Auckland’s 14 publicly owned golf courses have been in the public eye lately. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub argued that Auckland Council should develop housing on the golf courses:

In June, Eaqub said he wanted the golf courses sold and this was published in a book he had written.

Asked for a more detailed explanation, he said he thought it was wrong to have so many hectares of land tied up in public ownership across the city when that very same city was suffering a desperate shortage of land for residential development…

“It looks like a subsidy for the rich when the council has well-placed land that could be at least partly used to supply significant intensive housing,” Eaqub said.

In early August, the Albert-Eden Local Board released plans to rethink the Chamberlain Park golf course, which occupies 32 hectares of land in Mount Albert:

Albert-Eden Local Board has decided to develop a plan which could reduce the size of the golf course at Chamberlain Park in order to create sports fields, restore a stream and put in public walkways.

Tonight board chairman Peter Haynes denied its chosen basis for developing a masterplan was a “carve up” of the 32ha council-owned public golf course.

“You could say, local board future-proofs open space and recreational opportunities in the local area,” said Mr Haynes.

“What we also did tonight was to approve the starting of a process to work on the western part of the park – naturalising the stream, putting in walkways and cycleways, barbecue areas and playgrounds for the local people.

In other words, Auckland Council’s showing signs of rethinking its publicly-owned golf courses. (Other cities, like Sydney, are also having similar debates.) While the plans under consultation don’t include an option for developing housing on Chamberlain Park, several of them envisage reducing the amount of space devoted to golfing and opening up more space for the general public. This is likely to be a controversial move. But is it a good idea?

I’m going to take a look at the issue in several parts. I’ll lay my cards on the table at the outset: I do not think there is a strong case for Councils to own golf courses. We would be better off to convert public golf courses to a mix of public parks and housing. Privately owned golf courses will still cater for golfers. But don’t just take my word (or Shamubeel’s) for that – let’s take a closer look at the issue.

I want to start by drawing a distinction between public parks and private open spaces, like golf courses. This isn’t an argument that we should find every green space in the city and put an apartment block on it. Public parks, like Maungawhau/Mount Eden, Albert Park, the Waitakere Ranges, and Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill, serve a valuable public role. They provide recreation opportunities that all Aucklanders can freely enjoy. Many people can enjoy public parks at the same time, without preventing others from also enjoying them – witness the crowds that fill out Albert Park, Western Springs Park, or Maungawhau/Mount Eden when events are happening there.

You couldn't hold the Lantern Festival in a Golf Course. (Source: HOTC)
You couldn’t hold Auckland’s Lantern Festival on a golf course. (Source: HOTC)

But golf courses are different: they’re not open to the general public. Entry is limited to paying customers, even at a publicly owned golf course. As a result, the social value of publicly owned golf courses is much more limited – golfers get most of the benefits, and others don’t benefit much at all.

This was highlighted in an excellent Cycle Action Auckland post on Chamberlain Park:

Not only is the park effectively closed to the public, but thanks to lack of foresight by planners many decades back, its fences also present a major barrier to the local community. Numerous streets at the edge of the park finish in dead ends, with no links between them…

At the same time, we have the Northwestern Cycleway (and Walkway) along the northern edge of the path. One of the criticisms we often hear about paths like this is the lack of fine-grained local connectivity. And for this section, it is certainly true. From the Pt Chevalier side, the motorway blocks all access onto the cycleway for 1.5km. The lack of a proper street / path grid at Sutherland Rd and at Chamberlain Park ALSO means that for 1.5km there’s no getting onto the path from the southern side either.

As a consequence, this is the closest that most people can come to experiencing Chamberlain Park: a bike ride along a chain link fence:

CAA NW Cycleway Chamberlain Park
Source: CAA

In a previous Transportblog post on Chamberlain Park golf course, reader B White made a similar observation:

I’ve lived just down the road in Mt Albert on and off for over 30 years and have never set foot in this park. I would quite like to without having to play golf. I submitted to get rid of golf completely but would be happy to compromise to a nine hole course just to get some access to the place before I die.

In short, golf courses are different than public parks in three important ways:

  1. Public parks are free and open to all comers, while golf courses are open to paying customers only.
  2. Public parks can be enjoyed by many people at the same time, whereas only a limited number of people can play on a golf course at any given time.
  3. Well-designed public parks connect communities and give them more enjoyable options for getting around, while golf courses tend to sever neighbourhoods by creating inaccessible voids between them.

Consequently, I would argue that councils should not treat golf courses in the same way that they treat public parks. Councils should provide parks (and potentially other types of sports grounds that offer more open access) as “public goods” that provide social benefits for the city as a whole. But golf courses, which are reserved for the exclusive use of paying golfers rather than being a public good, should be run as businesses on a purely commercial footing.

This would mean, for example, that publicly owned golf courses would have to properly account for all their costs, including the cost of the rather valuable land that they occupy. (I’ll explore this idea further in parts 2 and 3 of the series.) However, it would hardly eliminate golf from Auckland. The city has a total of 39 golf clubs, 14 of which are owned by Council. Even if some publicly-owned golf courses were repurposed, there would still be an abundance of tee times available for golfers. In fact, it’s likely that the remaining golf courses would be more financially sustainable, and thus better able to invest in their facilities, in this case.

What do you think about the value of golf courses as opposed to public parks?

