Local councils should not be too hasty to close down golf courses

By Dean Murphy
New Zealand Golf Chief Executive


As part of our leadership role for golf in New Zealand, we are increasingly being asked to lead discussions around the future provision of golf facilities across the country.
Often the discussion is raised when golf clubs are looking to amalgamate or re-develop. However, more recently we have seen a number of local council authorities start to look at what the long-term picture for golf looks like in their region.
For our part, we are enthusiastically embracing the discussions in this area and putting extra resource into this space. Our driver is to ensure there is an evidence-based approach to any discussions and that the very best outcomes for golf can be achieved.
As you would expect, this is a reasonably emotive topic on many fronts and an area where many people have strong opinions.
In my experience a great deal of the discussion in this area, particularly from people outside the golf sector, is based on a complete lack of knowledge and devoid of any factual information.
Local politicians have, historically, been particularly guilty of this with it not being uncommon to see reckless inaccurate assumptions and statements made about the game of golf and its future.
In many cases, golf seems to have a target on its back and I have seen many discussions start with the assumption that golf is a dying game and that its land must be re-purposed for other uses. This is not a great preconception for decision makers to have and something we are working very hard on changing.
While there is no doubt that on many fronts the game of golf is evolving and the future network of golf facilities in New Zealand will be different than what it is today, jumping to conclusions that golf courses need to be turned into sports fields or housing is an ill-informed step too far for me.
The evidence from most developed golf markets in the world is that we are likely to see a slight consolidation of traditional membership clubs (particularly in rural areas) and an increase in the provision of shorter courses, practice facilities and technology based venues.
To bring this topic to life, take the city of Auckland as an example. There has been a great deal of public comment from local politicians and others about the need to alter and reduce the number of golf courses in the city. Despite the counter intuitive nature of this argument, (if 12-15 percent of the population are golfers and the city of Auckland is to double over the next 20 years, surely more, not less golfing facilities will be needed), the discussion has been developing in the public domain largely without any reference to facts or evidence.
To address this specific issue, New Zealand Golf together with the local golf associations, the local regional sports trusts and Auckland council have collaborated to develop an Auckland plan for golf. This plan will be published prior to Christmas and will provide a clear evidence based plan for the future of golf in the Auckland region. In our view, this is a critical piece of work which in time will need to be replicated in all regions throughout the country.
Golf has a strong future in this country. However, robust strategy and leadership is needed to ensure that any decisions made are based on facts and evidence and have the best long term interests of the game in mind.