Changing Landscape

Our golfing landscape is changing. What was predicted a decade ago is happening. Courses are closing.

Sure, some new ones are being built, but it feels like we’re on the verge of becoming a country with a lot fewer golf courses.

The latest under threat of extinction is Manor Park in the Hutt Valley. It’s the club and course made famous when Mal Tongue was the pro there back in the 1980s and the best young amateurs in the country flocked there to be coached by him.

Michael Campbell and Stephen Scahill, two of the famous Eisenhower Trophy winning team of 1992, are the most prominent.

But the club, on the banks of the Hutt River and susceptible to having a chunk of land on its eastern side washed away in a flood, is yet another battling financially. It just can’t pay its bills and the situation is unlikely to improve.

Various options are being explored. Closing down and have the members move to Royal Wellington, which has the space and is just a matter of minutes up the road, seems the most logical.

Manor Park’s land is owned by the club, which is an incorporated society. That means the proceeds from a sale cannot be distributed to members but must be used for similar activities. That’s why Manukau and Peninsula Golf Clubs in Auckland could sell their land and use the proceeds to build new courses.

There have been reports of Manor Park possibly selling to the Greater Wellington Regional Council and leasing the property back to continue the golf club. On the surface that sounds like a rather charitable use of ratepayers’ money. If the council did buy the land, it’s best the council decide how to use the land to the most benefit for all ratepayers. After all, the Hutt Valley is not short of golf courses and Manor Park members will have no difficulty finding one nearby which will be delighted to accept them as members.

Manor Park’s likely demise follows that of the Boulcott nine-hole club and course next to the Hutt Golf Club back in 2012. Hutt and Boulcott merged in 2010, renamed themselves Boulcott’s Farm Heritage Golf Club and sold off the nine hole course to a retirement village operator – which still doesn’t have consent to develop the land.

 The net result then is that in the decade between 2010 and 2020, the Hutt Valley is likely to lose two golf courses. It’s not the end of the world.

There’ll be a similar result in Auckland.

Well known names like Manukau, The Grange, Peninsula and Aviation don’t exist anymore.

But it’s not quite as bad as that bald statement might seem.

Manukau and Peninsula have become Windross Farm and Wainui after the clubs sold their land for housing and used the proceeds to build new courses.

The Grange has merged with Royal Auckland and a new 27 hole facility is under construction and excess land is being sold to pay for it. The new layout won’t be fully operational till 2021.

Aviation is gone. The club leased land from Auckland International Airport and the airport needs the land. The club ceased to exist from the end of last year when the lease wasn’t renewed.

Our biggest population area has had a net reduction of one and half golf courses in the last five years. There doesn’t appear to have been a capacity issue as a consequence.

The next development to watch with interest will be what Auckland Council do with the land which currently accommodates Chamberlain Park and Takapuna Thomas Park public courses.

In some lower populated areas the signs are not good.

Featherston has given up. The southern Wairarapa already has the Martinborough and Carterton clubs, and Masterton has two more. The area was over endowed and something had to give. It was Featherston. It wasn’t a surprise.

Oreti Sands, often regarded as one of the great links courses in the country, is currently dormant, on its way back to nature after closing late last summer. The Southland Golf Club members have transferred to the Invercargill club at nearby Otatara.

Various options have been canvassed to keep Oreti Sands alive. A Southland Institute of Technology turf management course looks the best proposition, although nothing is decided.

So the golf course landscape has changed considerably in this second decade of the new century. It’s not all doom and gloom though.

Tara Iti, now arguably the best course in the country, opened in 2015. Only the wealthy and connected get to play there though. The possibility of a similar course just to the south is being mooted.

Near Arrowtown, the Davies family – think Coronet Peak and Remarkables skifields – want to build a golf course at Hogan’s Gully, near The Hills and Millbrook.

Over at Glendhu Bay on Lake Wanaka, sections overlooking a planned Tom Doak design go on sale this month, presumably to help fund the golf course construction.

But while the resort and tourist markets are being catered to, there’s precious little development for the club golfer, or for new prospects to the game.

Where are the 9 hole pitch and putts and learning facilities? It seems they just don’t pay their way.

What is encouraging is the beginning of a movement for clubs to start offering other physical activity and sport at their facility.

Akarana has been trying to get an all weather bowls green on site, but progress appears to have stalled. It’s not through lack of trying by the golf club.

Mt Maunganui members are voting this month on a proposal for a gym business in the clubhouse. The new business would pay for the construction and then lease back the space for a peppercorn rental, while the club would own the expanded building.

But the gym business would attract more foot traffic through the clubhouse to use the café and bar, and at the same time exhibit the golf club atmosphere to gym goers who may want to take up the sport. As a Mt Maunganui member, your correspondent thinks it’s a great idea and will be voting for it.

We have all known for years that golf has challenges. There are signs some sound futuristic thinking is now becoming common place at clubs around the country as financial and membership reality hits home. For the good of the game, for the survival of the game, that thinking must be encouraged.

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