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116 comments

  1. We’ve passed “peak golf” so some sort of change is essential. Either remove some of the golf courses, or develop paths through the courses with golfers giving way to walkers and cyclists (or both). Public golf courses have some value obviously, it’s just that it’s an increasingly poor use of the space. Anyway aren’t all the golfers cycling now?

  2. Thin end of the wedge. Regardless of whether you are a fan of golfing (I’m personally not but that is irrelevant), any repurposing of any current green golfing space into housing is not intelligent. Those who think golf elitist might wish to consider a very simple fact. If golf courses are carved up for anything other than public parks etc (i.e. into housing or commercial building) then there is no going back. That land would be lost forever. And forever is a very long time. And in time to come no-one will love this generation for such thoughtlessness. Shamubeel is wrong. It is not a subsidy for the rich, this land is the fine line between an attractive livable city and a sea of concrete.

    1. Thin end of the wedge is a pretty useless argument, it is an argument to never do anything ever just in case something else might happen some other time somewhere else.

      We can easily do both. You could make a park the size of Victoria Park or Albert Park and it would only cover 20% of a golf course. The remaining 80% could be put to a productive use. It doesn’t have to be housing necessary, you could make a proper public park plus a sports ground with 30 rugby/soccer/hockey fields in that space. I’ve no doubt what would be more use to the public, and what would be more beneficial to sport.

      It is a huge subsidy, not necessarily for the rich but for golf fans. Chamberlain park golf course sits on three quarters of a billion dollars worth of land, yet it pays only $70k in rates each year. Based on what people nearby pay it should be paying $14 million. So us ratepayers are subsidising it to the tune of $13.9 million a year.

      So two questions? Should we be subsidising the use of that land so heavily? And if we are happy to subsidise it for recreation, are we getting the best out of it?

    2. “any repurposing of any current green golfing space into housing is not intelligent”

      If demand for golfing is falling and demand for housing is rising, then it would be really stupid not to consider repurposing the land. Doesn’t mean we have to do it, but to refuse to even think about strikes me as sheer madness.

      “this land is the fine line between an attractive livable city and a sea of concrete”

      If you don’t want Auckland to be a sea of concrete, then perhaps you should advocate for investments in public transport, walking, and cycling that enable people to get around without requiring so much land to be concreted over for roads and parking lots.

    3. +1000 “thin end of the wedge”.. (is that a golfing pun by the way?)

      -1000 re-purposing the land _as housing_

      On the contrary, as demand for housing grows, and our population density increases, our remaining green spaces will become more valuable, though their monetary value may not reflect it. We don’t have enough as it is, parks or active recreation spaces, in the inner city..

      Besides, housing land isn’t really any more accessible than golf courses.

      Build on brownfield sites, or build up. Keep the trees.

      1. I think Peter’s arguing we could have more (accessible) green space *and* more housing if we got the Council out of owning golf courses.

  3. Not all golf courses on council land are closed to the public – at least one (waitemata) remains open to the public at all times, no fences around it and it is used by locals to walk dogs or as a through route. Also several of the 14 are located in semi-rural or rural communities where these issues have much less relevance.

    1. I’m not sure the issues have “much less relevance” in rural areas. If Clarkes Beach golf course is worth several million dollars (which it is), then I want to know that the investment is generating economic benefits that justify that investment. If it’s not, then I want the Council to reinvest in something more worthwhile. Like libraries etc.

      The benefit/cost test should still apply.

  4. Golf courses are able to be used by the public, you just got to pay as they cost money to run. The same as swimming pools, sports fields and other public services. Why don’t they start knocking down the council pools, library, gym and start building on them as well. You could fit a lot of homes on takapuna swimming pool land with beautiful outlooks. Just cos you don’t like golf or can’t afford to pay doesn’t mean you can dictate what other people should do.

    1. Why don’t they start knocking down council pools etc? Because the’re would be little to gain. You couldn’t fit a lot of homes on Takapuna swimming pool. It only covers about 2000sqm of land. So maybe four houses on smallish sections, or one block of apartments. But I do like your idea. Why not have apartments above the swimming pool? They have a cinema above the pool in Newmarket.

      Meanwhile your typical golf course takes up 40 hectares, that’s 400,000sqm. You could fit every swimming pool, library, museum and playground in Auckland into a single golf course, and still have room for nine holes. That’s how much land they take up.

      It’s not one library equals one golf course FFS! You would need five hundred libraries to free up the same room as one golf course.

    2. “you just got to pay as they cost money to run” – But that is a circular argument. They only cost money to run because they are kept as golf courses. They take a huge amount of work to keep the greens and fairways in the right condition. If they were normal parks the cost would be far less.

    3. “Golf courses are able to be used by the public, you just got to pay as they cost money to run.”

      Two comments.

      1. You could easily rephrase this as “Supermarkets are able to be used by the public, you just have to pay money to shop there.” Based on your logic here, doesn’t that imply that all supermarkets should be publicly owned?

      2. The greens fees charged by public golf clubs don’t cover the full cost of providing the space. As I will discuss in the next two posts, greens fees are insufficient to (a) provide any return whatsoever on the land or (b) pay fair value rates.

  5. Hagley Park in Christchurch contains an operating golf course and any random person can wander through, at the risk of getting clobbered by a high speed missile.

    1. A small part of Hagley Park – a small part that everyone knows is not really open as you can be hit by a golf ball. So effectively that part of the park is closed to the public – exactly the issue being addressed.

