Commonwealth’s Restoration Plans

Our Challenge. In 2000 the Commonwealth course was ranked number 3 in Melbourne and within the top 17 courses in Australia. In 2020, the course was ranked number 5 in Melbourne and 28 in Australia. Associated with this loss of course status is a relative decline in interest in membership of CGC. The consequence for the Club of the decline in status and membership interest was fully explained in the VISION presentation in July 2021.

Over the next few years, the goal is to improve our course, ancillary facilities and Clubhouse to such a standard that will enable Commonwealth to restore its reputation to that previously enjoyed by members.

Our Responsibility.  “Commonwealth Golf Club, The First 100 Years” published last year describes our past and the membership that delivered the Club and the course to us today. It is a remarkable story and testament to the dedication and hard work of our forebears who gave to us our traditions and Club culture. The current Commonwealth membership has a responsibility to leave behind the Club in a better shape, in all aspects, than what it was when we joined.

Renaissance Golf Design and its plan for Commonwealth. As members will be well aware, the Club commissioned world leading architect, Renaissance Golf Design (RGD) to prepare the Course Master Plan (CMP). We have been working with Brian Slawnik and Tom Doak to produce an illustrative concept plan for Commonwealth, that restores the golf course to the original architectural intent. The plan is now on display in the Clubhouse and can be downloaded here. Members will find below a video interview between Brian, Course Manager John Mann and the Captain. It is very informative as Brian explains his primary concepts and thinking behind the restoration plan. Tom Doak has long held great admiration for Commonwealth, remarking in his highly regarded 1994 publication “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses”, that CGC was a course which any golf architect should study and one of 31 worldwide courses that would be among the first he would take a good friend to play.

Our Solution. Invest in our assets with the intention of enhancing their quality. The Committee has resolved to undertake the following investment. Indicative project costs are as follows:-

Course Restoration $1.9m August 2022
Green and Surrounds Replacement $1.5m August 2022
Irrigation Replacement $1.9m April 2022
Total Works Cost $5.3m*  
Anticipated financial downside during construction $0.4m  
Total Course Project Cost $5.7m  
Carpark Improvements $2.0m  

*Due to the early stage in the projects evolution a 10% contingency has been included in all course works costs.

The Committee has determined that priority of investment and implementation should be given to the course quickly followed by the carpark and practice facilities.

Capital Funding. The Club has accumulated a reasonable level of capital which is available for this investment. As a consequence, it will not be obliged to borrow or call upon Members for funding. Equally, there will be no subscription discounts or payment to Members as a consequence of the partial closure of the course whilst the planned work is undertaken. 

Details of Project Funding. Commonwealth has a unique opportunity. Through the combination of good fiscal management over the course of many years and a number of windfall gains resulting from Cleanaway’s activities on Clarinda the Club is arguably in the strongest financial position in its 100 year history. In addition, a low external interest rate environment coupled with emerging inflation means that the Club needs to either take on a higher investment risk profile in order to protect that position or invest in the offer for all members.

Core cash (cash before prepaid subscriptions) after business as usual Capex but before projects is currently forecast to close at 30 June 2023 at $8.4m which provides sufficient funding to cover the indicative project costs and expected financial downside resulting from the inevitable disruptions to the golfing calendar.

Total project cost, including flow on financial downside from course disruptions, is forecast at $5.7m and is fully funded leaving a balance of $2.0m for the carpark redevelopment and an expected $0.7m in core cash reserves upon completion.

Impact on golf during the planned works.

Nine holes always openThe Committee has adopted the principle that during the entire works program members will have access to nine holes of play at all times. Early conversations with RGD indicate that this is achievable with construction to be done in two nine hole tranches either within one growing season, if resources and growing conditions permit, or over two growing seasons.

The item most impacting the critical path towards providing members with full access to their golf course is expected to be the grass replacement on the greens. Course Manager John Mann is planning to reconstruct three greens a week over a four week period for each nine hole tranche (plus one putter) with a further twelve week growing period to establish the Pure Distinction bent grass surfaces to a playable level.

Total disruption. The Committee is planning four months of nine hole play for each tranche of nine holes. During this time RGD will focus their course restoration work on the nine holes undergoing green reconstruction.

Timing. RGD is expected to start work in mid-August 2022 and focus upon that area of the course where nine greens are to be replaced and the green and green surrounds regrassed (Pure Distinction bent greens and collars and Santa Ana surrounds). This first tranche of work is expected to be completed and open for play by Christmas 2022. Work by RGD and the Club on the second tranche of nine holes will start in January 2023 for completion by late April 2023. Should weather conditions or other events cause delay to commencement of the second tranche of work the Committee may delay its implementation until September 2023. Such a decision will be based upon management of project risk associated with protracting closure times by attempting to grow grass in Melbourne’s winter.

Other Playing OptionsCommittee will be seeking the assistance of other Melbourne golf clubs, with respect to playing time options for Commonwealth members during the restoration period.

Water Reticulation Installation.  The new reticulation system installation will be staged to minimise disruption to playing areas of the course. The key basic infrastructure (mains and pumps) will be built in or around rough areas of the course (off fairways) commencing in April 2022. Sprinkler heads and associated equipment that are located on or around fairways and greens will be built when holes are closed for RGD and green replacement work. All work will be completed at the same time as Course Remediation is completed.

Carpark and Practice Area. The Committee has currently allocated $2 million to rebuilding the carpark and improvement to the practice facilities. A working group will report to the Committee with design and implementation recommendations in February 2022. The Committee decision and timetable for implementation will then be published.

Vegetation. The Committee is committed to the reinstatement of native vegetation areas across the course consistent with the CMP and our Landscape Principles. The Club will commission the production of a Landscape Master Plan and upon its adoption commence its implementation. This vegetation program will be funded as operational expenses of the Club. The Captain’s Report dated 4 March 2021 is a statement of the vegetation vision for Commonwealth.

Risk. The Committee acknowledges that the investment might not alone solve the challenge outlined. Other work will need to be undertaken to manage this risk – for example a reasonable marketing and PR plan to support the investment. It is also mindful that any delay to investment in the Clubhouse and precinct will leave a gap in the Committee’s overall Vision for the Club’s restoration. However, the Committee considers that without the approved investment the Club has very little prospect of dealing with the challenge.

Read the hole by hole notes from Brian Slawnik of RGD.