Property editor of the NZ Herald

Out of the rough - golf's sell-off saves the clubs

Selling entire courses or fringe parcels to developers is seen as a way to repay debt and maintain facilities as the once-popular sport faces a decline in membership with the young looking to different leisure pastimes.

Ric Kayne and  wife Suzanne have struck a deal with Te Uri o Hau to build a course at Te Arai Beach, 110km north of Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ric Kayne and wife Suzanne have struck a deal with Te Uri o Hau to build a course at Te Arai Beach, 110km north of Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

A long-established Auckland golf club and eight-time host of the New Zealand Open championship needs to sell land to generate money.

Papatoetoe's The Grange, established in 1924, needs a new clubhouse, to pay off debt and improve its course. Last year's merger talks with neighbouring Royal Auckland ended by mutual agreement, says Grange general manager Mark Stuart, but he could not reveal why.

Grange chairman Rob Chemaly said developers were being sought to buy a few hectares in return for a much-needed facilities upgrade.

See the Expressions of Interest document for The Grange Golf Club here.

Some other Auckland golf clubs are also in the rough, suffering declining membership and a lack of income which is forcing them to sell property.

The Grange is just one of many across Auckland in play. Manukau's land has gone to Fletcher Residential for $40 million-plus. A huge new housing estate will be built and its members are getting a new Ardmore course.

The Formosa Golf Resort near Pine Harbour was in the throes of being sold last year for around $45 million, having 16ha of "islands" of land which could be turned into apartment estates for rich Chinese to fly in, stay and play golf. No contract was settled.

Last year, the 600-member Maungakiekie club in Mt Roskill voted down a 3ha $7.5 million sale of its 4th hole. President Tom Duffy said such a move would have been "lazy, because you don't fix the underlying problem".

The club, with a $100 million 48ha prime city site, had only around $600,000 in debt, so developed new marketing and loyalty schemes which netted 60 new members in January and February alone, he said.

Meanwhile, outside Auckland, a billionaire United States financier has joined Maori to develop an international course.

Los Angeles-based Ric Kayne and his wife, Suzanne, have struck a deal with Te Uri o Hau to build the course on part of a 616ha forest estate by Te Arai Beach, 110km north of Auckland.

Mr Stuart said Auckland clubs faced challenges.

"There's too many golf courses in Auckland and the demographics are changing in that there's a lot more casual golfers in the 20 to 40 age bracket because they work during the week, their wives work, they look after the kids in the weekend and there's other entertainment options. They want to play golf but don't want to commit and they move around clubs," he said.

Mark Stuart is the chief executive of The Grange Golf Club in Papatoetoe.

One property developer described golf as "a snore-fest".

"Now we live in an age of instant thrills from mountain biking, kite surfing, parachuting, motor racing, kayaking ... Who wants to walk around a golf course hitting balls? It's a boring, day-long event."

Stewart Halligan, Manukau's general manager, said Auckland golf clubs were all trawling from the same membership pool.

"There's no real growth in the game. It's shrinking and members are getting older. The 18-hole ladies are now playing only nine holes," Mr Halligan said.

Peter Thornton, media and PR manager for New Zealand Golf, said 480,000 played the game and 120,000 were club members.

"There's declining membership. It's a difficult landscape, probably for a whole lot of reasons such as cost - annual membership is $2000 a year - and there's other options and life is busy so people are finding it hard to find the time for four-and-a-half or five-hours on the weekend."

So New Zealand Golf has launched, to promote the game, "giving anyone the chance to squeeze a cheeky 9 holes in with their mates", and the "welcome to your other backyard' campaign lovegolf.

In 2009, members of Peninsula Golf Club in Orewa voted to accept developer PLD's offer for its 45ha in return for building a Puddicombe-designed course and family-oriented club facilities in Wainui, plus $10 million cash.

Last month's update said Pond construction at the new course was completed. Bulk earthworks were almost done in the first phase, with bulk haulage of topsoil remaining. Course shaping was completed on holes one and eight as well as parts of holes seven, nine, 10 and 18.

Mr Stuart said many British clubs were closing and the same changes were affecting the sport in this country.

