Golf resumes at Northcote course as local debate tees off

The return of golf on Wednesday will tee off a larger debate in Northcote, where locals have been using their course as a picnic ground during lockdown.

Residents had cut the wire fence to access the rolling green space when stage four lockdown rules began in August, prompting the City of Darebin to unlock the public course while golf was banned.

Now that the sport has been allowed to resume, some are reluctant to let go of their newly acquired green space.

Bill Jennings wants Northcote Golf Course to stay with golfers.Credit:Jason South

Local golfers have splintered into two groups in response: those who believe the 24 hectares can be shared and those who think any change will undermine the nine-hole course.

Bill Jennings, who launched the We Play Golf at Northcote website, believes sharing the course is a slippery slope towards closing it to golfers.

He said the public course was one of the few affordable ways for new and diverse players to discover golf.

"I think that golf's not a very offensive sport when you're talking about a public golf course. I understand the stereotypes about elite, entitled privileged white people characterised by people like Donald Trump and Sam Newman. That is not us. You know, people who play down there are not those people."

Mr Jennings wants to pause the debate to see how public space is used once hospitality reopens after the COVID-19 lockdown.

People out and about enjoying the Northcote Golf Course earlier this month.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Melbourne residents are still barred from congregating in homes or hospitality venues until at least November 2.

Ruth Liston, from Northcote, has been using the park about three times a week during lockdown and was gutted that golf was resuming.

"It's been an absolute lifesaver for us during lockdown for walks, for picnics for socially distancing with friends, for seeing people and feeling like part of a community, for connecting with nature," Ms Liston said.

"Losing that on Wednesday is devastating. Because even though some of the restrictions have lifted … life's not going to be normal for a long time."

Her vision for the space doesn't include golf at all, but she thinks the best way forward is through broad consultation to find the best resolution for everyone.

James Dawson and Mark Cooley believe there is an opportunity to use the space more efficiently for everyone while keeping the course completely intact.

"There's a lot of dead space in there," said Mr Dawson, a casual golfer.

"It just needs a considered design approach by people who know what they're doing to re-imagine that space and bring it into the 21st Century without touching golf whatsoever. And what it will do is, once it becomes welcoming, I mean, hate to say it, it's probably going to increase the golf community."

Mr Cooley, who uses the course at least once a week, created a new Facebook group to save the golf course after leaving the 2500-strong Community to Unlock Northcote Golf Course page.

He agrees there is space to share but believes there needs to be a commitment to keep the nine-hole course accessible and affordable for all.

"It really is an asset to the community as a golf course," Mr Cooley said.

Greens councillor Trent McCarthy, who is up for re-election, is arguing for the golf course to be shared if that's supported by Wurundjeri elders.

He wants to start community consultations immediately if he's re-elected, to consider options such as habitation restoration, reconfiguring the course to welcome other users in specific areas, or retaining golf on particular hours or days.

Local Labor MP Kat Theophanous said there was an opportunity to review the use of the land, so long as any changes provided a community benefit and there was transparent consultation.

Darebin’s Breathing Space strategy says the immediate population is expected to grow by 21 per cent in the decade to 2028, meaning more residents will rely on the area in years to come.

David Gallichio from Golf Australia said the governing agency was thrilled that golf could resume in Melbourne.

"We have had very positive discussions with Darebin council on Northcote Golf Course to date and look forward to continuing these following council elections," Mr Gallichio said.

The City of Darebin and operator Leisure Management Services were contacted for comment.

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