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HomeLatest NewsThe future of Balgowlah Golf Club: pros and cons of a new...

The future of Balgowlah Golf Club: pros and cons of a new lease, and that missing $50 million

A proposed Council lease renewal for Balgowlah Golf Club has caused tumult among stakeholders, following the state government’s announcement late last year that the Northern Beaches Link Tunnel project has been officially abandoned.

Federal Member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, set the cat among the pigeons recently by releasing a statement giving her view on the future of the land currently leased to Balgowlah Golf Club. She is strongly of the opinion that, now the course will not be lost to the Tunnel project, it should be redeveloped as playing fields for nearby Balgowlah Boys High School, as well as public open space.

Ms Steggall said that it was “essential to balance the broader needs of the community and assess how we maximise the use of public space to effectively benefit the largest number of people”.

The Member for Warringah and Balgowlah Boys High P&C have also criticised the timing of the consultation with stakeholders. The consultation period for the new 5-year lease requested by the Golf Club took place over the December-January school holidays, when many people were away. The P&C said that they felt “blindsided” by the golf club’s application for a lease renewal and Council’s notice of consideration of the application. So Ms Steggall held discussions with Northern Beaches Council and the consultation period has now been extended until February 29… a decision which has in turn angered the Golf Club.

Members of the Club hit back at Ms Steggall entering this debate and the ensuing delay in awarding a new lease. Secretary / Manager of the Club, Flora Johnson said that, having been in Limbo for some eight years and now having survived the threat of the Beaches Tunnel, golf club members deserve some certainty around their future, especially with the Club celebrating its Centenary this year.

Balgowlah Golf Club. Photo: Alec Smart

In an interview with Manly Observer, Ms Johnson, Club Captain Patric Hobsbawn and Vice-Captain Michael Hade gave their side of the story:

“We certainly have not acted inappropriately in this matter at all”, said Ms Johnson. “Nothing was done in ‘the dead of night’ as has been intimated. The Tunnel announcement was only made towards the end of October and we approached Council within a couple of weeks applying for a renewal that had been on the table since 2015.

“Usually only four weeks of consultation are required for such matters, but we agreed to seven, exactly because of the holiday period. With the extension, we’re now looking at 11 weeks of consultation.”

“We’ve had no certainty to properly run the club since 2016,” said Mr Hade. “We lost a lot of members due to ‘the Tunnel Effect’ and weren’t able to firm up any commercial arrangements, whether with the Pro. running the Pro Shop, ground keeping staff or potential sponsors and commercial partners to provide much needed incremental revenue.”

“When you add Covid and huge rainfall that caused flood damage to the course in 2022, it’s been an extremely tough time for the club,” added Mr Hobsbawn, a member since 1972.

“Then when the announcement was made last October that the tunnel project was shelved, things started turning around,” Mr Hade said. “Our membership began to grow dramatically, up some 30% over the last four months from 447 to 566 as of today… so we approached Council about the lease renewal that had been on the table since 2015, asking only for five years, to at least provide us with some of that certainty we’d lost.”

“We aren’t just a golf course”, Ms JohnsonW added. “We are a club with over 560 members and a wider community of people who rely on us being here. There were more than 25,000 rounds played last year by people other than members!

“We’re one of only two 9-hole courses on the entire northern beaches and therefore an ideal ‘starter club’ for those just taking up the sport. We service all demographics, with over 100 Junior Members at the moment and a Junior Program offering free golf and coaching once a week to Cadets (15 and under) and Juniors (16 and 17).

“We’re a Public, rather than a Private Club and therefore our membership and green fees are kept low – an important factor given the current cost of living crisis. We’re certainly not an exclusive club for the wealthy… we cater for everyone, from tradies to tourists.”

“And we have all sorts of community social groups and not for profit organisations using the Club”, said Mr Hade. “Anyone can drop in at any time to use the clubhouse and facilities and we have regular groups of Bridge and Mahjong players, musicians using the clubhouse to rehearse that lead to live performances for the local community on afternoons and nights.

“We’ve provided free clubhouse hire to charities like the Can Too Foundation who recently held a function that raised over $12,000 for cancer research. And we held a Golf Day for the Cancer Council, that raised over $20,000 for the cause. And apart from using the playing field right next to the course for other sports, students from Balgowlah Boys play golf here on Wednesdays as part of the school’s organised sports program.”

“I realise the importance of public green space”, Ms Johnson said. “I have two young boys aged 7 and 8 so I know that’s imperative. But people do use the golf course as parkland after hours, whether walking their dogs or doing their daily exercise early morning and evenings. We’re really the least ‘Golf Club Golf Course’ in town. We’re small, welcoming and open to the public… we’re a community asset.”

