In Pictures – A look back at Bukit Timah Turf City 


There are plenty of factors behind Singapore’s success. One of which is our meticulous planning of land use, all 734.3 km² of it. In fact, with land being in such short supply, you can be sure that every square metre is mapped out judiciously and maximised.  

As of now, plans are already in motion to re-develop Bukit Timah Turf City to house up to 20,000 homes in the next 20 to 30 years. “We are planning for Bukit Timah Turf City to be an inclusive and accessible housing estate,” said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.  

But before the beautiful new HDB blocks are put up and new generations of Singaporeans move in, let us look back at Singapore’s second racecourse with its rich and unique history. 

1933: Horseracing comes to Bukit Timah 

Bukit Timah Racecourse was opened to great fanfare in 1933 by Sir Cecil Clementi, Governor of the Straits Settlements. It was a grand affair and attended by more than 5,000 members and guests.  
The new racecourse was built at a mammoth sum of $3 million and is considered one of the best of its time. Designed by architects Swan and MacLaren (who also designed Victoria Concert Hall and Raffles Hotel), the racecourse comprised a three-storey grandstand, tea rooms, stables for 250 horses, syces’ quarters and a secretary’s bungalow. 

1960s to 1980s: A sport for the masses (and royalty) 

A little more than a decade after its grand opening, horseracing was suspended due to the Japanese occupation. While the Turf Club reopened in 1947, only members and horse owners could attend the races. It was not until 1960 that the club opened its door to the public, as long as they paid the admission fee of $4. 
The Turf Club played host to royalty when Queen Elizabeth II popped by during her first state visit to Singapore in 1972. She is seen here with Prince Philip and Princess Anne, viewing horses being exercised at the pool.  
Queen Elizabeth II presents the challenge trophy of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup to the owner of the winning horse, Singaporean lawyer Lee Ah Seong. The race, hosted in the Queen’s honour, continued to be one of the most prestigious events in Singapore’s horse racing calendar for the next 50 years. 
Besides being used as a racecourse, the Turf Club was also an events space. As shown here is Singapore’s second President Dr Benjamin Sheares and his wife touring the 1974 Orchid Show held at the Turf Club.  
Horseracing remained a popular sport throughout the 70s. To accommodate the growing number of racegoers, a second grandstand was built in 1981. Referred to as the North Grandstand, the modernist-style building, with its iconic cantilevered roof, had a capacity of 50,000. 

1990s: The end of an era  

Over the years, the Turf Club was no stranger to VIPs. However, rock icon Rod Steward made history when he played his first-ever concert in Singapore at the Turf Club in 1995. The occasion also marks the first time a concert was held on a racetrack in Singapore. 
Racegoers gathered to watch the Singapore Gold Cup in 1998. That was the last time the race was held in Bukit Timah, as the Turf Club moved to its new home up north in Kranji. After that, the disused racecourse became a recreational space, housing art studios, restaurants and even a Giant supermarket.  

2000s to now: A new development awaits 

In 2023, the government began studying the possibility of transforming Bukit Timah Turf City into a new housing estate. Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann is seen here with various stakeholders at a site visit. Due to the area’s rich history, the challenge is to strike a balance between nature, heritage and housing needs. 
A bird’s eye view of the secretary’s bungalow that dates back to the 1930s. It is one of several heritage buildings on the racecourse grounds. According to National Development Minister Desmond Lee, the government intends to retain and incorporate them into part of a modern estate. 
An artist reimagines how the future Bukit Timah Turf City could look like. Building on feedback from stakeholders, many liked the idea of repurposing the historic racetrack into an oval centrepiece of the estate.   

As the first public housing estate in Bukit Timah in 40 years, the Turf City project has generated a lot of buzz and excitement. The move is a commitment to encourage social mixing among Singaporeans so that we can find common ground and stay united in adversity. But more importantly, the redevelopment of the area reflects a government that listens and understands. One that is determined to meet the growing aspirations of Singaporeans to live closer to the city.  

If you are keen to find out what’s in store for the future of this distinct and colourful neighbourhood, do check out the Bukit Timah Turf City Exhibition at the URA Centre from now till 23 July and share your views.  

“We will study your ideas and suggestions and work with our agencies to refine our plans. This will guide the development of Bukit Timah Turf City in the coming years and decades ahead,” said Minister Lee. 

Photo Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction/ Desmond Lee via Facebook/ NUS/ Singapore Turf Club/ National Archives