"The dynamics are interesting because at the top end, there's no problem, with people who want to go around the world and play golf. It's in the middle that we're all fighting for members," he said.

Casual players uncommitted to any one club created financial uncertainty because annual budgets and spending depended on steady annual subscription fees.

Aerial photo of The Grange Golf Club golf course in Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"Yet Auckland's population is growing and there's an increase in the Asian population and they love golf," Mr Stuart said.

Residential neighbours are often less than delighted about the prospect of Auckland golf courses becoming huge housing estates and last year, Keywella Drive residents Max and Sandra Byrnes raised concerns about Manukau selling to Fletcher.

That company, headed by Ken Lotu-Iiga, got resource consent for 479 housing lots or sections in seven stages.

Improvements are under way at Waitemata Golf Club, founded in 1905, where new drainage is being installed on reclaimed land between Ngataringa Bay and Narrow Neck. Mr Stuart said many Auckland courses were on peaty, wet, often reclaimed land.

A decade ago, the Grange had around 1400 members but today has only 700, paying $2000 annually.

Yet it has a valuable 46ha site and Mr Stuart said it was like many other city golf clubs: asset rich but cash poor.

Mr Chemaly said the club might sell around 2.5ha, possibly on Grange Rd, but that depended on what developers proposed.

"The funds realised from the sale will be applied to course improvements and the retirement of debt. The club has been going for 90 years, but not always on this location. We have some greens to upgrade and maintenance that needs to be done. We need to grow our business. Membership has continued to decline, as it has for most clubs."

The Grange expressions-of-interest document says prices are needed for a clubhouse upgrade or rebuild, new greenkeepers' facilities, NZPGA professional facilities, golf-practice facilities, roading, services, fencing, gates and security.

Mr Chemaly said the most recent New Zealand Open The Grange had hosted was in 2004.

"The golf scene continues to evolve and pressure is on clubs like ours to ensure that we continue to attract and retain members, and this can only be achieved if we provide a golf experience of the very highest standard," he said.

The club's property is bounded by Grange Rd, Great South Rd, Shirley Rd, Omana Rd and an inlet from the Tamaki Estuary to the west.

Remuera Golf Club members, from left, Ronda Nilsson, Daire McCracken, Eva Huang, Liz Campbell and Frances Shehan love the companion-ship and sociability the sport offers. Photo / Greg Bowker

Bad day at golf better than any day housekeeping

"A bad day on the golf course is better than any day at home doing housework," says Daire McCracken.

A group having lunch at the Remuera Golf Club teed off at 7.50am and completed 18 holes. All are enthusiastic golfers who regularly play.

Dining companion and club champion Eva Huang likes the competitive nature of golf and this week leaves to play in Japan. She has also played in Thailand, Indonesia and Britain.

Ronda Nilsson, ladies' club president, remembers hitting a hole-in-one but Frances Shehan, who plays more than twice a week, has hit nine holes-in-one.

"It's a shame more courses don't amalgamate," says Daire McCracken, expressing understanding for the reasons golf-course land is being sold for housing.

All the women want younger people to join and are concerned about the ageing golfing population but say they have no trouble making time for the game, which they like for the fresh air, health benefits, companionship and sociability.

"It's also cheaper than shopping," quips Daire McCracken.

Grange sale schedule

Partial Papatoetoe land sale to bring in funds:
March 31: Expressions of interest sought.
June 30: Expressions to be lodged.
July 18: Shortlist of developers selected.
July 31: One party picked.
Source: The Grange Golf Club

Course changes

*Te Arai, 110km north of Auckland. New golf course.
*The Grange Golf Club, Papatoetoe. Selling some land.
*Formosa Golf Resort, Pine Harbour. Was in the throes of being sold last year for around $45 million. No contract was settled.
*Manukau Golf Club, Takanini. Entire course sold to Fletcher Residential. Moving to Ardmore.
*Waitemata Golf Club, Devonport. Grounds upgrade under way.
*Maungakiekie Golf Club, Mt Roskill South. 600-member club voted down a 3ha $7.5 million sale of its 4th hole last year.
*Peninsula Golf Club, Orewa. Course sold, moving to Wainui.

Keen for the course

480,000 New Zealanders play golf
120,000 are club members

- NZ Herald

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