Call it a win for golf, a win for common sense or both, as embattled Northcote Public Golf Course in Melbourne’s north has won the right to remain golf-focused.
In an impassioned meeting of Darebin City Council last night, when several children – representing both sides of the debate – were called upon to give their viewpoints, the public question and submission period lasted more than two hours before most councillors spoke publicly then voted.
The result was far from unanimous, with the proposal to remain golf-focused gaining approval by five votes to four.
Three primary options were on the table, the choices announced at Darebin City Council’s May meeting ahead of a lengthy community consultation period.
Option A, which ultimately was successful, called for the retention of nine-hole golf along with the ‘unlocking’ of 5.7 hectares of the Northcote land for non-golf recreational use.
Option B, which attracted plenty of attention but was viewed even by the council as unlikely, suggested a daily 3pm closure of the golf course to allow for other recreational use for the remainder of each day.
Option C, which received significant support from the non-golf-playing local community, was to disallow golf for one full day per week, most likely on Sundays. Comparisons to the Home of Golf were drawn by several supporters of this option, as the Old Course at St Andrews is famously closed to golfers on Sundays.
Regardless of which side of the argument community members and Darebin councillors sat – and any anti-golf sentiments felt, whether perceived or real – financial realities were a critical factor in the decision. A report outlining the likelihood of rising operational costs by opening the space to wider community use recommended retaining the space for golf, citing the time and cost of cleaning up the course after public use – littering that was evident when the course was open to recreational use during Melbourne’s COVID-related lockdowns.
Darebin mayor Cr Lina Messina called the result a successful one for the community, while hosing down the furore created by the 3pm closure option.
“The 3pm curfew amendment in May was to address a briefing only,” she said. “It was not something that was going to be considered further in this chamber.
“Option A [to keep the course for golf seven days a week] is a win, it is a middle ground, it’s a win for all – and a win for all is success.”
The dispute drew passionate pre-vote remarks from the public gallery and within council. At least one councillor speaking at last night’s meeting was cautioned for her tone, while Cr Messina noted the debate had even turned neighbours against one another. A petition to keep Northcote for golfers passed 10,000 signatures, while an opposing ledger garnered similar numbers.
The result is an important victory for public golf courses across Australia. Since the plight of the Northcote course first emerged, there was a sense that had any restrictions on playing golf there been approved, it would open the floodgates for similar rulings at other public courses in what is an embattled space within the game. However the golfers (and financial realities) have spoken, as the Northcote result means the sport has fended off its latest attack from outside.