Merewether Golf Club will proceed with an ambitious seniors-living redevelopment and new clubhouse after members approved the project “overwhelmingly” on Thursday night.
The proposal includes four six-storey apartment blocks stretching along one of the course’s fairways, a glass-fronted clubhouse, wellness centre, swimming pool, conference centre and course improvements.
The club’s secretary manager, Michelle Heritage, said about 200 members had voted “overwhelmingly” to agree to a 99-year lease of club land. The decision allows the club’s board to enter a joint venture with developer Thirdi Group’s aged care division, ThirdAge.
“We now have the opportunity to progress our joint venture to the next stage and start the planning process with Newcastle council,” Thirdi Group’s director of sales and marketing, Luke Berry, said on Friday.
Mr Berry stressed that the plans were at a preliminary stage and were yet to receive council approval.
The clubhouse and course improvements alone will cost at least $15 million.
The Newcastle Herald reported last year that the club was investigating redevelopment plans to shore up its long-term financial position.
Those initial plans included between 115 and 150 “high-end” apartments catering for up to 200 seniors on the club’s existing car park and short ninth hole.
Some Hunter golf clubs are in financial difficulty due to a general downturn in the industry and an ageing membership base.
But it is understood Merewether, which has 1100 members, is in a relatively strong financial position.
Ms Heritage said on Friday that the deal with Thirdi would provide the club with long-term lease revenue and a replacement for its dilapidated clubhouse.
“Our membership is great, but the membership alone is not going to replace our facility,” Ms Heritage said.
Shortland Waters, Cessnock, Newcastle (Fern Bay) and Belmont are among other Hunter golf clubs to have entertained redevelopments to prop up their finances.
Cessnock has gone into voluntary administration this year with debts of more than $11 million after entering into a $30 million joint venture with Daracon Group in 2005.
Shortland Waters also went into administration this year and has fallen out with aged care company Aveo over a seniors development and partial course rebuild.
The Shortland club’s use of temporary holes during construction work has discouraged golfers from playing at the course and cut the club’s revenue.
Ms Heritage said all work on the Merewether course would be complete before the clubhouse and apartment construction began.
“We have learnt a very big lesson,” she said. “… We will always have an 18-hole golf course throughout this project.”
Mr Berry described the joint venture as the “perfect template on how a club can engage with a developer and create a win-win for both companies at the time of the development and well into the future”.
Ms Heritage said the club planned to upgrade the Merewether course to a significantly higher standard.
“It will be a five-star course when we have finished,” she said.
“It will be a fantastic facility. We’re looking to make this a premier inner-city course.”
The club will hold a briefing for nearby residents on October 8.