The irrefutable truth of Hayden's argument dawns on a golfer. Photo: Getty

Why Auckland needs to accept the objective truth, and ban all golf

Auckland’s golf courses are huge tracts of heavily subsidised land lying vacant in the middle of a housing crisis. We need to seize them all back, argues Hayden Donnell.

Some of the proposals to fix Auckland’s housing crisis are debatable. Jailing all Boomers. Seizing Howick under the Public Works Act. Permanently exiling the land banking “secret millionaire” Garry Robertson. There are good arguments on both sides. But one solution is simple and indisputably good. It has an unassailable business case. We need to enact it now. We need to ban golf in Auckland.

On Tuesday the High Court ruled that Auckland Council and the Albert-Eden local board can divide Chamberlain Park golf course in two, and turn part of its land into a public park. In his decision, Justice Simon Moore said “there was no requirement for the Albert-Eden Local Board to accept the views and preferences or even reach a compromise with those who sought the maintenance of the status quo”. It was a legal reminder that Auckland Council doesn’t have to negotiate with the crowd of arm-crossing animate frowns who spring up after every semi-encouraging change, arguing it should be illegal for good things to happen. It can just enact objectively right proposals like instantly purging Auckland of as much golf as possible.

Some people say golf is an oppressively boring sport populated mainly by men who look like I will in 30 years time. But that’s an emotional argument. I want to deal in facts. Golf is an arguably enjoyable sport that’s currently taking up huge tracts of central Auckland land in the middle of a housing crisis. There are 39 golf courses, 14 of them publicly owned. Many Auckland Council-owned golf courses – including Remuera and Waitemata – are paying $1 a year in rent, despite charging annual fees in excess of $3000 and $1300 respectively. Waitemata pays $176 a year in rates. Remuera pays $35,000. Both are taking up tens of millions of dollars of prime housing land in central suburbs near major transport links. We need to execute this golf ban because it’s wrong for organisations providing virtually no return to ratepayers to hog invaluable potential houses in a time where many people have no houses.

According to Sports NZ, golf is declining. Participation dropped 27% between 2007 and 2014.

But even if the sport was thriving, there wouldn’t be enough space for it in Auckland. The most major KiwiBuild development announced so far – a 4000-home complex in Mt Albert – is 30 hectares. Remuera Golf Club alone is 60 hectares. Council could earmark it for 8000 affordable houses and still have 13 more golf courses to aggressively subsidise for no good reason.

It shouldn’t do that. It should ban playing golf in Auckland, which is the modern equivalent of Emperor Nero playing golf while Rome burns. If I had a hobby that required a lot of, say, marbles, and there ended up being a huge marble shortage, and children were sleeping in black mould-filled garages and getting bronchiectasis because there weren’t enough marbles, I would understand if some of my marbles were taken away and turned into housing.

This is the perfect analogy for golf in a central Auckland suburb which – without wanting to be inflammatory – should be made into a prosecutable offence under the Crimes Act 1961.

I talked to NZ Golf’s Senior Relationship Manager Carl Fenton about the possibility of evicting golf clubs from their land in Auckland. He said taking golf courses away would mean less green space, and Aucklanders “love their green space”. However, it is my experience that people prefer green space where they don’t have a chance of being smashed in the head by an Epsom retiree’s mistimed drive.

Takapuna-Devonport local board chairman George Wood also disliked my proposal. He said his constituents would object to him immediately banning golf at his local Waitemata Golf Club. “Look at it. It’s pristine here,” he said. “Why would you want to change anything?”

I talked to Shamubeel Eaqub – an economist who deals in facts. Golf is “bullshit”, he said. “It’s a subsidy for the rich.” He wanted to see golf flung out to the outskirts of Auckland.

Eaqub is on the right track, but he doesn’t go far enough. They say there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. There are also few things more powerful than a resolution by the local government of a medium-sized city to immediately ban golf. That is the resolution Auckland Council should make.

Having said that, in the spirit of democracy – and in spite Justice Moore legally ruling that I do not have to negotiate – I’m willing to offer a compromise. I realise banning golf is quite an extreme proposition to some people. So maybe Auckland Council doesn’t have to ban golf entirely. But we are in the middle of a long, dire, and intractable housing crisis, and golf courses are taking up massive amounts of land that could potentially become affordable housing. So it should do something overwhelmingly obvious and unambiguously good, and shut down the 14 golf courses it owns before urgently turning them into a mix of dense housing and parkland. It’s really the least it could do. That’s my final offer.


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