THE Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) is targeting the Asian market in a bold attempt to launch a new sports turf management programme which could also save the Oreti Sands golf course.
The Southland Golf Club made the tough decision to walk away from Oreti Sands at Sandy Point in April when the club closed because of declining membership and financial pressure.
The club’s lease with the Invercargill City Council (ICC), which owns the land, officially expires on June 30.
Since the golf club departed, council staff have mowed the fairways to provide the ICC time to work through potential options for the reserve land.
Twelve interested parties had approached the council, including SIT.
SIT chief executive Penny Simmonds said the plan was to establish a sports turf management/greenkeeping programme targeted at international students, as well as short English language and golf study tours.
“Throughout Asia there is a big focus on golf, it’s a very popular sport. We know that in a lot of countries, including in New Zealand, there is a real shortage of people with turf management and greenkeeping skills. So we see this as an opportunity to run courses in these disciplines and focus on international students,” Ms Simmonds said.
Otago Polytechnic already has a sports turf management course based in Cromwell, although Ms Simmonds did not believe they would be in direct competition given SIT’s focus would be international students.
SIT has asked the ICC for a one-year lease which would provide time to try and set up and market a pilot course for Invercargill, before it then looked at a possible a long-term lease.
SIT would not be in a position to maintain the Oreti Sands course during the initial lease period and has asked if the council could maintain it while it tried to set up the course.
The SIT proposal was agreed to at an ICC works and infrastructure meeting on Monday but would need to be ratified at next week’s full council meeting.
Ms Simmonds would like to attract about 16 to 18 students initially to ensure a turf management programme was viable at SIT.
“There is no guarantee it will work, but we want to give it a really good shot.”
The first step for SIT would be to gain NZQA accreditation and approval to run the course.
The spin-off to launching the programme was it would also help revitalise the Oreti Sands course.
Ms Simmonds confirmed the plan was to retain it as an 18-hole course.
SIT would not take over the Southland Golf Club, with members already transferred to the Invercargill Golf Club at Otatara.
However, SIT would provide golfers access to the course for an agreed fee.
The golf course would also be available for SIT students to play on, which could help attract more people to play the sport, Ms Simmonds said.
Michael Horn has played at the Oreti Sands course since it opened in 1971 and was also the president at the Southland Golf Club when the decision to close was made last year.
He backed the SIT initiative.
“The dream is not over,” Mr Horn said in regard to the land remaining as a golf course.
“I think it would be a great outcome for the city. It would ensure that the money invested in the course would still be put to good use.”
Included in the list of other interested parties was Greg Ramsay, of Ratho Farm Highland Resort, Tasmania. He contacted the council with a desire to turn the area into an exclusive golf resort.
Invercargill’s Oreti Sands is a well-known links course with various global golf publications previously rating it in the top 20 courses in New Zealand.
The Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Community Trust of Southland each contributed $250,000 to help with a Oreti Sands redesign in 2008.
The hope was that redevelopment would help attract more golfers to Invercargill. However, those expected spin-offs didn’t occur.
Mr Horn said he had also had a discussion with Mr Ramsay through his role as Southland Golf Club president. He personally felt it was a “pie-in-the-sky” idea at this stage.
The resort proposal would exclude the majority of the public from using the reserve area at Sandy Point and would trigger the need for an amendment to the Sandy Point Management Plan.
THE ICC received suggestions from clubs and individuals on what the Oreti Sands golf course land could now be used for. They included:
A drag car racing member wanting to create a new track
A horse trekking individual wanting a new horse trail
Mountain biking extension to existing facilities
Corrections Department as a possible training centre for offenders
Cross-country athletics centre
Disc Golf South wanting to set up a new championship course
A naturalist club wanting to set up a new site for its activities
SIT for the purposes of education and training
Southland Astronomical Society for the use of some of the building facilities and grounds
Invercargill Rifle Club to set up a new no-danger area range
Ratho Farm Highland Resort, Tasmania, wanting to turn the area into an exclusive golf resort
Southland Triathlon and Multisport Club for the purposes of training and holding events