Sunday. My texting finger is so sore now I've had to bandage it," said Mr Henry Yip of golf club brokerage Aspire Networks.

A lot of the calls and messages he has received so far are from SICC members who are concerned that the value of their membership will fall as a result of the announcement.

"But I think it is a knee-jerk reaction. Singaporeans will be more affluent over time and more are playing golf. We'll have fewer golf courses, which means the remaining golf course land will be more valuable."

Sentosa Golf Club, already one of the most prestigious in Singapore with a membership fee of about $237,000 for locals, is set to see its price strengthen further as its lease has been extended with no modification to land size, said brokers.

Broker Fion Phua from Tee-Up Marketing Enterprise said although clubs will be more crowded in future, many golfers still think a membership is a worthy investment as they would not have to fork out a few hundred dollars each time they want to play a round of golf on a public course.

"I have had so many calls today," she said. "I am using five mobile handsets to handle the volume of calls but it's not enough. Two of them had the batteries run out by 9.30am."

Golf course land could suit waterfront homes to a tee
By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2014

PROPERTY consultants say land to be given up by golf courses will be sought after for housing as it promises waterfront living.

This land, which may be up for grabs after 2030, includes prime locations in Keppel and Marina Bay, as well as land in the Yishun heartlands.

Keppel Club, Orchid Country Club and the Marina Bay Golf Course are set to make way for a mix of residential and commercial developments.

The Ministry of Law said on Sunday that the lease for Keppel Club in Telok Blangah, which runs out in 2021, will not be renewed.

The same goes for Singapore's only 18-hole public course, the Marina Bay Golf Course, whose lease expires in 2024.

Orchid Country Club in Yishun, on the other hand, will be offered a lease extension for seven more years till 2030, before it is redeveloped for housing needs.

The total land area of the three sites is 219ha, about a third the size of Ang Mo Kio town.

The land on which Keppel Club sits will be part of the proposed Greater Southern Waterfront, while the nearby Keppel Terminal will be moving to Tuas, said CBRE research head Desmond Sim.

"The site makes for a good residential enclave, especially with surrounding developments such as Corals at Keppel Bay, Caribbean at Keppel Bay and Reflections at Keppel Bay," he said.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng expects the 68ha site in Marina Bay to be developed into high-end residential homes.

"It has the potential for attractive lifestyle amenities, including retail, that will serve residents in the area as well as patrons from outside the Central Business District," he said.

"It will be an extension of the successfully-shaped out and established Marina Bay area - and can help place Singapore prominently on the world map."

Mr Ong envisions an exclusive work-live-play concept for the area in the longer term, an extension of the Tanjong Rhu estate.

Ms Alice Tan, research head of Knight Frank, said that the 107ha site where Orchid Country Club sits could be used for private cluster housing.

"Tranquil spots facing greenery and water views such as the reservoir are hard to come by," she noted. "It will be attractive to those working at the proposed North Coast Innovation Corridor."

But as these developments are planned for a decade or so away, the consultants said it is too early to tell how new homes there might be priced.

Reforest golf courses to help enhance ‘garden city’
By Liew Kai Khiun, TODAY, 18 Feb 2014

Golf is not only a sport, but also a marker of social status in Singapore. However, in recent years, the time-consuming game has also been seen as detrimental to work-life balance and the putting green may no longer be the place to make healthy business partnerships.

Also, aside from the issue of land scarcity here, the excessive use of water and pesticides on golf courses is also environmentally damaging.

In other words, golf courses are now considered antiquated and even negative assets. Biodiversity, inclusivity and connectivity define a city’s liveability and lovability.

Hence, I view the outcome of the review of golf courses with mixed feelings. (“Govt to reacquire land from 2 golf courses, 3 to give up land”; Feb 17).

While I am heartened that the Government is reducing these numbers for more pressing needs such as housing and public infrastructure, the reduction is only slight: From 1,500 to 1,300 ha, or 13 per cent in the next decade.

Although the leases of Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course will expire in 2021 and 2024, respectively, other clubs will be offered new leases until 2040. I am unsure whether this sends the right message on Singapore’s long-term priorities.

Besides earmarking the land for infrastructure redevelopment, the Government should also consider returning these golf courses, for example, Singapore Island Country Club’s golf courses near the Central Catchment area, to nature.

Rather than reallocate one of them to the labour movement, would it not benefit the wider public and Singapore’s biodiversity to reforest the golf courses as part of the larger Central Catchment area in the near future?

