Golf club should pay its way

December 2009: In preparing a new lease for the Royal Fremantle Golf Club the council had the site independently valued. Under the old lease the club had been paying $22,000 per year, but the valuer recommended that this be increased to $40,000 per year and be pegged to CPI. The land is classified by state legislation as an ‘A’ class reserve and can only be used for community recreation (like Kings Park).

In the original proposal put to council, council officers recommended that we accept an offer by the RFGC to only pay $30,000 per year. The club had argued that it should get a discount on the rent because it is a non-profit sporting club. However I strongly argued against this and I am glad that council voted to stick with the figure of $40,000.

It’s true that the council subsidises a number of sporting, cultural and charitable groups by charging them below market rents. However these organisations either offer their activities and services for free or at a very affordable price on a “come one, come all” basis.

While it may be non-profit, the RFGC can not really be considered in the same category as these sorts of organisations. The majority of its members do not live in Fremantle. Furthermore through its membership fee structure it deliberately seeks to create a fairly exclusive golfing environment. A typical membership package involves an entrance fee between $1,000 and $3,000, and an annual subscription between $1,000 and $2,000. When describing its dress code the club explains, “Attire should be commensurate with that expected of a prestigious private golf club.”

Consider that the Public Golf Course next door, where you can play in your shorts and t-shirt, and which is only half the size; has to pay a full commercial rent much higher than the RFGC. Many years ago the council tried to charge the RFGC a full commercial rent (which in today’s terms would be well over $100,000). But predictably, the then Liberal state government threatened to intervene and deprive the council of any rent revenue at all.

I don’t begrudge people who want to play golf on a top flight course if that’s what they’re in to. But it’s unfair that the people of Fremantle are effectively forced to subsidise this, especially when the state government is already trying to shirk its responsibilities and shift costs on to our councils.

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