      1. People don’t tend to traipse across the Hagley greens themselves, but there is a major cycleway/walkway that runs right through the middle of it (probably the busiest in the city) – and it’s about to get busier with the opening of the new Matai St East cycleway crossing. Over in east Christchurch there’s also a pathway running through the middle of the Rawhiti public golf course too.

        Yes, you can still argue over the merits of whether the golf course should be there at all, but it is certainly possible to mix them with other users.

        1. Just checked on Google maps and you are right, there are two paths that go straight through., I used to use those a lot and to be honest never realised they went through middle of golf course – i thought it was along edge. Though I do remember being worried about golf balls.

          I don’t see that on many public courses – most are cut off to through access.

  6. This is something that sprang to mind last year when looking at the golf course along the NW, high fenced with lots of land, strange to see it not developed into something more useful for an urban setting.

    Other large-space recreation such as hunting or hiking etc usually requires you to go out of an urban setting e.g. to an rural or semi-rural area, not sure why golf is excluded.

    Though will up car usage as rural areas of Auckland have either no or extremely poor PT.

    1. Virtually every golf course in Auckland was built in the first half of the twentieth century on the then-outskirts of the urban area (Titirangi, the Grange, Auckland, even Akarana and Maungakiekie). It isn’t their fault that the city has sprawled around them.

      1. Sure but for some reason they have negated the intensification, if it were privately owned I am sure they would’ve sold it to developers by now. I have nothing against golf, but that sort of space could be better used, be it housing or a multi-use park for the community etc. Something like a large golf-course needs to be in an area where land is less valued.

        1. All of the courses I mentioned are privately owned (certainly the first three)…IIRC most of the clubs based on council land are near the edge of, or outside, the urban area.

    2. “…strange to see it not developed into something more useful for an urban setting…”

      Define “useful”. I cycle past the Chamberlain course every day, twice. It is busy from first light with people playing golf before work and in the evening before dusk after work. I imagine they find it very “useful”.

      1. Useful as in a useful use for the land, 30-odd people in a massive space playing golf, a recreational activity vs 100 terraced houses or apartments. I am sure they find it useful for playing golf, why wouldn’t they?

  7. I’m not sure if the cost of using the facitlity is relevant.

    You have to pay to go and see a show at the Town Hall or Aotea Centre or Civic, or to go attend a great number of events that are held on public land, so I don’t really see how that is an argument against public golf courses.

    Of course, the land use issue is something different, and the plans for Chamberlain Park look like a reasonable compromise. But golf courses, public or private, aren’t to blame for any of Auckland’s issues, and as has been said above most of the courses that are built on public land are on the fringes of the urban area and are hardly an impediment to the sort of land use that this blog advocates.

  8. “…I do not think there is a strong case for Councils to own golf courses…” Ah, the libertarian is strong is this one! What about MOTAT? Why not bulldoze that as well? After all, plenty of people think the council shouldn’t own museums either.

    Closing public golf course is simply another regressive attack on the lifestyle options of low to middle income earners. Some one said upthread that golf is an “elitist sport” I call bullshit on that, at least in NZ. Do you want to make golf a really elitist sport in this country? Easy, close all the cheap public golf courses, carve them up into expensive housing for rich investors, and let the low to middle income players eat cake at $$$ a day green fee private courses at some country club miles away. Personally, I don’t see why a council shouldn’t own golf courses that allow everyone who want to play the sport the opportunity to do so – that is part of the Kiwi dream. There is a LOT more intensification of housing that can go on with encroaching on public facilities like a golf courses and parks.

    1. Agreed.
      I think Chamberlain Park should be left as is. There is no other “public” course nearby, only expensive private courses.
      For some reason North Shore golf courses at Waitemata (Devonport), Pupuke and Takapuna receive more of a defence.

    2. I think your analogy is lame.

      MOTAT (and other such facilities) deliver education, which in turn has positive spillovers for society.

      Golf courses provide recreational activities to people who play golf. The positive spillovers would likely be relatively small in comparison.

      So to suggest that the same argument applies between the two is just, well, a pretty pathetic criticism actually.

      1. And of course the fact the two aren’t an equivalent comparison. Motat covers just under one hectare and according to someone below, gets 250,000 visits a year.

        The golf course covers 32 hectares and gets 50,000 users a year.

        A golf course is absolutely huge, that is the fundamental difference.

  9. Whenever I make the argument that council should not own golf courses because they exclude the public and therefore do not provide a ‘public good’, someone always replies that sports fields are the same. Sports fields do partially exclude the public when a game is on but they are different from golf courses in 3 ways:

    1. With a football field the public can use the field when a game is not on. This is not the case with golf courses which have to exclude the public permanently for maintenance reasons.

    2. The public can watch the game from the sideline and walk around the field when a football game is on. Again this is not the case with golf courses.

    3. A football game allows a lot more people to benefit from the space. A single golf hole is a at least as a big as one football pitch. At any one time only one group of players (maybe four people) can use a golf hole where as a football game involves at least 22 players.

    As the cost of land increases the opportunity cost of council owning golf courses increases too. It might not cost much for a rural council to own a golf course but when Auckland Council has some of the most expensive land in the country as golf courses priorities need to be re-examined.

    People who want Council to keep the golf courses always seem to use some kind of slippery slope argument. “If they take the golf courses next they’ll be taking your child’s primary school”.

