I just sent my view on this to the consultation and want to share it with my fellow golfers in this forum. I am sure many of you will disagree, but I am also sure that I am not the only one who feel this way.
I am a golfer for redeveloping The Hong Kong Golf Club
I am a concerned Hong Kong citizen and long-time golfer who advocates the conversion of at least part of the current site of the Hong Kong Golf Club (HKGC) for other purposes that would serve more urgent needs of the society such as housing. The HKGC wants to pitch this debate as one between the general golfing community and the rest of the society. This is not only false but also harmful to the public impression and proper development of the sport of golf in Hong Kong.
From my hobbyist perspective (see disclosure at the end), the key questions are: Does the HKGC play a significant and irreplaceable part in my golfing life? Does the HKGC represent the interests of my community? If the HKGC premise partly or completely ceases to exist, will that significantly degrade my golfing experience?
The answers are all NO. If the HKGC is to be run like it is currently being run, the average golfer in Hong Kong will not and should not be perturbed by the conversion of its premise to other uses.
First, the HKGC does not serve nor represent the interests of the Hong Kong general golfing public. It has tried very hard to conjure up that impression but the sad fact is that it only opens up access to its facilities on a very limited and selective basis. It only opens up its three courses on a limited, rotational basis, only on weekdays, and through patronizing and hypocritical gestures such as “Lucky draw open days”. But these are not true openness. Instead they are an arrogant statement that HKGC can dictate when, where, how and how unyieldingly non-members can enjoy its facilities.
Second, the HKGC site is not particularly appealing as a golf course. I have played in two of the three courses there and frankly cannot remember any hole that stands out as a “must play” signature hole, and sometimes even a bit put off by the high rise buildings in the background. As a golfer I find the three Kau Sai Chau (KSC) courses to be far more scenic and carry more variations in their designs. The HKGC courses do have trickier greens but those can be duplicated anywhere.
Third, there are substitutes to the services provided by the HKGC to the general public, and the HKGC fails to fill the facilities gap that the development of this sport needs in Hong Kong. As a KSC regular, I would say that KSC serves my amateurish golfing needs (averaging 3 rounds per month) well, not to mention that we have multiple golf courses in Guangdong and Zhuhai, to which our proudly constructed high-speed rail network will soon reach. As a golf enthusiast, I also fail to see what aspect of golf training or development is so unique to HKGC that it cannot be provided by KSC or other private institutions. The HKGC courses may hold a special place among some loyalists and its members, but from an utilitarian perspective It is an afterthought.
The current setup with the HKGC is a poor and inefficient way to fulfil the “five functions” it claims to provide, namely the historic value of its premises, the preservation of rare species, the hosting of international events, the training of new golfers and the openness of its facilities to the public. To equate keeping the current setup with the fulfilment of these functions is a plain and costly example of either-or fallacy.
For the first two arguments, I am sure there are environmentally-friendly ways to preserve historic relics and rare species, and to make them more accessible to the public, than using three chemicals-filled and tightly-guarded golf courses. For the third argument, all we need is to give the HKGC enough space for the zoning of ONE tournament-worthy golf course, not three non-tournament-worthy ones. Also, with proper investments and arrangements there is no reason why other golf courses cannot fulfil that function, with both Clearwater Bay and Discovery Bay accessible by land.
As for the final two arguments, I would argue the reverse is true. Current HKGC policies handicap golf development by making the sport inaccessible to all but its members and a few hand-picked groups that it chooses to give itself an exaggerated impression of community outreach. The result is that Hong Kong is vastly underrepresented in global top golf scenes, even after adjusting for population. While the HKGC loves to take credit for supporting the one lady we now have on the LPGA, I argue that we would have had far more than one if not for its restrictive access policy. That very lady player actually “started out in the game as a six-year-old at the Tuen Mun Golf Centre, a public driving range” according to HKGA’s own website. This is a telling sign that the true nurturing ground of our new golf stars lies with facilities that are truly and easily accessible to all, not a club that is quick to endorse players after their emergence.
The guiding principle of this general debate should be the minimization of unused resources. Anytime a sport facility sits idle, it is a waste of social resources. If a facility that relies on public subsidy consistently lacks patrons it should be considered for redevelopment, even if the few patrons who use it value it highly. The relevance of this consideration reaches extreme proportion in a sport like golf, where only a few persons can play on a vast expanse of land at any given time. Based on this principle, here are my proposals.
First, the HKGC should give up one of its three courses for redevelopment. There is no conceivable reason why a club of two thousand six hundred members could make even significant use of three golf courses. The HKGC reported an average of 116000 rounds played on its three courses per year between 2012-16. This sounds a lot but it is actually not, considering that that translates to only 30 full flights per day for each course, or a utilization rate of below 70%! This exactly suggests that one of the three courses is sitting idle!
Second, the HKGC has to open up access to its remaining two courses in a fashion similar to KSC. I believe the key issue here is exclusivity. HKGC members should have the priority, but not the exclusive right, of using their facilities. We should have a system to allow HKGC member to make advance booking ahead of the general public before a reasonable period but, once that period lapses, open the booking to the general public for the remaining idle slots for all three courses all year except special occasions. I understand some members may feel too privileged to be in the same flight with non-members, but at least the system should open up flights that are completely empty.
Third, HKGC usage data should be benchmarked against KSC, which is the truly open home course for the majority of Hong Kong golfers and also houses three courses. The management of HKGC should be given a mandate to make sure its usage rate is no worse than KSC. This will give it incentive to adjust its pricing to the general public and so truly fulfil its claim of promoting this sport.