The Birth of Keppel Club
Keppel Club is a golfer’s sanctuary. Bordered by Singapore’s southern shoreline, the Keppel Club we know today enjoys 44 hectares of lush undulating terrain, but it was not always like this.
In the 1830s, the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and Penang) was a pirates’ haven. By 1832, Singapore had become the busy centre of government for the three areas. It was also at this time that Admiral Keppel came to Singapore. This famous British sailor helped to clear the Straits of pirates. The harbour was thus named after him.
Keppel Golf Club, as it was originally known, was founded on November 15, 1904. The Club sat on a piece of land first owned by the New Dock Co. Ltd. When the land was transferred to the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board, so was the Club. The Singapore Harbour Board subsequently took over that piece of land.
Through War and Peace
The early 1940s saw unprecedented prosperity and trade expansion in Singapore but this would not be for long. Japanese aircraft bombed the sleeping city in the early hours of December 8, 1941. The British Army occupied the Club during the war and built an air raid shelter near the 14th tee box. When Singapore fell under Japanese rule on February 15, 1942, Keppel Golf Club also fell into the hands of the Japanese.
In the three-and-a-half years of their rule, the Japanese built their headquarters on Fairway 1. They also built a sawmill workshop and a jetty with a short railway line running to the 8th tee box. The golf course survived World War II relatively unharmed as it was also used for food production. The British returned after the war and on June18, 1948, Keppel Golf Club merged with the old Singapore Harbour Board Club (a social club) to form Keppel Club.
3, 5, 9, 7 then 18 Holes
When the Club was founded, it had a 3-hole golf course in the midst of a nutmeg plantation. Over the next five years, it grew to a 5-hole and subsequently, a 7-hole course. By 1908, it became a 9-hole course.
In 1973, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) took over the running of Keppel Club. By then, the Club occupied approximately 43 acres of PSA-owned land. Four years later, in 1977, PSA leased more land to Keppel Club for the extension of the golf course.
Other structures had to make way for the expansion. The original Clubhouse, an attap hut along the second fairway, had provided for the Club members until after the British takeover. This humble abode made way for a more solid building in 1979, and the remnants were removed for the upgrading works.
By 1980, ambitious plans were fast underway to remodel and upgrade the 18-hole golf course to a new 6,000 metres competition course of international standards.
Going Beyond Expatriates
When it was first founded, Club members were mostly expatriates working in the Singapore Harbour Board and the European shipping companies. As Singapore prospered, the ethnic landscape also changed. More locals were joining the workforce and not only at junior levels. Gradually, more senior Asian officers were admitted to the Club.
Employees of the early Singapore Harbour Board enjoyed privileged membership over other applicants to the Club. It was because of this recognition by the Board that it later approved a $110,000 grant towards improving the golf course and clubhouse. More than half of the fairways were bulldozed with the Army’s assistance. For their contribution, special privileges were extended to Army personnel who wanted to take up Club membership.
Following the expansion to an 18-hole golf course, the Clubhouse was also upgraded. The PSA General Manager, Mr Wong Hung Khim, officially opened the new Clubhouse on November 19, 1979, in conjunction with the Club’s 75th anniversary.
On November 3, 1981, the former Club President Mr Goon Kok Loon, officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new 6,000m competition golf course. The clubhouse was not neglected either. Close to $14million was spent on refurbishing the golf course and clubhouse. More upgrading works were carried out in 1994. A total of $22 million bought members a bowling centre, gymnasium, outdoor and indoor tennis courts, a movie house and the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Former Club Chairman Dr Yeo Ning Hong officially opened the newly refurbished Keppel Club on September 26, 1996.
Moving into the 21st Century
As the Club moved closer to its Centenary, a number of redevelopment projects were carried out. The bowling centre and golf course were upgraded.
The upgrading of the course took into consideration the preservation of the traditional character of the course while improving play interest, turf grass presentation and aesthetic appeal. Golfers no longer have to worry about a soggy and water-logged course after a heavy down pour as the drainage system was upgraded on top of a change in grass type to something more suitable for local conditions. All existing man-made sharp, motorway-type cuts were reshaped into gentle flowing grounds to eliminate the numerous steep-hillside fairway situations. However, in order not to reduce golfing challenge, we have compensated it with strong bunkering, putting green interest and water features. Tee 11 was lowered to blend with the new greens 10 and 13. Tee 12 was reconstructed and tee 14 was shortened.
In 2005, a Master Plan was presented to the members to further expand the facilities that would bring the Club through the next decade and more. Taking advantage of the sea view, the Master Plan included a new building facing the sea front which houses the new gymnasium and dancing/aerobics studio, a spacious boardwalk offering alfresco dining, children's play area, video games arcade and roof top dining area. Included in the Master Plan was a multi-storey carpark providing ample lots. The Club President, Dr Tony Tng, presided in the groundbreaking ceremony on August 21, 2005 and the project was completed after one year and launched open on August 12, 2006.