      1. Yes. You must have missed the part when I said:

        “Sports fields DO PARTIALLY EXCLUDE THE PUBLIC when a game is on but they are different from golf courses in 3 ways:”

        1. Except when a game finishes, members of the public can’t use that field to play another game (without going through the booking process)

          In other words, particular uses are privileged, particular uses are charged. Same as a golf course.

          1. “Except when a game finishes, members of the public can’t use that field to play another game”

            Except that they CAN and they DO.

            If you want to have a real sports match, then yes, you do need to book (or risk being kicked off the field halfway through), but people use sports fields in public parks all the time. They kick balls around, and play frisbee, or sit, eat, read a book, or lie on the grass. You can’t go to Chamberlain park and say “ooh, nobody’s playing on the 5th hole right now, do you want to throw a ball around?”

        2. There are a bunch of interesting issues this post raises

          – First, what should the government own? Obviously, everything. Rather than privatise more i.e. hiving off land to filthy kulak property developers, we need to actually own more publicly.
          – Second, the entire red herring about how Auckland “needs housing more than golf courses”. That’s like saying that population is a black hole, a force of nature. Policy is not a simple action-reaction cycle – maybe we don’t need more housing, maybe we need more golf courses and the extra people can go off to Tauranga?
          – More playgrounds? MORE *#*#ing playgrounds? I’m sorry but Auckland is CHOCKA with playgrounds. What Auckland does lack is good, flat, well-drained sports fields where people can run/sprint/ play sport without going up hill and down dale or get their ACL blown by a dip in the ground. With well-marked 400m tracks and sprint lanes too.

          1. “maybe we don’t need more housing, maybe we need more golf courses and the extra people can go off to Tauranga?”

            Ah, the classic solution – a big fence around the city and a sign that says “FUCK OFF, WE’RE FULL”.

            Someone alert the authorities, Early Commuter has solved the housing crisis!!

    1. I live near Grey Lynn Park. It is full of sports fields but also has a whole network of connecting routes, both formal and informal, for all other users. I love walking through through when games are on, and there is no exclusion caused by either use. Golf courses are not like this. Also people can and do use them informally for sport as well as formally. It’s a good balance. Oh Cox’s Bay is the same, and both are connected by walkways.

      Golf is in a league of its own in terms of exclusive and land hungry use.

      1. ^ This. Exactly the problem with golf, uniquely. Colin Maiden Park is another good example of the opposite of a golf course. Roughly the same size, and plenty of organised, active recreation gong on: rugby, cricket, netball, tennis, football.. you name it.. but also plenty of interconnections: access and space for dog walkers, runners, informal enjoyment of the green space.. chuck a frisbee, fly an R/C plane, whatever, just passing the time listening to the birds. Try doing that on a golf course, even after hours.

    2. Frank,

      1, there is always a golf game on, $30 a round is low cost and it is pretty well utilised.
      2, There is small cafeteria at the clubhouse where the public can come and watch the games.
      3, You’re completely wrong. In a soccer game the pitch is exclusively utilised by 22 players for about 2 hours – 11/hr. A golf hole is exclusively used by 4 players for about 7.5 minutes – 32/hr.

      1. “A golf hole is exclusively used by 4 players for about 7.5 minutes – 32/hr.”

        It takes about 3 hours to play 18 holes. During that entire time those four players are occupying an entire hole. They may be changing holes but they’re occupying a hole worth of space for the entire round.

        180 minutes for $32 = $10.66/ hour

        1. Yeah, sorry my apologies you’re right.

          There are 90 players entering a golf course every 3 hours – 30 per hour. There are 22 soccer players entering a pitch every 2 hours – 11 per hour. A fully utilised golf course is equivalent to just under 3x fully utilised soccer pitches.

          Not space efficient, but potentially higher utilisation would make up the difference.

      2. A golf course is the same size as 40 soccer fields, not one. So 32 golfers an hour or 440 football players an hour…

        1. Chamberlain is a lot busier than average, because it costs less. And the comparison is not against perfection, but against a football field. .

          1. It is pretty safe to assume Chamberlain Park gets better utilisation than 40 football fields would in the same position. There are about 10 fields in the area already not being used most of the time.

            Should be simple to do though just survey how many people use Chamberlain Park compared to Fowlds Park, 100 m across the road.

        2. Im pretty sure all sports fields are fairly under-utilised between 9am and 5pm during a work week. Golf course utilisation tends to be measured encompassing all day light hours whereas sports field utilisation is assessed during evenings and weekends only.

    3. Frank M – Statement 1 is not correct in the case of Pupuke Golf Course. There is no exclusion. I have walked across it many times without any problems and it can be a most enjoyable experience so close to home.

      Personally I would rather see us put our efforts into “brownfield” redevelopment.

      1. ok that’s one golf course you’re allowed through but its not true for most.

        Where do we have 32 ha of brownfield inner city land waiting to be redeveloped?

        1. Yes Frank – I agree that brownfield redevelopment is much harder but should be more satisfying, especially if we get a more beautiful city as the result.
          In my view, good design and aesthetic architectural beauty is really worth something. The irony of course, is that beautiful surroundings are often the result of elitism.

  10. What is it about golf courses that makes some people want to swallow them up for other purposes. They are just one part of a mix of things that attracts people to want to live in Auckland. Okay, so some people who call themselves economists might not see their value simply because they can’t enter a dollar and cents value into their laptops, but life is much more than dollars and cents.

