With the Super City needing land for 30,000 new homes, pressure is growing to use publicly owned golf links such as Waitemata (below), which pays just $1 a year in rent.
Auckland Council is reviewing its ownership of 13 golf courses worth more than $40 million, as pressure builds to find space for thousands of new homes in the city.
Developers say the land could be used for up to 8000 houses and apartments if the entire 200ha-plus area was made available, easing the city's chronic shortfall of about 30,000 homes.
Officials say the review, which includes popular courses such as Remuera, Takapuna and Pupuke in Campbells Bay, is not specifically aimed at freeing up land for housing - it could also be used for parks and other recreation.
However, the exercise comes as the council is urgently looking for new sources of revenue and space to build houses within existing city limits. Several golf courses, such as Waiheke and Waitemata in Devonport, occupy real estate worth millions but pay only peppercorn rents as little as $1 a year.
The council's parks and recreation policy team leader, Paul Marriott-Lloyd, said use of golf courses was expected to peak by 2030.
"We have seen some golf courses close or merge, so we have to be careful in terms of balancing the supply and demand. We're anticipating an increase or sustained demand for the provision of golf across Auckland at least until 2030, then that demand could subside."
Mr Marriott-Lloyd said Auckland Council had inherited several courses from former councils in the Super City merger.
"That doesn't necessarily mean we should keep them but one of the defining characteristics of making Auckland the most liveable city is the parks and open space.
"We're looking at what the needs are to service the golfers in Auckland and we recognise it is a sport with an economic development potential.
"We do get visitors coming to New Zealand explicitly to play on our courses and in Auckland we have a number which are attractive."
Asked about selling golf courses for housing, Mr Marriott-Lloyd said: "We are short of land for a whole range of different purposes and part of the amenity of Auckland is parks and open space."
Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said he was well aware of discussions about selling some council golf land.
"In terms of the idea of freeing up council land, Property Council has been briefed about possible sites. There are some golf courses which would be ideally located for housing development. Property Council supports that, as we do want to achieve greater density within Auckland limitations. Some parks and reserves are little used and others are well used, so it's good to take a look at all this."
This week, Sydney's Botany Bay City Council announced plans to turn a golf course into 65ha of parkland, prompting some planners to suggest similar moves to solve that city's housing crisis.
Controversial independent economist Shamubeel Eaqub this month called on the Super City to look at turning its vast golfing estates over to housing.
Figures obtained by the Weekend Herald show many golf courses enjoy historic sweetheart deals: the Waitemata Golf Club and the Waiheke Golf Club each pay only $1 a year for their privileged positions, surrounded by hundreds of 800sq m private sections paying $4000 a year in rates.
Those two clubs alone occupy 42.7ha, while Omaha, near the holiday home of golfing Prime Minister John Key, returns $5 a year to ratepayers.
Hobsonville Land Company chief executive Chris Aiken estimated 5000 to 6000 houses could be built on 200ha but more-intensive use could see up to 8000 residences.
He called for a close examination of all under-utilised Auckland land, not just that used for sports or recreation.
New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said 20,000 people in the wider Auckland area were golf club members "but the number of people who play golf casually is three times that number, so there are 60,000 to 80,000 people in the wider Auckland region who play golf regularly."
Mr Murphy said population projections had identified that more land was needed for golf, not less.
"We will actually be under-golfed if we want to be the world's most liveable city and we will come under more pressure."
Change is already afoot at Chamberlain Park Golf Club, where the Albert-Eden Local Board has developed a controversial scheme to cut the 18-hole course to nine holes to create sports fields, restore a stream and put in public walkways.
Fletcher Residential got approval last year for 479 housing lots on the Manukau golf course. As well, Metlifecare will build a $175 million retirement village on 5.5ha of the golf course's land. The Manukau Golf Club will shift to Ardmore.
Auckland residential developer Mark Todd, of Ockham Residential, which builds intensive schemes, expressed horror at the prospect of golf club sales.
"How many bowling clubs, tennis clubs and other sporting clubs have shut in the past 15 years? It's f***ing small-minded and short-sighted to sell golf clubs.
"I can't believe any significant property player would maintain that we have to cull golf clubs. Golf clubs are nice green spaces. Be a bit more creative about housing policy!
"Many more Aucklanders can afford annual $1600 golf fees than the $800,000 to $1.1 million townhouses these courses are carved up into," Mr Todd said. "There is no elitist strand to the argument. Nor is there a public-good argument."