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Monday, January 21, 2013

Golf Courses

The URA, JTC, Land Office or whatever authorities claimed that the fish farms in Pasir Ris have to go as the land is required for industrial development. Same with the dragon kiln in Jurong. One URA official was quoted as saying “Not all agriculture activities can be accommodated in the long term. General farming activities such as ornamental fish farming can be catered to in the interim where land is not needed for other critical needs”

In this statement, I can easily replace agriculture activities with ‘nature reserve’; “woodlands”; ‘open areas” and general farming activities……farming” with Bukit Brown, Dragon Kiln and still end up with the same point i.e. non viable or economically beneficial activities will always end up the loser when competing for land in Singapore.

Why do I say so? Are we really so short of land for industrial development that we need to acquire 21ha of fish farm lands or 2 smallish dragon kiln? As I stated in my earlier post, Singapore do not a lot and I really mean a lot ie all 1600 ha of land and that is our golf courses.

Singapore, according to an SSC report, has a total of 12 golf clubs with 22 golf courses and 3 driving ranges.. According to the same SSC report, there are about 55,000 golfers in Singapore of which about 30,000 are members of these clubs. Contrast these with the 25 public pools for about half a million swimmers!

A staggering 88% of the land set aside for sports and recreation is given to a minority of golfers leaving the rest of the sports with a miserable 12%. In small little Singapore, 2.2% of our precious land is given to 30000 peoples for their pleasure of playing golf, a sports of which the entire population participation rate is only 1.99%. How inequitable is that?

Just looking at these figures makes me angry. And the arguments by golfers justifying them don’t help. Golfers claimed that the golf courses are also open areas and do not reduce Singapore greenery. I will agree with this only if they open up their golf courses to the public, for example to runners to run through the 14km long Tanah Merah course or for mountain bikers to ride through those beautiful bunkers. Such huge pieces of lands and yet most of them it sits empty most of the time except on weekends when golfers turn up like hungry ghosts to compete for the right to play. Golf courses are also not very environmentally friendly. Large amount of water and fertilizers are used daily to keep the greens in its pristine condition. Trees are cut down to make way for golfing leaving precious little trees for birds and other critters. The green are cut and trimmed almost daily to maintain them to a certain standard. How do insects survive in these environments?

Of course some golf courses in certain areas cannot be touched as they serve as a sort of boundary – like maybe SICC at Sime. But certainly Laguna National and Tanah Merah are not in any prime or reserved area. In fact, both these 2 courses are right next to Changi South Industrial Park. Both these areas can certainly be used for industrial development. In the West, there is the Raffles Country Club which sits just behind a big chunk of industrial buildings. Or how about Jurong Country Club? Both of them are not in any reserved area. Maybe the government should seriously not renew the lease of Laguna National which is due for renewal soon and take it back for industrial development. At 126 ha, it will definitely be more than enough to replace the miserable 21 ha of fish farm land and the 2 dragon kiln + probably the fish farms in Jalan Kayu as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not totally against golf courses. We should have maybe a few. Like those in Sentosa and maybe near to the catchments area. But the others must go. In a small little country of only 700sqkm, devoting 2.2% of land for the exclusive use of under 40,000 people does not make sense. The usage of land in Singapore should be in line with the population at large.

I suggest that the government do not renew the leases of those golf courses that do not sit in “untouchable areas”. The government should be brave to make a strong political statement that it treats its citizen, rich and poor, all industries equally and devote fair treatment to all taking uneconomical land back to meet critical needs. Take back Laguna, Tanah Merah, Jurong, Raffles, Seletar, Warren and maybe even NSRCC at East Coast Parkway. Free up these lands for industrial development (Laguna, Tanah Merah, Jurong, Raffles and Seletar); housing (Warren) and park (NSRCC). Maybe for the mega size SICC which has 4 courses, allow nature to reclaim one of the courses nearest to the forest reserve so that we can have a bigger nature reserve!

Do I hear the golfers protesting? They can always play during the weekdays at the remaining clubs. After all, a fair number of them are making losses and will surely welcome the additional members. And playing on weekdays will make more efficient use of the golf courses. In addition, Malaysia, Bintan, Batam and even Thailand are all a short distance away for the rich and powerful. Traveling up there for a game and a short weekend escapade should not be a problem for the rich are powerful.


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