THE EDGE Property Excellence Awards 2013: A labour of love

The Edge-PAM Green Excellence Award 2013): Special mention - Palm Garden Golf Club - Resort Villa Golf Course Bhd

TAN SRI LEE SHIN CHENG personally drove me around the golf course to show me what needed to be done, and he taught me how to identify the healthy trees from the sick trees before we transplanted them here. Who knew that being a gardener was part of my job?” laughs IOI Properties Bhd director Teh Chin Guan.

He was recounting the early days of Palm Garden Golf Club’s reconstruction, which was painstakingly undertaken by a small  team of gardeners and contractors he led. The project was personally supervised by IOI Corp Bhd founder Lee, who is known for his love of nature.

The 125-acre, 18-hole, par 72 golf course in Putrajaya received special mention in The Edge-PAM Green Excellence Awards 2013 for its sustainable design and reconstruction. It boasts a variety of full-grown trees and animals such as geese, guinea fowl, migrant birds and water birds, monkeys, iguanas, pythons and fish.

“Lee told us to keep count of the geese eggs. He warned us to not let the iguanas get them!” says Teh.

The golf course is managed by Resort Villa Golf Course Bhd, which is a subsidiary of IOI Properties’ parent IOI Corporation Bhd.

IOI embarked on the golf course reconstruction to upgrade its 15-year-old, 27-hole golf course to a higher standard, and to make the golf course more challenging. Part of the old golf course was also earmarked for a huge development — IOI City Mall, a 1.5 million sq ft retail project poised to become Putrajaya’s biggest landmark, so the site was cut off and a new adjoining parcel of land was used to create the new course.

Teh: We decided to transplant the trees and to use materials found onsite to reduce pollution from the trucks Chin: It will take about 30 years for the golf course to turn a profit, but the ROI is apparent in higher values of nearby properties

“The old course was a par 108, because back then, there weren’t many serious players. As the sport became more popular in Malaysia, the players became more skilful and started to demand a more challenging course, so this came about,” says the golf club’s general manager Brandon Chin.

The golf course would challenge not just seasoned golfers but also the developer, which took a more untested route to bring to life the designs of acclaimed golf course architect Ted Parslow.

The company harvested and replanted mature trees from the old golf course and used materials such as granite boulders found on site as well as sand from the nearby IOI City Mall construction site.

In total, over 2,100 trees were transplanted to the site. However, it was not as simple as uprooting a tree, carting it over and planting it willy-nilly. The trees have to be partially dug up and left for a week to enter “survival mode” before they are replanted at the new site, which had already been trenched and filled with organic fertilizer. The orientation of the trees also matters.

Despite the team’s lack of experience, an astonishing 95% of the transplanted trees survived, compared with a normal survival rate of 80%. “Don’t forget that we are also an oil palm grower, and we were guided by our experienced colleagues there,” Teh smiles.

Meanwhile, over 80% of the grass and shrubbery was propagated at a 17-acre nursery in the golf course, with each cycle of grass grown over six months. IOI chose to source most of the materials onsite to reduce its carbon footprint.

“A granite boulder can easily weigh two tonnes, and a truck can only carry three of these at a time. So to do that, and to ferry the trees back and forth from a nursery, will cause a lot of pollution. That’s why we decided to do it this way,” Teh explains.

The payoff was immediate – when the golf course opened for play on April 1, 2012, the majority of the trees and plants were mature specimens. Golfers could immediately enjoy the cooler and more beautiful environment provided by the large, shady trees.

The clubhouse also boasts features that help to reduce use of electricity and water. For instance, large skylights are installed in the corridors and changing rooms to naturally light up the space during the daytime. While golfers may turn on the lights if they see fit, the management advises golfers to rely on sunlight to reduce electricity use.

The clubhouse is designed to use less electricity and water

Meanwhile, cross-ventilation ensures that the building is cool most of the time. About 85% of the building does not need air-conditioning. Golfers can hop on rechargable electric buggies to get around the course.

While the cost of this golf course on the environment is lower, IOI’s venture ultimately proved to be more expensive financially than a typical golf course development. The land cost RM120 million, while construction took RM70 million. The architect’s fees were 5% of the construction cost, and start-up fees of facilities such as the clubhouse were RM6 million.

Its neighbour is the manmade Putrajaya lake and wetlands, which is recognised as a Unesco Ecohydrological Operations site. To protect it, IOI used an innovative silt management programme that was hailed as exemplary by the Department of Environment, which sent a busload of its staff there as part of a study tour.

Meanwhile, the course also harvests rainwater from its ponds for irrigation purposes. The course does not have to be watered except during dry spells, when the course is watered twice a day. Remarkably, the course also uses an all-natural water filtration system, which allows fishes to thrive in the ponds.

Thus, this labour of love will not bear monetary returns for a long time. However, Teh and Chin believe that all the company’s hard work is still worth it at the end of the day.

“It will take about 30 years for the golf course to turn a profit, but the return on investment is apparent in other ways. For instance, the homes in the area appreciate in value because of the beautiful environment,” says Chin.

The Puteri Palma condominiums near the course have appreciated by 41.2%, with one unit now going for RM599,800 from RM424,800 when it was launched in March 2008.

Ultimately, Palm Garden Golf Course proves that ambition, sheer grit, innovation and passion trump any challenges.

The Palm Garden Golf Club is an 18-hole golf course that was replanted with old trees from the old golf course

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 14, 2013.

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