Aside from the heavy public use of MacRitchie and Lower Pierce reservoirs, the Central Catchment area and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve come under stress from the surrounding housing and transport developments.

With the periphery of Bukit Brown Cemetery slated for housing and the Central Catchment area used for the Cross Island Line, we would be losing natural greenery in the area.

At a national level, the Land Use Plan of the Population White Paper said only four per cent of Singapore’s land would be effectively forested by 2030.

Although Singapore prides itself as a garden city, this projected number falls way below the 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas envisioned by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity for 2020.

Reforesting these golf courses could be part of measures to make up for this shortfall if we want to show that Singapore, despite its size, can be a loveable and attractive city rich in biodiversity.

Making the most of those greens
Editorial, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

REBALANCING the use of precious land here between recreational pursuits, like golf, and utilitarian purposes has been always deemed inevitable. This week's notice of golf land re-acquisition comes against a backdrop of rising development pressures to cope with population growth and the needs of industry and defence well into mid-century. Five locations are affected, with three (Keppel Club, the Marina Bay public course and Orchid Country Club in Yishun) to lose their facilities in toto at different points in time. Two others will have part of their fairways shaved off for Changi Airport's expansion.

It was fair that members have been given some years to adjust to their loss of amenity. In general, land lease terms for golf clubs have been generous. Otherwise, the return of state land tended to a manicured lushness over the years could have been activated sooner. Golf courses occupy "only" 2 per cent of the land mass, which some golfers might regard as statistically insignificant. It is not when translated as 1,500 ha of land, some of it choice real estate with water views or wrapped in woodland.

A graphic representation is that the 219 ha that will be returned to productive use in the first instance is equivalent to a third of Ang Mo Kio. It's a lot of homes and facilities. The most ardent golfers might accept the exchange as fair. As lease renewals for a number of clubs will expire by 2040, while leases of several others are being reviewed, the expectation is that exclusive golf land on a tiny island will continue to be properly balanced with recreational spaces all can freely access. Golf is a great sport but the proportion of the populace who choose to enjoy the game will remain relatively small.

Exclusivity is one reason why an active thread of views arising from the announcement is over gyrating club membership values. Singapore is one of the few countries where golf club memberships are traded as an investment asset. This may indicate that the game is valued by some as a commodity more than for its intrinsic worth as a healthful pursuit which doubles as a vehicle for networking or family recreation.

Golfers put off by high joining fees will have a top-notch course to play on when Singapore Island Country Club has one of its four courses converted for public use. Malaysia and Indonesia also offer venues where membership and green fees are much lower. Entrepreneurs could open more pay-to-play driving ranges to accommodate beginners as well as serious golfers wanting to practise their swing. These facilities which are heavily used by busy executives at night are money-spinners in Japan, where club fees are astronomical. Shrinking space here should be no bar to the avid.

Uneven sacrifice

While I am supportive of the reduction of land used for golfing, the decision to take most of it off Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course is odd. Keppel Club is one of the cheaper golf clubs in Singapore, and Marina Bay Golf Course is a public course that caters to those who love the game but cannot afford joining the more expensive clubs. Yet the most land is being taken away from them, while the more expensive clubs have had to sacrifice proportionately less. Can the authorities share more of the thinking behind the decisions?
Kevin Kwek
ST Forum, 27 Feb 2014

Renewal guided by development plans

IN HIS letter, Mr Kevin Kwek asked about the considerations behind the Government's recent decisions on golf course leases with reference to Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course ("Uneven sacrifice"; last Thursday).

Decisions regarding the renewal of leases for golf courses are guided primarily by future development plans.

Where possible, leases will generally be renewed for the duration that the sites are not needed for redevelopment.

The leases for Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Course cannot be renewed as the land is needed for redevelopment.

In the case of Keppel Club, this will be for housing, while the site occupied by Marina Bay Golf Course is intended for mixed commercial and residential developments.

To ensure that an 18-hole public golf course will continue to be available when the lease for Marina Bay Golf Course ends in 2024, which is 10 years from now, a new public course will be provided for.

As no new land will be allocated for golfing, land for the new public course will be drawn from one of Singapore Island Country Club's existing 18-hole golf courses when its lease expires in 2021.

Kevin Wong
Land Policy Division
Ministry of Law
Thong Wai Lin (Ms)
Land Sales & Acquisition Division
Singapore Land Authority
ST Forum, 3 Mar 2014

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