The fight that just won’t go away, no matter how popular golf becomes
Say it ain’t so, Sandy?
Sandy Jamieson [above], perhaps this country’s greatest advocate for public golf and the joy and therapy it provides people of all ages, races and abilities, dropped a bombshell on me during a recent phone call.
“I’m a bit despondent with the whole golf industry at the moment,” he cursed.
Wait. What? Golf is flying right now, no?
“I’m actually not far away from throwing in the towel, to be honest,” he adds. “This would be the final straw.”
Talk about a left-right combination to send me to the canvas. The “this” Jamieson was referring to is the latest chapter in what this magazine has previously labelled ‘The War On Golf’ in Australia – the ongoing fight for greenspace between thirsty councils, point-scoring politicians and our many conveniently positioned public golf courses like Sydney’s Moore Park Golf Course.
After spending years fighting the good fight on behalf of public golf courses across Melbourne and beyond, Jamieson – a former coach of tour stars Robert Allenby, Peter Fowler and Jarrod Lyle – now finds himself locked in a particularly personal battle: defending the course he’s called home since 2019.
Melbourne’s Monash City Council says it is “planning for the future” of the Oakleigh Golf Course site and is inviting community members to help it decide whether to retain the current nine-hole facility or turn the property into a regional park (have your say at shape.monash.vic.gov.au/oakleigh-gc).
It follows Darebin Council’s controversial attempt last year to limit operations of Northcote golf course in Melbourne’s north before ultimately deciding to retain seven-day access for golfers with one compromise: Northcote had to give back five hectares of land for non-golf use by the community as parkland. It was seen as a huge win for golf but it didn’t come without an emotional and very public back-and-forth with the community.
Oakleigh, though, doesn’t share the same physical footprint as Northcote. What’s more, it’s already given up valuable real estate previously for the construction of a community bike track.
“We’re the cheapest and most accessible outdoor recreation facility for people with disabilities – why would you want to get rid of that?” asks Jamieson, who’s very passionate about the Reach and Belong golf program he runs at Oakleigh. The program embraces community inclusion and provides people with a disability the opportunity to play golf and become community golf instructors themselves. Yet Oakleigh’s role in the community – and any public golf course for that matter – extends
way beyond helping those in need, Jamieson says.
“The most powerful thing golf has to offer to building communities is a timesheet. We pair you in groups of four. You join up with other people, you mingle over a round of golf, you’re exercising outdoors, and you can talk for hours and find out what you have in common with each other. What can be more valuable to a community – big or small – than that?”
With Monash City Council’s community consultation period ending on November 30 before it reviews all feedback ahead of making a final decision in early 2024, Jamieson called for constructive feedback and engagement from those that are understandably upset about the proposal.
“As golfers, we must not get angry. We must get proactive,” Jamieson warns. “Anger will be thrown straight back at us, and it will make us look entitled. The evidence is already there as to why Oakleigh golf course must be retained. It’s too valuable an asset for the health and wellbeing of the community.”
What Jamieson really wants to see is greater support from neighbouring private courses.
“I would love to see some of the private clubs step in and help because, at the end of the day, they’re the ultimate beneficiaries of public golf courses like Oakleigh,” he says. “Out of every 10 people I introduce to golf, two of them will go on to join a private golf club. It would be incredibly disappointing if these private clubs didn’t get together and start looking after their local public golf courses – even work with councils on how they can help in some way, shape or form. It’s a pathway that secures their own futures but right now, with how well golf is going, with all the waiting lists private clubs have, with all the green fees they’re reaping, they’re sitting back and seemingly not having a care in the world. Well, that won’t last forever.
“You could ask all members of any private golf club to stand up together in a room and remain standing if you didn’t start playing golf at a public course. I can guarantee you that most would sit down.”
A clearly frustrated Jamieson finished our call with one final word on public golf courses.
“I like to call them the nursery for the nursing home. They’re where you start the game and where you finish. It’s why their value to the greater community – and the many councils that run them – should never be questioned.”
Plenty for all of us to ponder this summer, no matter where we tee it up.