Photo 1: Watch the ball not the lady. Parkland Golf Driving Range (circa 1980). Behind the shrubs was the ECP and Parkway Parade. Can you see the metal safety net to the right of the golfer?
It was not too long ago that golf was the privy of a few; professionals like the doctors, lawyers and the super rich but in the late 1970s many aspiring golf enthusiast took up the game of golf largely encouraged by the opening of the Parkland Golf Driving Range at East Coast Parkway. Readers will recall that East Coast Park was the government’s initiative to reclaim land from the sea in the mid 1960s. The driving range was the project of the HUDC, the Singapore Sports Council, Intraco and the Shengli Holdings. Come rain or shine, night or day, budding golfers need not despair because the range was opened from 7 am to 10pm, 7 days a week including public holidays.
If not for Parkland Golf Driving Range, the public would not have picked up golf that easily since many golfing clubs were “out of bounds” to the public. There were many restrictions like you first needed to join a club and that in itself was not easy because the cost of joining was exorbitant (e.g. S$80,000 for a Tanah Merah Golf & Country Club membership in 1980), be strongly recommended by someone in an exclusive club (e.g. Singapore Island Country Club) or the scion of somebody from that golf club. Regular SAF officers were lucky because they automatically could use the Sembawang Golf Club.
Once you found a golf club you call your “home club”, you could not right away get down to the course. The club rules insist that one must have a proficiency card that indicated your standard of play. This was to ensure that rookie golfers do not damage the course with their wild swings, hold-up play because they needed to search for that lost ball or golf balls that ended hitting other golfers. Getting that proficiency card required many hours of practice before one took his handicap test. I was lucky, obtained an 18 before I earned the right to play on the actual course. Was it that easy? Let me tell you a bit more.
Photo 3: Parkland Golf Driving Range opened in 1978 and permanently shut in 2009. It was located between the Singapore Tennis Center and Big Splash. There was a pro-shop which sold clothing gears, balls and clubs. There was a Bill Fua a professional golf coach who offered golf lessons at S$10 hour.
Singa-Inn a well restaurant for fresh seafood operated at one end of the block.
I began my journey into the world of golf at Parkland Golf Driving Range. It was the only public driving range then. I assumed playing golf was a piece of cake. Watching safely behind the golf bay, it was just eyes on the white ball; legs open and take a swing. How could that be so difficult?
After purchasing a golf set from Pan West, I arrived at Parkland found an empty golf bay on the second level and packed 100 balls in a basket from a coin-operated dispenser. I did some bending exercises and before long took up a #7 iron. I was advised that beginners should always start with the easiest iron, then progressing to the difficult woods. What was the result? Next few months, I developed all types of injuries; painful wrist, sniff neck, hand blisters and backaches. My game didn’t seemed to see the daylight; one moment slicing the ball, next time hooking the ball and even balls hitting the ceiling, only to see them bounced on the metal safety net and rolling over to the ground.
Photo 4: Senayan Golf Club, a walking course, behind the Jakarta Hilton.
Thinking I was ready for the big time, the opportunity came when I went to try the Senayan Golf Club. I played solo with an experienced caddie. Everything looked so big and the greens so far from the tee-box. I was confused by the distance measurements - measured in yards instead of meters. I will be honest to say that I finished the game with untold number of balls that went floating in the streams (only to be later sold to me as second-hand Titlist golf balls by teenaged boys), several large turfs flying and needing extensive repairs, and of course who could forget the mulligans.
Today an empty piece of land is all that left of the driving range. What’s next?