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Morri: Golf is no less important than football

Golf courses in Sydney have unfairly become a scapegoat in the battle for green space, writes Rod Morri.
As offensive as the grab for Sydney’s golf courses might be to those of us who love the game, it speaks to a much broader issue than just golf.

The fact that golf is such an easy target is a reflection on the game’s poor image among those who don’t play but really, non-golfers should find this development as disturbing as golfers.

For those not familiar with the situation in Sydney, the past 12 months have seen politicians in various local government areas call for the closure or reduction in size of several public access courses.

In the City's east, it is Eastlake and Moore Park which have been targeted, while on the northern beaches, it seems almost certain that Warringah Golf Club will be reduced to nine holes in the not-too-distant future.

In the northern suburbs, Gordon Golf Club is slated to go while one of the few public courses in the inner west, Marrickville Golf Club, also faces uncertainty.

None of which will bother those who are either indifferent to the game or actively dislike it but it should because golf is likely only the beginning.

Consider this quote from the Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, in the Sydney Morning Herald in July last year.

Commenting on a proposal by City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore to reduce Moore Park golf course to nine holes, Greenwich told the Sydney Morning Herald he would like to see the state government work with the council on "returning as much of the golf course as possible to open green space.

"We really need to activate some of that land for open space, given the massive increase in population which is going to be occurring in that area," he told the paper.

"These are apartments, the people will need that green space for their mental health and physical well-being." 

Of course, what he fails to acknowledge is the approval of all that development with apparently no prior consideration given to the lack of existing green space to support it.

And so after the fact, when the council and the state government have collected their slice of the billions of dollars worth of projects they approved, the golf course becomes the villain of the piece.

Further east, the commentary is even more disturbing, City of Botany Bay Mayor Ben Kenneally leading a charge to give golf the boot from Eastlake and Botany golf courses.

Kenneally brazenly admits the problem of a lack of green space is entirely of the council’s own making before blaming golf (and, bizarrely, industrial estates) for the issue.

"The last five years has seen around 3000 new dwellings added to the Botany area, with another 4000 expected in the next 10 years,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015. "With urban consolidation and the desire of more and more people to live closer to the CBD, there is an increasing population that wants places to enjoy Sydney's great beauty.

"The Botany wetlands are beautiful, but they are a hidden gem. They've been locked up inside these golf courses and inside industrial estates."

The situation at Warringah is somewhat different as there appears a genuine lack of space for sports such as cricket and soccer in that district.

Golf rightly needs to make its case if it is to continue to occupy land for which there is legitimate competition and it appears a genuine conversation is taking place on that issue.

Marrickville golf course, too, is under pressure because of urban development with 8500 new homes planned for the local area forcing a shortage of green space.

Again, the thinking seems to be it’s better to build first and fix the open space problem later, with golf the easiest and most obvious choice to target.

The broader point in all of this is really not about golf but urban development and its impact. It is golf courses under threat now but how long before the same pressures which have led us here spread to other outdoor activities?

In 20 years, will there be calls for cricket and soccer fields to be halved in size to allow for more dwellings because people want to live closer to the city?

Golf doesn’t have an inalienable right to exist in urban landscapes but, when done properly, its presence is far more positive than negative, both for golfers and the broader community.

Rather than use the game as a tool to divide, politicians should be thinking of ways to fit golf into the community’s future.

Surely there are ways that golfers and walkers and cyclists can all share space. Why does it need to be an either/or proposition?

At the home of golf, St Andrews in Scotland, the Old Course is closed every Sunday and the public is free to roam across the links as they please.

Golf is no more or less important than football, soccer, cricket or any other outdoor activity that contributes to the health and well-being of the nation’s citizens and it should be treated with equal respect.

As respected commentator Mike Clayton said on this week's iSeekGolf Podcast, it's not good enough to just take from golf. Councils also have a responsibility to give back.

HEAR WHAT MIKE CLAYTON HAD TO SAY ON THE ISSUE BY PRESSING THE PLAY BUTTON BELOW:

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Rod Morri
About The Author : Rod Morri

Rod is an award-winning golf journalist with more than 20 years experience and has covered everything from major tournaments to junior golf at the local level. Rod began his life in the media as a daily news reporter for News Limited in Sydney.

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