by Darius Oliver
As has been reported previously on this website, Golf Victoria, the Victorian Government and Bayside City Council are collaborating on plans to develop a driving range and “Centre of Excellence” on the Sandbelt‘s premier public golf course.
The Sandringham golf course is owned by the Bayside City Council and managed by Sandringham Golf Links Management, which includes neighbour the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Plans for a $12.7 million overhaul of this beloved public golf course have been released, and include a shiny new administrative area for Golf Victoria along with a Himalayas-style putting green, a 350–metre driving range and an elite, high-performance teaching area to be used by Golf Australia, Golf Victoria and the PGA. To accommodate the new facilities, and a small parcel of land handed back to council for other sporting facilities, the front nine at Sandringham will be heavily reduced.
There are currently two revised routing plans under consideration, both created by local design company Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking, Mead (OCCM). Option B shaves around 750 metres off the length of the current course but retains 18 holes (Par 65). Option A is more controversial, and retains the length of the golf course but with only 15 holes. The final three holes would be played twice for those keen to complete a full 18-hole round.
While not suggesting that OCCM are incapable of improving the quality of golf at Sandringham, we question the need for the redevelopment and wonder for whom the work is really being done? Victoria is currently producing its fair share of elite golfers, and we’ve been down the ‘Centre of Excellence’ road before in this state, with the failed Moonah Links “Home of Australian Golf” concept.
More broadly, we remain concerned about the message shortening popular public golf courses sends to the wider golf community – particularly when it’s industry driving the proposal, rather than an opportunistic council eyeing off prime public access golf land. It seems fair to question how other public courses across Australia are expected to stave off a council driven downsize, when governing bodies are supporting that very measure at Sandringham?
Part of the redevelopment case made for the Sandringham changes, were quotes lifted from the Golf Australia “Participation Plan 2013-2016” document, which describes shorter format golf and shorter courses as important to cater for ageing, time poor and diverse populations into the future. I genuinely hope to be proven wrong here, but just can’t see any evidence in Australia that suggests a shorter, higher quality public golf course will ‘grow the game’ or attract and retain more players than a full layout.
There is no doubt that 9 or 15 holes are better than none, but when it comes to successful, and popular, 18-hole public access courses like Sandringham, Albert Park, Warringah or Moore Park the rush to shorten and ‘improve’ golf to a Sandbelt standard seems based on the blind assumption that people are waiting for better holes, or fewer holes, to take up the game. Public golf courses already offer 9 hole rounds, yet the overwhelming majority of golfers prefer the full 18.
Again we ask who benefits from this public course downsizing, and what problem does the $12.7 million investment actually solve – apart from the lack of a world-class practice facility next door to Royal Melbourne?
The driving range element of the project will certainly benefit elite golfers and those who like to practice, but there is a golf academy literally around the corner already with a decent range and some of the same facilities in place.
We sincerely hope that the golf industry understands the gamble here and that spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars to create a shorter, better quality golf course simply MUST lead to increased participation and greater golf course sustainability. There are no other measures of success anymore; given elite golf in Australia is at an all-time high yet participation is continuing to fall.
The truth is, we don’t need more Todd Sinott’s or Lucas Herbert’s in Victoria, we need more rank and file, passionate recession-proof golfers. The sort of golfer for whom Sandringham was, and hopefully can remain, a stepping stone type course – a class up from the likes of Albert Park, Malvern Valley, Elsternwick, Brighton and Spring Park, and perhaps a final step from public golf into a private club membership.
Sandringham isn’t perfect by any means, but it is the best public access golf course in Melbourne and many public course golfers enjoy playing public course golf. I suspect they will be in for a treat when the new holes open, but wonder really whether every course in Victoria needs to be of Top 100 calibre?
Visit the Golf Victoria website for further information on the redevelopment, or to view the routing plans.
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