Sydney’s most prestigious and privately held golf club has revised its controversial $17 million redevelopment plan, promising to plant three times more trees and rip up a quarter of turf to create 14 hectares of native heathland true to the local landscape before colonisation.
Under pressure from Woollahra Council and local residents, Royal Sydney Golf Club in Rose Bay plans to re-wild a quarter of its 57 hectares of irrigated greens with 500,000 native shrubs and grasses on the sandy coastal soil using 20 per cent less water than now.
Club president Chris Chapman said the newly updated development application lodged on Tuesday followed “vigorous introspection” after backlash to its original plan to remove 569 trees.
Mr Chapman said the revised proposal amounted to the “single largest biodiversity restoration project in Sydney’s eastern suburbs”. “I can’t think of another project in suburban Sydney on this scale,” he said.
Mr Chapman conceded the removal would involve short-term pain, particularly given the “emotive issue of tree removal”.
In an exclusive briefing with the Herald, Mr Chapman said: “[The plan] is an investment in the future legacy, as opposed to a do-nothing or an incremental approach, which would at some stage lead to a cataclysmic cliff and to vicious failure.”
The club’s rating has slipped from fourth to 48th in the past 30 years. It proposes widening the fairways by 60 per cent and placing them in a heathland setting instead of mown grass.
The club also proposes planting another 1888 trees, including angophoras, scribbly gums, red bloodwoods, and coastal banksia. This will increase the net number of trees to 4000 within a decade.
But it will remove hundreds of trees. This will cause an initial 23 per cent loss of canopy, equivalent to chopping down an entire urban forest, say critics. New plantings though would restore the canopy within a decade, and grow 6 to 19 per cent more between 2040 and 2045.
Club landscape architect Harley Kruse showed the Herald several sites where grass had been ripped up, watering stopped and planted with native shrubs and grasses about three years ago.
“It doesn’t look like the hand of man has been involved at all,” Mr Kruse said. “This is about 10 metres wide by 30 metres long and we’re going to do this to 65,000 square metres in year one.”
The paperbarks planted in the 1940s hadn’t allowed anything to grow in the understory, causing significant decline in native flora and fauna.
“I think as humans we get attached to trees, but we don’t get as attached to a little shrub like that,” he said, pointing to an Australian native bluebell, Wahlenbergia gracilis, with tiny blue flowers. “These things are seriously important [for insects and birds].
“We have actually seen some native species re-germinate. We’ve seen birdlife come back into the area, we’ve seen insects breeding, so we are getting a greater diversity of fauna in this one small patch already … We have recreated an eastern suburbs native coastal heathland. ”
Local resident Nicola Grieve, who has campaigned against the removal of trees, said cutting down 400 trees was still equivalent to a forest.
“This has nothing to do with landscape rehabilitation, it’s all about removing trees to meet an arbitrary international rating system for golf courses,” she said.
Woollahra Mayor Susan Wynne welcomed the club’s revised plan, but said it still had to go through the usual approval and review process.
She was excited by its reduction in water usage and the biodiversity that would be created by the re-establishment of original coastal heath. “Sometimes we forget about the poor little fauna,” she said.