Revamped centre opens next month; fans dismayed at loss of slice of history
THE Singapore Badminton Hall along Guillemard Road was where people gathered to watch the world’s best shuttlers play.
Then the hoardings came up 18months ago for the 57-year-old icon to go through a $2million refurbishment under its new owner, Turf City Management.
They will come down next month, to herald Guillemard Village, a food and beverage and entertainment centre – much to the dismay of the sports fraternity.
There will be a spa, 24-hour foodcourt, Taiwanese steamboat restaurant, Japanese cafe and several outdoor stalls selling snacks.
To shout its presence, Guillemard Village would be dressed in colourful neon lights and giant light-emitting diode (LED) screens.
But all is not lost as the main badminton hall – where most of the political, sporting and entertainment action in Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s took place – will remain.
But it is not likely that the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA), which put up the one-storey building in 1952 to host the Thomas Cup, will make its home there. It left the premises when the Singapore Sports Council’s 30-year lease of the building ran out in January last year.
The SBA is now based at the Singapore Sports School, where it is contracted to stay until 2011. Taking on a second facility, said chief executive Edwin Pang, would mean ‘greater financial challenge’ for the SBA.
‘I hope the developers can find some way for the hall to be used for badminton or other sporting purposes,’ he said. ‘But I also understand that for commercial organisations, it’s the bottom line that counts.’
Turf City Management hopes another sports association will have its base there, if not the SBA. It is thinking of approaching the Wushu Association, said Mr Jason Wong, its vice-president of business development.
The hall, a conservation site, can accommodate 2,800 spectators. ‘Since the bleachers and seatings are already there, it would make a fine place to hold competitions,’ he said.
Besides the one-storey building, an adjoining three-storey building was opened in 1986.
It witnessed the golden era of Singapore badminton, with the likes of Wong Peng Soon, Ismail Marjan and Ong Poh Lim making their mark there in the 1950s.
Over the next three decades, it was the backdrop for shuttlers Oon Choon Kiat, Lee Kin Tat and Wee Choon Seng. It was there that Wong Shoon Keat won Singapore’s last South-east Asia Games badminton gold medal in 1983.
The hall hosted the last badminton tournament in December 2007 for the Cheers Youth International 2007 Boys’ Singles Under-19. Other sporting competitions, such as gymnastics, sepak takraw, table tennis, billiards and wrestling, also took place there.
Turf City Management, which also runs Turf City in Bukit Timah, is hoping the Village will recapture the atmosphere and ambience of former amusement parks and eating places such as Gay World in their heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.
‘We have planned for 20 stalls selling a variety of local fare. The place had been renovated to give a nostalgic feel,’ said Mr Wong. His immediate target: residents of the Housing Board flats nearby in Dakota Crescent and Pine Lane.
Some residents, like business development manager Nix Tang, 27, are pleased.
‘Currently, we would walk all the way to the market at Old Airport Road for hawker food. Soon, we get restaurants and a foodcourt,’ she said. But shuttlers, past and present, and badminton fans are bemoaning the loss of a slice of sporting history.
Part-time national shuttler Kendrick Lee, 24, a SEA Games silver medallist, said he first picked up the sport at the hall, when he was seven. Told of its new incarnation, he said: ‘It’s a pity, because this was where badminton was born in Singapore. I wish they could have done more to include badminton somewhere in the plans.’