    1. “What is it about golf courses that makes some people want to swallow them up for other purposes.”

      Council provides a range of services to the public. These all cost money but can usually be justified because they provide a “public good”. When a golf course sits on 750 million dollars worth of land, and excludes everyone who hasn’t paid $30, that cost is high and the public good minimal. Wouldn’t it be better for council to spend $750 million on something that is actually open to the public?

    2. “What is it about golf courses that makes some people want to swallow them up for other purposes.”

      I’m talking about publicly owned golf courses, not all golf courses. If someone wants to golf, that’s their business, not mine… which is why I don’t see there being a rationale for governments to provide them with subsidised golf courses.

      1. You can use this arguments against theatre and the performing arts, etc, all of which we subsidise. I don’t mind the discussion but there has to be some degree of even-handedness about it.

        Also, the sports field arguments are going to get interesting if more clubs start using artificial turf pitches, which tend to be fenced off by default.

        1. If the Civic Theatre occupied 32 hectares of land, I’d be writing about how that wasn’t a great use of land or public money. But it doesn’t, so I’m not.

          1. The area of the Aotea Centre alone is 4.8ha at its current height. That’s not a small area for something bang in the middle of the City.

          2. Council’s GIS Viewer says that it’s 2.76 hectares, including the park out front and the carparking building. The land is valued at $3,300/m2, and the centre pays $1.1 million in rates.

            By comparison, Chamberlain Park occupies 32.3 hectares of land, is valued at $65/m2, and pays $97,000 in rates.

            So while I see your point – and I would definitely encourage civic facilities like Aotea Centre to use their land responsibly! – there is a huge difference between the two.

          3. Victory Church Carpark & Convention Centre on Beaumont St occupies 1.78 hectares of land valued at $1460/m2 and pays zero rates despite operating a commercial carpark and convention centre.

            I guess the scheme of things $97k from the golf course is pretty good compared with zero from the carpark and convention centre.

    3. Because, as Patrick said, golf is in a league of its own in exclusive and land-hungry use.
      To the folks raising thin end of the wedge arguments (‘they’ll want to take the swimming pool next etc’): remember that ‘similar’ does not mean ‘the same’. There are analogies with other public facilities, but they are bad analogies, because golf is in a league of its own in exclusive and land-hungry use.

    4. “They are just one part of a mix of things that attracts people to want to live in Auckland” – if they can find a house to live in…

  11. I am reminded of what happened to the land that used to be Coopers Beach Motor Camp. now it is an empty playground for the very rich where as it used to be a playground for a huge number of campers every summer gone but never to be reclaimed. Open space in a city should remain until a very convincing argument can be put up for it to be converted to houses. currently i am not convinced. Golf courses can be repurposed but not for houses. As for’ peak Golf’ It will probably return. As for elitist the families that used to play on our golf course came from all over south auckland, not just Papakura. People need to be sure of the social effect of their actions and have solid data sets before they use words like elitist.

    1. As I will discuss in the next post, there _is_ a very convincing argument, which is that people would get approximately 9 times as much value out of the golf course if it was converted to a mix of housing and public parks.

      Also, read carefully: I never called golf “elitist”. In fact, the only people who have used the word “elitist” here are people who are pre-emptively defending golf against non-existent charges of elitism.

    2. The post is not saying the land should necessarily be used for housing, just not for gold so everyone can use it. Currently the area is effectively blocked off unless you pay a green fee.

      Same situation with the gold course on Lake Road in Devonport. The majority of the land is taken up by the golf course which may only have a few people at a time on it.

      1. A lot of the golf course on lake road is below sea-level, it is all part of a reclaimed swamp and is regularly flooded (I have seen people kayak through it). Hardly a good place for housing if Christchurch is anything to go by.

        1. OK I will try one more time to make the point.

          The point is not that it should be turned into housing. The point is that golf courses are not very accessible for the majority of people and sit fallow much of the time. It would be better if they were turned into general public parks that everyone could use anytime.

          It is not a golf course or housing binary choice.

  12. For me, as a golfer, these public-owned courses are the only way I can afford to play golf.

    In a sense, ideas like these, on a large scale, could effectively make one of our most popular sports “elitist”.

    Just a thought.

      1. Thanks for the insight…..

        Most other countries, sure, but we are fortunate enough for it to be far from elitist in this country.

        It is the sport with the most registered players in NZ, with a large youth player base. A high number of golf courses per capita and the fact that there are publicly owned golf courses at all are two contributing reasons for this.

        If you take away the competition these courses create, then it has the potential to become elitist. In Auckland anyway.

        Something worth discussion.

        1. Well, it’s not quite like Augusta National here, but golf is predominately played by people that are white, male and older. And its participation lags way way behind other activities that compete for the same space like walking, cycling and running (across all age groups)

          1. well said. I don’t really like terms like “elitist” as it sets up a false dichotomy. On the other hand, it seems to be that golf is played by people who are, on average, older and wealthier than the average person?

    1. I don’t know whether golf in New Zealand is “elitist” or not. (Whatever that means.) I haven’t gone looking for statistics on the demographics of golfers.

      But if you don’t mind me asking: Why is it important for golf to not be “elitist”?

      1. I use “elitist” due to it’s previous mention in the comments section; alluding to the idea that golf is restricted to an elite group.

