Golf clubs have plan B

JOHN HARVEY

Two of Cape Town’s most well-known golf clubs have moved to allay fears that an intention on the part of the City of Cape Town to consolidate golf courses to free up municipal land could result in their closure.

Earlier this month deputy mayor Ian Neilson, speaking at an information session hosted by the South African Black Property Practitioners, suggested that Cape Town had too many golf courses and it was perhaps time to explore rationalisation options.

The City has identified the Voortrekker Road corridor and the N2 corridor for densification purposes. King David Mowbray, Rondebosch as well as the northern golf courses of Parow and Bellville fall into these corridors.

The leases for both King David Mowbray and Rondebosch golf clubs expire in 2020, and Mr Neilson’s comments have raised concerns in the golfing community that the City has made up its mind to compel consolidation.

However, executive members of both clubs say they are in a sound position financially and have drawn up comprehensive business plans to present to the City in order to have their respective leases renewed.

“There have been recent comments in the press around the future of golf courses in the Cape Town area. Although these comments cannot be ignored, King David Mowbray Golf Club understands that a proper formal process is being followed by the City of Cape Town to evaluate golf in the region and we await with interest the outcome of this process,” King David Mowbray chairperson, David Law, said.

“In this regard, it is the club’s understanding that the City has appointed an independent consultant to investigate golf in the region. King David Mowbray Golf Club is working with the consultant to provide information to assist in this process.”

Mr Law said the recently formed King David Mowbray Golf Club, through the merger of the Mowbray Golf Club and the King David Golf Club, had resulted in a “new strong and vibrant golf club” which the club believed would have a long and successful future at its current site at Mowbray.

“King David Mowbray Golf Club and the former Mowbray Golf Club have been in constant contact with the relevant people at the City for the last two and a half years. In August 2013 there was a real concern as to the future of Mowbray due to the financial challenges that the club faced at the time.

“As a result the City was understandably concerned should the club have to close its doors.

“However, the club has seen a significant turnaround over the last two and half years. All financial issues have been resolved and the club currently has a healthy bank balance.

“This turnaround was culminated with the recent merger. The club’s membership is currently so strong that it has had to temporary close the club to new membership applications.”

Mr Law said the turnaround had also been acknowledged by the City when officials visited the club in December. They were impressed with the strength of the club, the condition of the course as well as the significant work that the club is doing to develop golf in the area. As such King David Mowbray is confident that a new lease will be granted to the club in 2020 when the current lease expires.

Rondebosch Golf Club executive committee member, Alan MacDonald, said Mr Neilson’s comments had not come as a surprise, and the club understood the City’s predicament in having to find additional land for development.

“We have been working for a number of years on developing a business plan for the long-term viability of the club. We have also been introducing several new initiatives, such as the ‘pay to play’ concept,” Mr MacDonald said. “As a club, we are very proud that we are able to represent the demographics of the entire Western Cape, while also consistently ranking among South Africa’s top 50 golf courses. We have a wonderful atmosphere at the club, and everybody gets along. I think that places us in a very strong position going forward,” he said.

“Our lease expires in 2020, and we are working very hard on being financially sound and developing a business plan that will ensure our lease is renewed. The last two years have seen a substantial financial turnaround at the club, with total rounds played at the end of February this year of nearly 51 000 – a record for the club.”

Asked whether he believed the consolidation of courses might have had an impact on golf tourism in Cape Town, Mr MacDonald said this aspect would be addressed in the business plan submitted to the City in the lease renewal application.

“Our club understands the City’s position, and we are engaging with them every step of the way.”

Reiterating his comments at the information session, Mr Neilson confirmed the City was in discussions with Mowbray and Rondebosch golf clubs regarding their desire to renew their leases.

“We will also be engaging with other golf courses that are located on City-owned land. This is a matter for proper and careful consideration and not one that will be rushed unnecessarily,” he said.

“The issue is one of a strategic consideration of land usage in the City’s primary development corridors, combined with feedback from the golfing industry indicating that several golf clubs are suffering from declining membership, playing rounds and income in general, while they are also experiencing escalating costs and difficulty in matters such as access to irrigation water.”

The City envisaged that there would be some consolidation of the golf courses which were within the city’s core development area, and likely displacement to new courses at locations towards the outskirts of the city and where mountain streams and/or treated effluent water would be available for irrigation. “This is something that will happen over a period of time, and the City would prefer it to happen through voluntary consolidation of clubs, rather than through the City dictating an outcome.”

Mr Neilson added that consolidation of sports facilities was not a new matter.

“As patterns of favourability towards particular sports change, so do the need for facilities. We have, for example, already seen considerable consolidation of bowling clubs across the city, as membership for that sport has declined.

“For other codes, such as cycling and running, which are growing, the City needs to look at increased provision of facilities.

“The issue is not one of focusing only on golf courses. It is essential that more intensive land use takes place within the urban core area, rather than ongoing expansion of the city footprint due to expansion at the edges of the city.

“Thus we are looking with greater focus at all of the City-owned land within the core area as to its potential for redevelopment.”