OKAY the ball is on the tee for a concerted drive towards forming a unitary Central Hawke's Bay golf club but will it be a 9, 12 or 18-holer?

Will there be one course or can the CHB umbrella cover two to whet everyone's appetite in respecting the history and culture of clubs and communities involved?

That'll be part of the portfolio of a yet-to-be established working group after more than 150 people - predominantly members from four clubs - converged at Waipukurau Golf Club on Thursday night to offer their mandate the move to develop a proposal.

Waipukurau club president Ian Sharp was delighted to see every club represented, including Waipawa, Ongaonga and Takapau as well as Porangahau who are geographically outside the affected cluster and doing well as a multisports establishment.

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"The outcome was to go down the path of forming a working party for the future of Central Hawke's Bay golf," said Sharp, adding another gathering will reconvene once it finds a favourable option.

Takapau GC president David Tennent said the meeting, which Sport Hawke's Bay chief executive Mark Aspden chaired, was "very constructive" to "get a buy-on from everyone there that change is required with golf in CHB".

"That's the easy part because the hard part will be what changes are necessary," Tennent said. "We'll get pretty emotional when we start talking about our own clubs."

Membership across CHB golf clubs has plummeted from 671 members in 2011 to 471 last year, a fall of 29 per cent.

In a written statement, Aspden said it was clear people had given a lot of thought to the issue.

"At the conclusion of the discussion there was unanimous support to form a working party with representation from the clubs to look into the possibility of a single club for the district.

"We will now get together and work out a timeline to look at all options. No one wants to close their course but everyone attending recognised that it is in the best interests of Central Hawke's Bay golf to look at how we can ensure the long-term sustainability of golf in the area."

Speakers Dennis Hames, a member of the Waipukurau Golf Club, Di Petersen, responsible for Hawke's Bay regional grants for Lotteries New Zealand and Carl Fenton, of New Zealand Golf, provided important background to help club members understand the wider situation.

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Hames had previously been involved in exploring the amalgamation of CHB Golf Clubs a few years ago while Petersen enlightened the meeting with an overview of the funding climate.

Fenton talked about the challenges clubs faced elsewhere and how they were dealing with declining memberships.

It was noted the CHB dilemma isn't too different from what is unfolding in other parts of the country. However, the gathering unanimously accepted the four golf-course cluster was too many for an area the size of CHB.

Aspden said the working group, which Sport HB will be involved with, will look at a wide range of factors in identifying the best option to ensure golf remains strong.

Relevant issues will include whether a 9, 12 or 18-hole course is more sustainable, clubhouse facilities, whether new facilities such as a driving range could be accommodated, how courses cope with extreme wet or dry conditions, operating costs as well the distance members have to travel to play.

The working party will be open to suggestions from club members during the process.
Once the preferred option has been identified it will be put forward to the clubs involved.

He reiterated no proposal can be adopted without the approval of the members of each of the clubs.

Tennent said what made Takapau GC complex was that it was a community facility, which put it in a different context from the other three clubs.

"People are using it for walking while some play a few holes so that's quite important to us as a community but the others are out of town and not a multiple-use course.

"They [walkers] try to stay away from the greens and [the fairways] when they are walking their dogs through the rough and that's what it's about in small communities."

A Sydney Johnson left the land to the people of Takapau but Tennent believes its management is vested with the CHB District Council so the club leases the property and the council recompenses it.

"As a club we take that seriously even though it's our facility because the land belongs to Takapau."

Tennent again emphasised there was no need for an 18-hole course in CHB.

"People need to get used to the fact that an 18-hole course is not the be all and end all of things."

He said the days of people ploughing fairways and replacing divots for 4.5 hours over 18 holes were long gone.

"Having a 9- or 12-hole course is the way forward as time is a critical part of people's lives because those who want to be professionals will have to go to 18-hole courses."

People were getting older and the Waipukurau course was becoming harder to sustain.

Tennent saw merit in the concept of having two courses - 9 and 12 - under the CHB club proposal.