        Although I am an advocate for these spaces to be split use, by which we can maximize land in areas without much greenery, I consider the “sell and plonk houses on em” approach very short sited; filling a need of the here and now, as apposed to truly considering the benefits that these spaces can provide.

        Golf is traditionally a rich mans sport, and the fact we have publicly owned courses is one of the key factors in keeping green-fees somewhat affordable. Some of the uses suggested here have the ability to kick-start an indirect gentrification which will not be well received among the golfing community. Considering we live in a city in which home ownership is (and likely always will be) unaffordable, and a country that places a large emphasis on sport, it would be good if we can figure a way to keep prices of certain recreational activities low.

        No, I’m not right, And yes, it’s a little melodramatic, but it will be an argument brought up when these ideas eventuate. Especially full commercialization.

        1. “I consider the “sell and plonk houses on em” approach very short sited; filling a need of the here and now”

          The quality and availability of housing has long-term effects on people. For example, living in a mouldy or damp house as a kid is probably going to give you permanent health issues and impede your ability to get an education. Increasing the supply of decent houses can bring long-lasting benefits by allowing some people to get out of unhealthy houses.

          Also, I’m not sure why you think housing is solely a “need of the here and now”. Unless Auckland’s population suddenly stops growing, we’re going to be dealing with these trade-offs for the foreseeable future.

          1. Yes, quality housing is very important. But unfortunately, fulling up every space possible – regardless of having the infrastructure to deal with it or not – is not going to get rid of moldy houses, or increase the supply so much as to cope with the growing city. If anything, you would assume we need more shared green spaces with the increased population! 😉

            We should be concentrating on proper intensification in areas that can cope it: rethinking height restrictions, incentivizing true medium density development etc. Fixing issues such as dampness in current housing would also be a good place to start.

            These spaces can’t be bought back (well, at a reasonable price anyway), and will prove a valuable resource in the future.

          2. That’s a fair enough position!

            I agree that the value of public parks may rise in the future as the city grows. But how much should we value that? I don’t think that it makes sense to assert that the value is infinite, but putting any finite value on it implies that we would be willing to give that up to obtain other benefits (including an increase in housing supply). So what’s your number?

  13. If the golf courses want to occupy that land they should be paying a decent level of rent, If they can’t afford the rent then they should merge with another club and relocate to the outskirts of town.

  14. This was highlighted in an excellent Cycle Action Auckland post on Chamberlain Park:

    Cycle Action Auckland complaining about having publically subsidised facilities to indulge hobbyists?

    1. Leave your NZ preconceptions at the door. Cycling is not a sport or a hobby – it is a way of getting from A to B. Just like the bus or walking.

      The cycling you mean is to riding a bike for transport as jogging is to walking down to the shops for a bottle of milk.

      When we grow cycling in NZ it will mostly include people in everyday clothes going somewhere. The lycra wearing sports cyclists are already on the road and unlikely to grow beyond the 1-2% we see now. You can see that in any city that has got to 5% or more.

      For example, cycling in Vienna last month there were cyclists everywhere but the same number of helmet and lycra wearing cyclists as in NZ – maybe 10% of total cyclists.

    2. Yes, it is time to stop subsidising the lifestyle choices of single occupant vehicle hobbyists and get them onto public transport and bicycles.

      They delayed me on my bicycle commute by 10 minutes this morning!

      1. The “lifestyle hobbyists” of Auckland are a protected species whose existence is deemed sacrosanct to our lives as an Auckland citizen. “Lifestyle hobbyists” in their cars are encouraged in their 10s of 1000s to take longer commutes and extend their presence to all corners of greater Auckland. Productive and viable farmland must be given over to the “lifestyle hobbies” of these car drivers at ever increasing rates.

        Any suggestion that we might extend bus services outwards, whilst providing a denser choice of accommodation, to reduce this car driving plague is frowned upon most forcefully.

        But I fear we are drifting off topic.

  15. Totally agree. No public gold courses because they end up only being for the rich few with disposable income. Yes they are heavily subsidised for so few people it just isn’t worth it. No housing either, once sold it is lost forever. Just parks, playgrounds and sports fields with lots of walk/bike paths through connecting communities.

    1. “No housing either, once sold it is lost forever. Just parks, playgrounds and sports fields with lots of walk/bike paths through connecting communities.”

      I don’t agree with the assumption that anything that has not been built on to date should be left that way for ever. Golf courses use a huge amount of space and it is not clear we need exactly that amount of land as open space. We need to be looking at what is currently in that area and what is needed most. Central areas of Auckland especially are well provided for with open space but desperately need more land for housing.

      We could also use some of the land for parks and some of it for housing. If you only developed half a course into housing and the other half was converted to park that would be a huge addition to the city’s public open space.

      “Once it is built on it is gone forever” is not a strong argument either. You could conversely say “once it is preserved as open space it is lost as housing land forever.

      1. ““Once it is built on it is gone forever” is not a strong argument either. You could conversely say “once it is preserved as open space it is lost as housing land forever.”

        Frank, once we cover the land with houses, it is almost impossible to turn it back into a public park. The cost would make it impossible. So yes, it is pretty much gone forever. As long as we have the public land we can still turn it into housing or something else.

        But yes, I suppose we could do some half/half development and still kept some large parks.

