At first glimpse it seemed like another war-on-golf horror story.
“AFL clubs to play footy on fairways as golf clubs struggle,” reports the Daily Telegraph.
Without reading a word, it had Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s fingerprints all over it. Is this going to be another ill-informed assault on a sport she feels chews up too much land by too few of her rate-paying citizens?
Oh, what the hell.
To my surprise, unless I’ve read it completely wrong, it appears to be a refreshing approach by a rival sport not necessarily trying to muscle its way in on golf but find a win-win solution for golfers and prime community green space. (My brain interrupts: “Brad, don’t be naive. It’s a clever Clover powerplay to get her Moore Park redevelopment through!”)
I tell my brain to pipe down and continue reading the story.
According to the report, Sydney AFL clubs are in formal talks with Golf NSW to use fairways as training grounds, “as pressure mounts to open golf courses to the public.”
Arrh, there’s that tone again – “pressure”, “mounts”, “open to the public”. (Brain: “I told you!”)
“Golf NSW and the AFL have confirmed they are thrashing out a deal on how some of metropolitan Sydney’s 91 golf courses can open their considerable land holdings to football clubs desperate for training space,” says the report.
Golf NSW CEO Stuart Fraser said more than 10 Sydney golf courses — with a combined landmass of at least 300ha — are enduring financial pressures. “Golf NSW has been in discussion with the AFL NSW to explore and identify any golf courses with excess space that could be utilised for ‘out of hours’ AFL training/competition activities,” Fraser told the Daily Telegraph.
It’s interesting timing for such a proposal. Yes, golf clubs have been struggling for years to attract bigger numbers. But there seems to be a mini-renaissance happening. Golf rounds are actually at an all-time high following the coronavirus lockdown. Equipment companies and retailers have confirmed stock is flying off the shelves. Driving ranges are churning through the buckets, while the sport’s global TV ratings have soared with the free-kick it has been given in airtime. Right now, golf is enjoying its time in the sun.
Yet the possibility of using golf land ‘after hours’ has genuine merit, particularly if it can generate even more revenue for these struggling suburban clubs playing catch-up post-Covid-19.
With information scarce on how such a proposal would work with local AFL clubs, there are a few obvious questions:
1.) What would actually constitute “excess space” on a Sydney-based golf course? The driving range? Carpark? That little stretch of lawn between the 18th green and clubhouse?
2.) How would a land share work “after hours” … presumably when the last group comes in and the sun goes down? Would clubs be required to install high-level lighting, potentially creating a revenue-generating night-golf option anyway?
3.) What sort of damage would a team of footballers do to the facility with their studded boots and general usage? And would the course greenstaff be up to the added challenge of repairing such extensive after-hours damage?
4.) What about all the football grounds already available? Not to mention those struggling indoor facilities? (My local indoor sporting complex just fell victim to the Covid-19 lockdown, announcing it is ceasing operations effective immediately. Sadly, it won’t be the only one.)
Back to the football proposal and there’s an argument to suggest such a precedent has already been set by clubs that have introduced Foot Golf to their offerings, although this hybrid of golf and soccer imposes minimal damage to the course.
Figures compiled by planning consultancy Astrolabe Group paint a real picture of the threat golf faces in the Harbour City: 1.6 million people live within 1.6km of a golf course and 160,400 live within 400m. According to the Daily Telegraph story, those suburbs with the most number of people within walking distance of a golf course include Waterloo, Beaconsfield, Greystanes, Pemulwuy, Bexley, Arncliffe, Cabarita, Chatswood and Lane Cove.
One of the biggest problems in this whole War On Golf saga has been the take-take-take mentality. Sure, close down a struggling council-owned club on expensive real estate but how about pouring some of the cash made from its sale back into other community golf facilities?
Astrolabe Group director Michael Comninos told the Daily Telegraph he is encouraging community groups and state government to do exactly that – give money to golf clubs in exchange for them increasing accessibility. That sounds like a fair deal, right?
“The community is more likely to support change and growth if we can open up these spaces to be used by more people more often,” says Comninos.
“Buying more land for parks is a hard ask in established parts of Sydney. In most circumstances the best way to create access to parks is to use scarce public funds to enhance existing public spaces — like public golf courses.”
Bingo! Finally, someone exercising some level of understanding and common sense.
Personally, I’m not sure I see this working how they obviously envision it to. But I’m intrigued to learn more, particularly if it can help lower membership fees (that got your attention, didn’t it!)
Watch this (green) space!