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EXCLUSIVE – Golf club future below par

Picturesque views at the fourth hole at Bacchus Marsh Golf course.

By Helen Tatchell

On 23 April 1907 the Bacchus Marsh Golf Club was formed. 111-years later on Monday 10 December 2018, the club was looking at options to survive.
In debt to the tune of just under $2 million, the club’s volunteer Board members, of just three-years, spoke to neighbours of the course at a ‘community consultation’ meeting, that included a proposal for a 40-strong boutique housing development by Villawood Properties.
Golf Club President Tom Svaljek told the meeting of around 60 people that “if we don’t proceed, we don’t exist”.
Villawood Properties Executive Director Rory Costelloe said they understand small communities and have a serious reputation that spans 20-years, with 20 industry awards to boast.
“We started this business in 1989 and have developments far and wide across the state, from Moama to Warrnambool.
“We engage with communities. People don’t like change but sometimes change has to occur,” he said.
Treasurer of the Golf Club Matt Grigg said the club approached Villawood Properties and the proposal is for a partial re-zoning of the land for residential purposes.
“The last 15-years the club has faced many challenges and financial instability. This new Board wants to improve the viability of the club.
“Nothing has been finalised or submitted in regard to the development proposal, this is just a Concept Plan,” he said.
Mr Grigg went on to say, “the current situation now; there is no alternative”.
“This proposed development allows us to be debt free and improve and enhance the venue.”
Mr Costelloe however had a grim statement to the gallery of property owners and neighbours.
“If the proposal by Villawood Properties does not go ahead and the golf club closes, you won’t have 40-blocks, you will have a developer who will come in and build 400-houses.”
The direct impact on property owners who border the course along the 10th fairway is 12, according to Mr Costelloe.
Major concerns by those in attendance were varied, including “Why doesn’t council help out, I pay my rates?”; “can we get a valuation before and after to see if it drops?”; “Council put in a $4million walking track that got washed away, why don’t they help?”; “Lived here 18-years, know and heard about debt, who can we trust this won’t happen again?”; then there was a concern with the native animals, birdlife and the trees, along with the health and wellbeing of those affected.
Mr Svaljek asked for a constructive solution.
“If we don’t proceed with something on this course, the whole parcel of land will be developed.
“It is not our desire to go down this path. The club has been going backwards for years and as volunteers, we are trying to get the debt down. Without financing the debt we have, we can’t move forward,” he said.
Mr Grigg was asked what caused the debt.
“It’s a combination. The Annual Report is available to read. Council have been helpful and are one of our main debtors, we owe $480,000 in rates. Bendigo Bank is another major debtor. We don’t want to borrow the money,” he said.
Recent golf clubs in Victoria that have closed and sold to developers include Horsham and The Sands at Torquay.
“The Geelong Golf Club was the second oldest club, not on residential land, and was sold,” Mr Svaljek said.
A report in The Age (24 June 2017) stated of the 374 golf clubs in Victoria, half were in financial stress with eight clubs closed.
“We are happy to look at alternatives. The bank wants a solution, it’s at the end of its tether” Mr Costelloe concluded.
“Villawood is the last chance,” Mr Grigg said.

The Bacchus Marsh Golf Club website states members began a long battle to establish facilities for local golfers. Until 1972 members struggled at several sites including Racecourse Reserve, which is Crown land. Lack of water in the dry climate, and no land to call their own meant that golf was played on sand scrape greens only during the winter months.
The members’ decision to buy their own land in Links Road was momentous. $40,000 was raised for the purchase of 120 acres (approx. 50 hectares) of picturesque Lerderderg River front land, including vital irrigation rights.
(A small group of members opposed to the move, formed a new club and stayed at the Racecourse, now the Bacchus Marsh West Golf Club.)
Led by then club president, the late Tom Swan, the small band of enthusiastic members worked at weekends; planting hundreds of trees, helping to build the new course. A sparse landscape was gradually transformed into the 18-hole course of today. Opening day was held on March 24 1974, when members and guests joined in the celebrations with 246 players competing in the first event.