When interviewed by Manly Observer, Zali Steggall stressed that she was not ‘anti-golf’. “I’ve played there myself”, she said, “but I have always been of the view that we have to recognise the shortage of playing fields on the Northern Beaches as detailed in the 2017 Infrastructure Report, and we need to improve infrastructure on the Beaches, weighing up the social benefit of change, versus impact.

I am not anti-golf but I have always been of the view that we have to recognise the shortage of playing fields on the Northern Beaches as detailed in the 2017

“The uncomfortable conversation we have to have is that sport as we know it is changing. It’s wonderful that golf and tennis clubs on the Northern Beaches are celebrating their Centenaries, but we have to acknowledge the popularity of relatively more recent sports like Hockey, Netball and AFL too, and consider the needs of everyone involved with those sports.

Warringah MP Zali Steggall at Q-Station. Photo: Alec Smart

“My other main concern is that Balgowlah Boys High, one of the top performing public schools in the State, has been regularly neglected by successive State Governments. It is in urgent need of a rebuild. As an example, students are choosing to cross the road to the service station to use the toilets there, because the facilities at the school are so dreadful.

“And my understanding is that when the Tunnel Project was proposed, the school was promised an upgrade to buildings and playing fields as part of the design for access roads associated with the Tunnel. Then when the project was scrapped, at no point did the Government state that that would also end the redevelopment planned for the school.

“Most interestingly, the Federal Government attributed $50 million to the Tunnel Project in the 2020 Budget for the Balgowlah precinct. Was that money used to acquire properties in Dudley Street (that backs on to the golf course) for a project that’s now no longer going ahead? (If so, those properties have now risen considerably in value.) Was it reallocated to other infrastructure projects? Has the State Government gained a windfall from the demise of the Tunnel Project and if so, shouldn’t some of that money be put towards improving Balgowlah Boys?

“Along with Wakehurst MP, Michael Regan, I’m trying to find the answers to these questions as a matter of urgency. But in the meantime, my position is that we should at least take the time to weigh up the priorities of all local stakeholders before any decision is made on a lease renewal of this Crown Land, opposite the school. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of the majority of the wider community.”

Manly Observer also interviewed Steve Hancock, a member of the Balgowlah Boys High School P&C. It was the P&C who approached Zali Steggall and sparked this discussion. Mr Hancock stressed that the opinions he expressed were his personally and not necessarily the position of the P&C, which will be made official soon.

Steve has had two sons graduate from Balgowlah Boys and his youngest has just started there. His elder boys were at the school when a ceiling collapsed in one of the classrooms, fortunately with no resultant injuries.

“These are buildings from the 1970s that have simply reached the end of their natural life”, said Mr Hancock. “The academic success the school regularly achieves is due to the amazing teaching staff and despite the facilities in which the students are forced to learn. In my opinion, the school needs to be entirely re-built and one way of doing that, would be to use the area opposite the school, currently leased to the Golf Club, as a temporary site for the school, while the current site is completely redeveloped.

The original artist’s impression of the Balgowlah connection and access road for the Northern Beaches Tunnel whoch showed plans for new public space and recreation facilities at the golf club site.

“I feel that a 5-year lease renewal for the Golf Club would put paid to any rebuild of the school in the near future and that there’s a better use for this Crown Land. Council should approve an ongoing rolling 6-month lease to the Club, until the important conversation has been had.

“For me, now that the prospect of the Tunnel Project has ‘wiped the slate clean’ so to speak, it shouldn’t be a case of “let’s just go back to the way it was”. This is an opportunity to meet a pressing community need. It’s not about ‘class’… it’s about classrooms.”

Manly councillor Candy Bingham urged common sense on both sides of the argument, saying: “Normally Council would award a 10-15 year lease for golf clubs to manage Council-owned land, but in this case we’re talking only a 5 year lease renewal.

Candy Bingham

“If the course was to be redeveloped, it would take years of planning and in any case, as far as we know, there is no current funding in place to undertake such a redevelopment at this point in time. To Zali’s point, there’s no doubt that there is a shortage of playing fields on the Beaches. However the discussion as to the future can continue over the term of the lease renewal to decide what’s best for the entire community, including the many members of the public who make use of Balgowlah Golf Course and clubhouse facilities.

“That time can also be spent on developing a plan to increase sporting fields elsewhere so existing viable clubs aren’t impacted.”

The discussion continues.