Grafton's little golf course headed for year-end close
GOLF: For 93-year-old Stan Hanna the decision to close the Westlawn Golf Course at the end of the year could mean the end of his golf playing days.
Last week the Grafton District Services Club met with members of the GDSC men's and women's golf clubs to confirm it had decided not to renew its lease on the course.
Club president Warren Tozer said the board had voted not to renew the lease on purely financial grounds and out of fairness to the bulk of the club membership.
He said the golf course had cost the club $151,596 to maintain in 2018-19 and the costs were increasing, while member use of the course was declining.
"It wasn't a decision the club made lightly,” he said. "We met with the club members, and the Clarence River Jockey Club, who we lease the land off, to let them know the club decision.”
Mr Tozer said the club had more than 8000 members of which 246 were registered with its golf club and of those about 60 were active.
"When you divide the amount of money we're losing on the course by the number of its members, it's just not fair to the bulk of our membership,” Mr Tozer said.
For many golf course users financial matters come second to the value the club gives them in their twilight years.
Twice a week, Mr Hanna drives his golf buggy-cum-mobility scooter from his Cranworth St home across the road for a round of golf, often with his fellow nonagenarian Ray Cooksley.
"I won't play on the big course,” Stan said. "It's too steep, it's too long and it's too difficult.”
"When they close the little course down that will be the end of golf for me.”
The thought of missing out on a hit of golf and socialising with his friends worried Mr Hanna.
"For a lot of older people, coming across here for a game is their way of getting out of the house for a little bit and meeting people,” he said.
The decision has distressed members of the GDSC golf clubs who used the course, like Meredith Corrigan.
She said the course was well used throughout the week, although she admitted some lax approaches to paying fees had not helped the cause.
But she said all the cost benefit analyses could not take into account the benefits the course brought to its members.
"Doctors have said playing golf can add five years to your life,” she said.
"This course is great for a lot of people as they get older because it's flat and easy to get around.”
She said often golfers on the course were often accompanied by people walking around with them for the social contact and exercise.
Both the GDSC and the CRJC are mindful of the benefits the club brings to the community.
New GDSC CEO Nathan Whiteside said he would be delighted to hear any proposal that could allow the club to renew the lease and keep the club open.
"If something came up we would be happy to take it back to our members,” he said.
CRJC executive officer Michael Beattie said his organisation faced similar constraints to the GDSC.
Even a proposal for the GDSC to maintain the greens and tees and the jockey club the fairways did not pass muster.
"Looking at the GDSC's figures it costs about $190,000 to make about a $40,000 income,” Mr Beattie said. "That's not a viable business proposition for anyone.”
"The core business of the CRJC is promoting and developing thoroughbred racing and I have a responsibility to the members of the club to take care of this core business.”
He said there were benefits for the club, like the beautification of the race course infield, which the golf course provided, and a public benefit to the community, but the upkeep costs outweighed the benefits.
The GDSC has told its social golf club members it would support their golf play by covering costs of members playing at other venues.
The Westlawn Golf Course has been operating under its current structure since 1981 when the GDSC leased the Crown land from Clarence River Jockey Club.
It commenced its current lease on January 1, 1999 and this lease terminates on December 31, 2019. From this date control of the land reverts to the jockey club.
Mr Hanna said golf had been played on this area of land before 1981.
"There used to be a clubhouse over the other side off Cranworth St back in the 1940s,” he said.