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Morri: C'mon Councils, Show Some Courage

Winter Park as seen from above, sitting in harmony with, and adding value to, the local community (Photo: Andy Johnson/The Fried Egg (www.friedegg.co))
Golf in America has its critics and rightly so. It is all too easy to find examples of ‘bad golf’ or things that are ‘bad for golf’ in the land of the stars and stripes (and the rest of the world, Australia included, it must be said).

Equally and all too often overlooked, however, is the fact America also has the very best to offer in every facet of the game and one in particular has recently been forefront of mind.

With pressure being applied to our municipal golf courses in both Sydney and Melbourne as those cities grow and land becomes ever more valuable, there is, in the US, a model that we in Australia simply must experiment with.

Winter Park in Florida is a shining beacon of how golf can, and should, be part of a community.

If you look at ‘Before’ photos of the nine hole Winter Park Country Club prior to its 2014 overhaul it looks like so many of our own public access, council owned courses here in Australia.

Lots of trees, narrow playing corridors, small uninspired greens and bunkers that add little in the way of interest or strategy to the course.

If you then seek out the ‘After’ photos you see a golf course that is open, inviting and bold, features wall to wall grass, has lots of people playing it and, despite its nine-hole yardage adding up to less than 2,500 metres, provides interesting and challenging golf for beginners and scratch markers alike.

The course is affordable to play ($19 for nine holes in peak season for non-residents) and, not surprisingly, popular.

Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, who designed and built Winter Park, came in under budget but instead of pocketing the surplus used the money to build a 10,000-square foot putting green on the site.

Contrast that to Australia where most municipal courses are poorly cared for, not promoted and are seen by many simply as a burden on council coffers rather than an important part of the fabric of society.

Winter Park proves that a well-designed and maintained golf course which is cheap to build (and cheaper to maintain than most we have now) can not only grow the game but add value to an entire community.

And while it is easy for politicians to demonise golf as a pursuit only of the well-to-do which ‘locks up land’ that could be put to better use, that is neither a reasonable nor responsible position to take.

Councils have the same responsibility to golf as they do to other sports and if just one had the courage to implement the Winter Park model here we might find many more following suit.

Northern Beaches Council suggested recently that the Warringah Golf Course should be reduced from 18 to nine holes to free up land for other, urgently needed sporting fields.

Clover Moore has made similar statements about Moore Park in the CBD and Kuring-gai Council in Sydney’s north seem intent is on pursuing a similar course at Gordon Golf Club.

If any of these bodies have a modicum of decency, courage and foresight they will take the advice of former Touring professional turned commentator and course designer Mike Clayton.

While not advocating for or against golf courses being taken over for other purposes, Clayton makes a valid and irrefutable point.

If nine holes are to be lost then there is a responsibility to improve the remaining nine.

Winter Park has shown us the way, now we just need a council in Australia with enough guts to replicate it here.

It would be doing something not only for golf but for the community as a whole which, at the end of the day, is surely the reason councils exist?

SIGNATURE HOLES: 4TH AT GIBRALTAR C.C. (NSW)

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