        1. but Frank’s critique of your logic is valid: “The once we use it we lose it argument” could be extended ad infinitum. If (as you imply) you’re open to converting the land to housing at some point in the future, then you should at least outline the criteria by which you will decide that the conversion should occur.

          What do you mean when you say “as long as we have the public land we can still turn it into housing or something else”? What criteria would you use? I think that’s the most interesting part of this debate which everyone seems to be over-looking. Peter is not necessarily saying we should sell-off and develop every golf course.

          What he is saying (I think) is that we should carefully examine what the benefits and costs of owning golf courses are, and if the costs exceed the benefits then we should perhaps reconsider how we use that space.

  16. During my teens in the UK, we lived on the edge of a large tract of public common land, part of which included an 18-hole golf-course. I have no idea what the ownership/lease arrangements for this golf-course were, but it was un-fenced and available for the public to stroll around. I think there were notices for walkers to “please keep off the greens”, and “check for players teeing-off before crossing the fairways” etc. Players would generally shout “Fore!” to announce their intention to drive.

    My memories are that this open arrangement worked well and enabled more than just the golfers to benefit from the amenity. I used to enjoy wandering around it watching people play, enjoying the tranquility etc. Whether it is still open-access like it was back then I don’t know. I left the area 40 years ago. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpenden_Common_Golf_Club )

    In my view this kind of open-access would be an acceptable compromise for golf-courses on public land? Get rid of the fences and create appropriate walking routes through them.

  17. A nine hole course with driving range and reappropriation of the rest of the land to other open space activities is such an obvious solution. Probaly stick the golf course in the middle and provide walking/cycling loop around for recreation and dog walking.

  18. a few things to note:
    1) As Auckland grows and densifies it will require more public green space – the costs of buying land for green space goes up every year.
    2) Owning land and using it as a golf course is a form of public land banking for future green space/parks. Currently that land isn’t needed for this purpose as our parks aren’t exactly bursting but would be required in future.
    3) So rather than just having extra unneeded parks now using them as golf course at least brings in revenue to help offset the cost of council land banking for future parks.
    4) Nothing stopping these golf courses being converted to parks etc in the future.

    All that said there really should be an effort to maximise use of these courses in terms of using spare space for public fields etc, and they should have access ways where possible to allow people to use the course to shortcut between one side to the other (e.g between fairways).
    Some of the parks that perhaps aren’t well located or in an area that could do with some high density development could be considered to have a small area re-purposed towards housing (provided the proceeds for this go to the council and not the developers!). For example AF Thomas Park could probably find some strips of land that would be suitable for high density apartments with access to Smales Farm NEX station. The North Shore is however somewhat lacking in green space compared to most other parts of Auckland so I wouldn’t want to see this park sold off.

    1. In my travels I have from time to time found parks of various sorts, generally in heavily populated areas that look tired and worn out because of overuse. They are just used by too many people because that is all they have close by.
      I think this applies to Washington Square in New York and even to parts of Central Park.
      My point is that those areas were probably very pleasant years ago when they served a much smaller population than they do now. And it is not possible to double or triple the size of Washington Square now.
      This is not an economic argument for the present day which is probably not winnable, but there is a need to retain substantial open areas for future citizens.
      So sometimes there is a need to throw out decisions made or to be made purely on economic grounds, especially for what is going to be New Zealand’s only city of scale.
      Note: I am not suggesting that this sort of decision should be applied to construction of the RonS where a much more hard nosed consideration and decision is required

      1. Hi Warren, Bruce

        I think you’re raising an important issue, which is that preserving public open spaces for future use has a value that is not necessarily reflected in current prices/current levels of use.

        I’ve been grappling with how to account for this in a somewhat sensible way. This is difficult for two reasons:
        1. There is inherent uncertainty about what people will do / how they will value things in the future. If you look back two decades, it was definitely uncertain that Auckland would get as much value out of its run-down and underused rail network as it does today!
        2. Future outcomes aren’t generally valued as highly as present outcomes, but how much should we discount the future? (This is a broader question that doesn’t just affect how we think about golf courses.)

        Definitely a few things to think about…

        1. Yes Peter. You make the point about our run down rail network very well. If only we had been a bit more protective of railway land and ensured that all 100% of some important potential routes had not been given over completely to motorways etc.
          The reality of course, is that we have to start with what we have but we also to have a sensible long term vision.

          I worry when I hear people like Jordan Williams on week-end morning television wanting to get rid of railway because it is a dog (his words) and indicating that this is Treasury’s view, all of which make me wonder about the competency, quality and vision ability of that organisation. Is this stuff peer reviewed before publication?

  19. Sure, make golf course fully value accountable, rates etc. But make sure you apply same rules to ALL parks, rugby fields, school grounds, roads etc

  20. I’m totally in favour of converting some of these into public parks. One of the problems I have with many of the parks in Auckland is that they’re not even parks – they’re sports fields with trees around their edges. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have a picnic in the middle of a rugby field. London has some really beautiful parks Auckland would do good trying to emulate.

    1. And I don’t want to do my sprint training around small children, kids, and playgrounds either. And thus I have to go to a school field because the council doesn’t provide me a field I can do my training on

  21. With specific regard to Chamberlain, I think it would be good to open it up to more public use but perhaps put a hold on in-fill housing. The 9-hole course seems a good compromise to opening up the rest as a green lung for greater use.

