As a member of the Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club in Frankston this is a difficult article to write – but an important one. Back in October the recently merged golf club opened its impressive new Clubhouse building, the centrepiece of a $40 million facility (incl associated improvements) that includes an indoor pool and gym as well as, eventually, a series of high-end remote accommodation buildings.
The North Course at Peninsula Kingswood was reopened last month, with members now enjoying access to 34 of the 36 holes on the club’s Frankston site. The 10th and 18th holes on the South Course are scheduled for opening early next year, drawing to an end a period of major construction at Peninsula Kingswood that started back in March 2015.
While the shinny, expensive new facilities at Peninsula Kingswood were under construction; the Kingston Council had been considering a proposal from developer, Industry Superannuation Property Trust (ISPT), to rezone the club’s former Kingswood golf land in Dingley Village. The proposal from ISPT involved rezoning Special Use Land into Residential Land, and building as many as 760 residential dwellings on top of the former golf course. The proposal was fiercely opposed at local level; with more objections received by Council, in excess of 7,000, than for any other development application in its history.
In mid October the Kingston Council voted unanimously to abandon the Planning Scheme Amendment process for Kingswood, and affectively ruled out rezoning the Special Use parts of the property for Residential Use. Kingston Mayor Cr Steve Staikos was quoted as saying, “The overwhelming majority of submissions opposed the proposed rezoning and construction of hundreds of homes on the former golf course. Councillors want the community to know that we have read their submissions and we have heard them.”
The decision of the Kingston Council has serious ramifications for Peninsula Kingswood, and its members. At risk is a ‘bonus’ payment in the order of $25 million, initially budgeted for by club administrators but only payable upon rezoning of the Kingswood land.
At the time of the merger between Peninsula and Kingswood, members were promised ‘financial security’ through a ’substantial’ Future Fund into the tens of millions of dollars. As late as last year, and in spite of increased costs of redevelopment, the club were still projecting a nest egg of $40 million. That money was intended for investment and, presumably, to prevent the need to inflate subscription fees down the track.
Though the developer has some avenue of appeal here, including through the State Planning Minister, strong local opposition as well as from parliamentarians across the political divide, suggest the club should be concerned. That concern stems from the fact that without the bonus payments the Peninsula Kingswood Board are now projecting a Future Fund of only $7 million. Though hardly an insignificant figure, the money spent on the Frankston redevelopment to date has been considerable – as are future operational expenses across the site.
From a golf perspective, the near $15 million cost to rebuild Peninsula Kingswood’s existing North and South courses (plus practice area) is less an issue longer term than the ongoing financial commitments now needed to maintain them. Both courses are undeniably eye-catching and dramatic, but expensive to keep pristine owing to all their sand. As one of Australia’s leading Superintendents told me recently, ‘sand is more expensive to maintain than turfgrass’, and there is an awful lot of it across both courses. Five years ago the grounds crew at Peninsula was around half the size now needed to maintain the two courses.
The commentary above is not necessarily intended as a criticism of the OCCM (Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking Mead) design work, but rather the decision to deviate so far from an approved December 2014 Masterplan. That plan showed only subtle alterations to the North Course in particular. There were three bunkers on the redesigned 13th hole, for example, but nine bunkers were built. Each will need to be maintained.
There are numerous other examples, of additional bunkers and vast sandy wastes being added to both improve a holes aesthetic appeal, but also increase the cost to maintain it. Furthermore, the sheer volume of sand has made the North Course more intimidating and more difficult for shorter hitters and poorer players. It’s unclear whether the PKCGC Board approved variations to the Masterplan fully aware of these additional costs, or the risks associated with a rezoning rejection.
On the positive side, the bunkering itself is attractively built and mostly well positioned. Aside from the curiously relocated 8th green, the shaping of putting targets, tees and short-grass transition areas across the North Course is well done. Like the South Course, the playing surfaces are also superbly maintained.
Increased operational expenses would obviously be less a problem with the large Future Fund as proposed, and it’s important to note that ISPT still have a few years to achieve the rezoning of the Kingswood land. For the sake of the golf club and its passionate membership, we remain hopeful of a positive outcome and that increased operational costs can be offset by strong member attraction and retention.
Either way, this is not a model for other clubs to follow and it is hoped that the experience at Peninsula Kingswood serves as a warning to those clubs planning to merge, relocate or sell land to invest in updated facilities. Few in Australia have done so prudently to this point.
Note: The developer takes possession of the Kingswood site on 31 January, and has said they will immediately lock the gates and cease golf course operations. Their spokesperson said of Council’s decision, “We accept the decision of Kingston Council and understand that the project, in its current form, cannot proceed. We will take time to consider our options, however we don’t plan to re-submit our proposal in its current form, or in the near future.”
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