According to Melbourne’s The Age newspaper. there has been uproar in the city over state Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s decision to approve the relocation of the 99-year old Eastern Golf Club. The decision will allow the club to move from its present land-locked home in Doncaster to a new 600-acre site at Yering in the Yarra Ranges.

Earlier this month Mr. Guy rezoned the club’s greenfields site at Yering, which abuts the Yarra River, from green wedge to a “Special Use Zone”, effectively allowing the land to be used for golf, accommodation and associated amenities. His decision angered environmentalists in the Yarra Ranges, who claim that the water supply of 1.5 million Melburnians’ may now be at risk of contamination due to the use of pesticides on the golf course.

Not surprisingly, it was also heavily criticised by Shadow planning minister Brian Tee who, according to The Age, labelled Mr. Guy’s intervention as a ”stunning betrayal” of the planning process, green wedges and the local community. Mr. Tee said, ‘‘the consequences could be felt by future generations, drinking contaminated water and losing open space.

The rezoning of the Yering land should enable the club’s Doncaster site to be redeveloped by building giant Mirvac, who bought the site conditionally two years ago for a fee believed to be around the $100 million mark.

Approximately half that amount will be invested by Eastern back into its Yering project, and a golf facility being created by Greg Norman Golf Course Design. Norman’s team is building a 27-hole ‘championship’ course as well as a 9-hole par three layout set amongst the manufactured wetlands. According to the club there will also be a professional teaching academy, 4 tennis courts, a 12-hectare turf farm and a 5,500sqm Clubhouse incorporating a 25m Indoor lap pool, gymnasium, child minding facilities, library, business centre, adult and kids games rooms, function and conference facilities. Accommodation presently exists on site and will be retained.

These plans were first approved by the Yarra Ranges Council back in 2010, but challenged on appeal by conservation groups like ‘Friends of the Earth’ and others, including the underbidder on the Doncaster site. Minister Guy’s intervention last week will no doubt have pleased members frustrated by the club’s protracted legal stoush.

Whether it’s prudent for a struggling golf club with ‘modest’ amenities to invest such a large sum of money into a state-of-the-art facility 35 minutes further away from the CBD remains to be seen. Ultimately the success, or otherwise, of this relocation is likely to be determined by the quality of the golf courses created. There are simply too many other options available for new and existing members to have to settle for something less than exceptional. The pressure, therefore, is on both the management of the golf club and the designers at GNGCD to deliver the goods.

Interestingly, when Eastern members first approved this relocation, narrowly, back in 2008 Greg Norman’s company was appointed because club officials were impressed by the designs skills of his lead architect Bob Harrison. When Harrison left Norman’s company shortly after the appointment was made, the club chose to retain Norman’s Florida based team rather than look again at the design options available to them. The wisdom of that decision also rests on the success of the golf course.

Below: the Eastern Golf Club relocation masterplan.