    If I understand the numbers correctly from an earlier post, it caters for 50,000 rounds of golf a year – 136 a day. But the number of repeat players could be in the 000’s. So the amount of people actually using this course is way less than 50,000 in a year. So its a subsidy being provided to what is relatively a small group of people.

    Disclosure: I am a particularly keen and bad – in equal measure – golfer.

  22. Western Springs Park (including the zoo carpark, the speedway and the field between Stadium Rd and the Bullock Track) is approximately the same size as the open space in Chamberlain Park (~35 hectares on Google Earth).

    According to a NZ Herald article from 2008, the Pasifika festival attracts over 200,000 visitors, and I’m sure it has grown since then (although I am aware this year’s festival was held elsewhere).

    Grey Lynn Park is about 10 hectares, and the festival there attracts 100,000 people.

    Your average public park may not be packed with people every day, but they can host events like these (and an array of smaller events as well), which totally dwarf the annual usage of a public golf course. In contrast, the fairly constant trickle of people playing on a golf course represents the course pretty much running at maximum capacity.

  23. People here saying golf is a sport dominated by a few rich white middle aged people are probably just repeated a stereotype they have in their heads. Observing those actually playing the sport, there is a much greater diversity, with Asians, and, surprise surprise, Polynesians and Maoris just as prominent in the sport. True, the recreational golfer is probably in the 30-plus age bracket, but many are retired sportsmen and women of all races.

  24. If the decision to turn a golf course into a subdivision rests on whether people can freely enjoy it then we should also build apartments on Western Springs Stadium, Mt Smart Stadium, North Harbour Stadium, public pools, public gyms, any sports club that has club rooms on public land, many Plunket rooms, any pony clubs on public land, cultural centres on public land, MOTAT, and the Zoo. So why are golf courses being singled out again?

    1. Because (once again), they are a very inefficient use of land, for how many people use them.

      Motat is about 1/3 the size of Chamberlain Park, and received about 250,000 visitors in the 2013/14 year.

      Mount Smart Stadium is about 2/3 the size of Chamberlain Park, and might host 1/3 or more of Chamberlain Park’s annual visitors for a single event.

      The issue is not that it is public land you have to pay to access, the issue is that the council is maintaining a service that relatively few people can and do use, and which occupies a very large amount of land.

      I’m cautious about building a lot of housing on what open space we have in the city, but from where I’m sitting, houses still seem like a better use of this public land than golf.

  25. Takapuna Golf Club represents a fantastic location for intensive housing. It must be possible to link it to Smales Farm from whence inhabitants can easily access Wairau Park, Albany and Takapuna using public transport Such developments would offer a real incentive for greater connectivity on The Shore where you can imagine light metro not just moving people to the City, but all around the Shore.

  26. Roads aren’t communal spaces because of the constant danger of high speed projectiles maiming or killing you. Golf courses on the other hand…

    I think it’s fair to say that golf courses use so much land they should not be urban facilities. But there are more sophisticated options than just plonking housing down. A lot of small sports clubs are barely viable but can’t grow to a more sustainable scale because they’re hemmed in by housing. Golf course land offers a huge opportunity to land-swap and consolidate small sports clubs. Any land vacated by these clubs would be eminently suitable for housing.

  27. Golf courses like Chamberlain Park and Takapuna are council owned open space that is leased to a private operator to run a golf course. They have an open space zoning in the district plan. In this respect, they are much the same as other sports clubs located on open space land (e.g. soccer, rugby, cricket usually will play on a public park with a lease from council) although obviously the scale of a golf course will be larger and it will be a more exclusive use.

    The argument about best recreation use of open space – whether it be for golf, soccer, rugby, picnicking, etc is open for debate (i.e. golf is a low intensity use in terms of numbers of people able to use the land at one time so should the council be looking to get more people using the park?).

    However, if the council did end a golf course lease on open space land then the land would just be a regular park. It would then be the same as other large parks in Auckland (Auckland Domain, Cornwall Park, Keith Hay Park, Western Springs etc). So rather than limiting the argument to just selling “council owned golf courses for housing”, should the question be “Why doesn’t council sell some of its large parks for housing?” (as this is what the underlying nature of the golf courses are).

    That is really the question, and the question around golf is really a side issue .

    If Auckland Domain had a 9-hole golf course on it, would we be saying “sell it for housing” or just asking the question about what a better recreation use it could have?

  28. Am I cynical or do some of the anti Golf Course – sell ’em off for housing comments come from people with hidden agendas? I would have to wonder if commentators such as Frank McRae work within the construction industry?
    The Council do not own the Golf Courses it owns the land they occupy, or manages it on behalf of the Crown. If you want to sell off the land for housing then sell off all Public spaces. Pupuke Golf Club has 2 – 300 people of all ages and socio economic groups playing on any given weekend, probably more participants than many sporting clubs which occupy Council or Crown land.

    1. Hi Rex

      No I do not work in the construction industry. And if I did it would be probably better for me if we continued to use our land inefficiently so that prices remain high. Housing unaffordability is ruining Auckland, I can’t afford a house myself and I find it crazy that we squander so much land pandering to existing homeowners, special interests groups, and those that dislike any kind of change. So that is the motivation behind the positions I adopt.

      What’s your motivation? An existing homeowner protecting your patch at the expense of everyone else?

      And I’m not even going to explain how stupid your strawman “well lets sell all the parks then” is. Ive already done that in previous comments.

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