Merewether Golf Club has launched plans for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment including seniors-living apartments attached to a new clubhouse.
Prospective joint-venture partners have already shown interest in building the project, which includes a large underground car park and commercial space on the site of the existing clubhouse.
The golf club is gathering feedback from its members about the plan, which would create regular lease income and help keep the club afloat.
“This lets us know what our project is worth. We’ve had people contact us, and we’ve been in discussions with a couple of them. We’ll progress that further now,” Merewether president Phil Merrigan said.
“One of them is a retirement village operator and the other one is just a developer. Personally we would prefer to work with someone who is going to build it and manage it.”
The Merewether concept plan includes between 115 and 150 “high-end” apartments catering for up to 200 seniors in a four-storey building on the club’s existing car park and short ninth hole.
“To build something that’s not high-end, we’d only be detracting from the value of the area, so we don’t want to do that,” Merrigan said.
The club would use a deposit from a developer to reconfigure the course slightly to create another hole. The course’s holes would be renumbered so the 18th green was in front of the new ground-level clubhouse.
Merrigan said more flexible membership packages and course improvements had helped the club boost its member numbers to a 15-year high. But the rise in members would not offset growing costs, which included bleeding close to $50,000 in the past year to maintain its ageing clubhouse.
“We can’t stay what we’ve been doing for the past 100 years and stay in business,” Merrigan said.
“You just can’t keep putting costs up to members all the time. The traditional form of golf is gone . . . we’re trying to make it more of a community-style club.
“The traditional golf, relying on membership fees, it’s really difficult to make a living for a golf club out of that.
“Expenses are going up all the time . . . unless we do something like this, it’s hard to sustain it.”
The concept plan includes room for several shops, such as a pharmacy, bakery and hairdresser.
Merewether is one of a handful of Newcastle golf clubs embracing redevelopment. Aveo has started building a retirement village and new clubhouse at Shortland Waters, and Newcastle at Fern Bay is also working on a redevelopment strategy.
Merrigan is confident the Merewether redevelopment will go ahead after positive feedback from members at a briefing session this week.
“It will happen. We put it up to the members that we’re looking hopefully by the end of 2021 it’s all done.
“Our feedback has been exceptional. We’ve already had people ringing up saying, ‘Where can I pay a deposit?’”
The club sold a small parcel of land two years ago on Ella St to improve its balance sheet, but Merrigan said the new project did not involve selling land.
“It will be a 99-year lease,” he said.
“Our aim here is to keep this an 18-hole golf course. You can’t keep selling off your land, because then you’ll go to a 12-hole golf course then a nine-hole.
“What we’re trying to to build here is something the members can be proud of but attract more members. It’s a great location.”
The club plans to consult nearby residents then return to members for a vote once it has a proposed agreement with a developer.
“It can all happen rather quickly because we’re a long way down the road,” Merrigan said.