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James Sutherland calls for ‘need to protect’ public golf

James Sutherland calls for ‘need to protect’ public golf
February 23, 2021

Amid growing pressures for landmark metropolitan golf courses to be repurposed as public open space, James Sutherland, the recently appointed Chief Executive of Golf Australia, has made a passionate plea for grassroots golf.

Writing in The Australian, Sutherland cites the “contradiction” in plans to reduce the golf facility at Moore Park in inner Sydney to nine holes, with its other space to be repurposed as public green space.

With recent years having seen number of golf courses in metropolitan areas having been sold or reduced in size for development, increased use of golf courses during last year’s lockdown for recreational activities has led to calls for the repurposing of some courses.

Here, the City of Sydney’s calls for Moore Park, overseen by NSW Government agency the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust, to be reduced from 18 to nine holes has been the most high-profile example.

In his article in The Australian, Sutherland states “there is a contradiction in the recent push to abbreviate the golf facility at Moore Park in inner Sydney to nine holes.

“Because Moore Park, one of the oldest and busiest facilities in the country, is none of the things that golf’s opponents tend to rail against.

“The critics of golf - and there are a few - are inclined to harvest low-hanging fruit when it comes to attacking our game.

“We’re ‘elitist’, we’re ‘entitled’, we’re ‘not inclusive or diverse’ and we’re ‘dwindling’ in terms of numbers.

“They might even reference the golf-loving Donald Trump in the argument - (Sutherland citing an article by Nikki Gemmell in the Weekend Australian on 20th February 2021, ed).

“But these are cliched criticisms that we in the industry frankly tires of. They are not even accurate.

“Golf does have wealthy players and clubs which are expensive to join. But there are 1.3 million of us out here of all ages and shapes and sizes and ethnicities. The idea that we’re all cashed-up tossers with too much time on our hands is fundamentally wrong.

“At Moore Park, you can play a full round for $41 and $33 if you go in the twilight hours. A bucket of balls on the driving range starts at $17. People play for the love of it and aren’t required to dress like professional players, nearly 60,000 rounds every year at that facility.

“There are hundreds of these types of clubs and facilities in Australia and they are the heart of our game.

“In any case, what happened with Mayor Clover Moore’s idea for a smaller golf course at Moore Park was appropriate. The (NSW) Government, the Sydney City Council and the people who run the facility came together and reached a compromise that will see more community access to the golf land. Problem solved, we would argue.

“And it seems the Minister responsible, Rob Stokes (NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister), has already said that the full 18 holes should remain.

“Yet, still we hear that golf is fading away. It is anything but the case. Actually, COVID-19 has induced a golf boom, an irony if ever there was one.

“Golf Australia commissioned a study last year which confirmed what we could already see anecdotally - 42,000 new club members in the 10 months to the end of October. We anticipate at least a 5% increase in club memberships across 2020 when the numbers come through soon.

“We track rounds of golf played as a method of including all golf - not just members’ golf - and these numbers are the best we have seen in years. There has been a 15% increase in rounds played this year on the same period in 2020.

“Any golfer will tell you that right now, tee times are scarce.

“Here’s something important to address. Golf saves our governments millions of dollars every year in health costs because people play it well into their senior years. For many of them, it is their only exercise and recreation. I cannot think of another sport that compares on that score.

“A 2017 report by the Australian Golf Industry Council found that golf contributes $131 million a year in health benefits to the economy and over a person’s lifetime, $4.5 billion. Take grassroots golf away and you will have dreadful unforeseen circumstances.”

In December, NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister, Rob Stokes came out in favour of retaining the full 18 holes at Moore Park, but asked the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust, which oversees Centennial Park and Moore Park, to investigate how the NSW Government can create more public access to the golf course while retaining 18 holes.

Minister Stokes said this should be possible with a “small modification” to the golf course.

Sutherland’s opinion piece was first published in The Australian today (23rd February 2021) and later republished by Golf Australia.

Images: Nearly 60,000 rounds a year are played at Moore Park in Sydney (top and below, credit: Greater Sydney Parklands Trust) and James Sutherland, Chief Executive of Golf Australia (middle, credit: LEIF).

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2nd April 2020 - Golf course greenkeepers fear shutdown will result in multi-billion dollar damage to turf infrastructure

1st August 2017 - Sydney’s Moore Park precinct welcomes more than 1.85 million fans in past year

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