Golfers to keep Northcote greens to themselves after stoush

More than a dozen people, including children, spoke passionately at the council meeting about what they wanted to see happen with the golf course.

Among one of the speakers was a young girl, Juno, who said “sharing is caring” and urged councilors to vote to let the public use the course.

“I really loved walking around playing in the park and having picnics during lockdown, please let us open it again so that everyone can enjoy it,” she said during the meeting.

A document compiled by Darebin Council officers before Monday’s meeting recommended councilors vote to keep the course solely for golfing purposes week round, over the option to open the greens to public after 3pm each day or for a full day on Sundays.

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In May, the City of Darebin voted to open up 5.72 hectares of the Northcote golf course, with land at the southern and northern ends of the site to be turned into local parks and linked by a shared path. Nine holes would be retained for golf in what was described as a “win-win” situation for golfers and those who had pushed to open up the site for the community.

Officers noted that there could be a possible 40 per cent financial impact to council if golf was restricted until 3pm only, and a potential 30 per cent increase in clean up expenses to tidy up litter or damage by the public to the greens.

Allowing the public free access to the greens on Sundays was considered to have a possible 17 per cent financial impact and “potential increased course clean-up expenses”.

The report also warned that there were no other models of “shared use” of public golf courses in Australia on which to base a system for Northcote. It also said “the benefit of community access is not thought to outweigh the greater financial commitment required”, and that there was plentiful parkland in the area.

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The lease for the golf course was due to expire on June 30, but has been extended until the end of the year with the site holder Leisure Management Services.

A public tender will be released in the coming months for a new 3.5 year contract for the crown land site, but in their report to councillors Darebin officers warned restricted golf on the site “may limit the number and quality of tender responses received”.

The report stated that in the 2021-2022 25,775 rounds of golf were played at Northcote Public Golf Course, up from 24,494 rounds of golf played in 2020-21 and the average of 18,900 rounds played per year between 2015-16 to 2019-20.

Northcote is one of two public courses in Darebin council area, with Bundoora Park Public Golf course 10 kilometers to the north-east.

Residents had been campaigning to reclaim the green space since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, when Northcote and many other Melbourne golf courses were opened up for public access.

Elsternwick Park Golf Course is being partially transformed into a nature reserve and the City of Stonnington is investigating requests for community access to Malvern Valley Golf Course.

Darebin council put a call out to the public in October last year for ideas about what to do with the space and was flooded with thousands of submissions from residents who wanted to reclaim the space as parkland, and the golfing community who wanted to save the public course.

After community debate about how the public could best use the 24-hectare spot erupted, Northcote state MP Kat Theophanous stepped in to propose a compromise and offered $200,000 of state funds towards the redesign of the site as a “circuit-breaker” to end the bickering.

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