EAST LON­DON CLUBS TAN­GLED IN LEASE ROUGH

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Gallery - TED KEENAN

Ten years ago East Lon­don was tout­ing it­self as a prospec­tive golf des­ti­na­tion to ri­val the Gar­den Route.Two large es­tates, Cintsa and Si­nati, were un­der­way with plans for 1 300 homes, and sev­eral oth­ers were mooted on the East Cape coast­line to com­ple­ment the highly ranked East Lon­don Golf Club.

Cintsa es­tate de­vel­oper David Eastall was ne­go­ti­at­ing with East Lon­don Air­port for pass­port con­trol fa­cil­i­ties for promised weekly flights from the United King­dom bulging with golfers. Eastall abruptly left, leav­ing the devel­op­ment in a fi­nan­cial cri­sis, and both Cintsa and Si­nati slowed down.The other de­vel­op­ments folded.

Golf clubs in East Lon­don now face a threat from Buf­falo City Metro Mu­nic­i­pal­ity (BCMM) stalling on the re­newal of lease agree­ments, leav­ing clubs un­able to plan for­ward. Gonu­bie GC’s lease ex­pired in De­cem­ber 2017 and has not been re­newed. In Au­gust, BCMM re­quested the club to re-ap­ply, and Gonu­bie man­ager Juan Bartlett learnt that the Black Man­age­ment Fo­rum (BMF) was a com­peti­tor. Club pres­i­dent Louis Nel says spec­u­la­tion is that the 9-hole course will be­come a hous­ing es­tate.

“Ab­so­lute non­sense,” says BMF pro­vin­cial sec­re­tary Cuma Dube, who met the Gonu­bie board to dis­cuss in­creas­ing black mem­ber­ship. But their char­ter with tar­gets was re­jected by mem­bers at the AGM. BMF, not to be thwarted, then sub­mit­ted its own lease pro­posal.“Our aims are inclusivity, rais­ing funds, putting golf into Gonu­bie schools, and im­prov­ing the play­ing con­di­tions,” says Dube.“We will work in part­ner­ship with the cur­rent struc­ture, and need them to know this is not a hos­tile takeover. Our aims should be their aims.” East Lon­don GC’s lease ex­pires in 2025 and gen­eral man­ager Bren­den Fourie says the club can­not em­bark on any ma­jor ex­pen­di­ture with­out an agree­ment. In hindsight, plans to buy the prop­erty when it was af­ford­able should have been a pri­or­ity. It’s no longer an op­tion.A few years ago BCMM would not dis­cuss a lease ex­ten­sion.That stance has soft­ened.There have been dis­cus­sions.

Fears of the course shut­ting down in 2025 are un­founded, says Fourie. “We en­hance the city’s rep­u­ta­tion in other ar­eas aside from main­tain­ing a mag­nif­i­cent course. ELGC is one of the city’s ma­jor as­sets, not least be­cause of its top 10 rank­ing in South Africa, but also as a tourism, hos­pi­tal­ity and meet­ing venue.”

Ru­mours of the course be­ing turned over to hous­ing are off course. It is within the pro­posed Na­hoon Point Na­ture Re­serve.The club is flour­ish­ing with mem­ber­ship up and rounds hold­ing steady at 27 000 in 2017/2018.The greens were re­cently over­seeded to im­prove their long-term con­di­tion­ing.

West Bank GC’s lease ex­pired in 2009, and pres­i­dent Chris Marais said it took five years to ob­tain a re­newal from BCCM.“Ap­proval came in 2014, with the let­ter dated back to 2009.We went ahead with up­grades, ren­o­vat­ing the club­house.”The club is not com­pla­cent though. Ear­lier this year BCMM ad­vised the club it did not have a lease. “For­tu­nately we had our re­newal let­ter, which cleared up the mat­ter,” said Marais. “Fi­nan­cially we are in the black. Mem­ber­ship has grown to 300. The course and greens have sel­dom been bet­ter.”

Cintsa be­came Olive­wood Pri­vate Es­tate & Golf Club when Kuldip Singh Dhillon, a UK busi­ness­man, took con­trol. Care­taker ex­ec­u­tive Richard Watt is chang­ing its pre­vi­ous ex­clu­sive op­er­at­ing style to im­prove rounds and cash­flow, with green fees slashed in half to R440 a round to com­pete with East Lon­don GC.

The plug was pulled on Si­nati golf es­tate at Gonu­bie by de­vel­oper Sisa Nge­bu­lana in 2009 at a cost of R35 mil­lion. De­lays in re­ceiv­ing De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment ap­proval re­sulted in the es­tate miss­ing the prop­erty boom.The 427-hectare site is zoned for 779 houses, 60 con­do­mini­ums, a 195room ho­tel and con­fer­ence cen­tre.

East Lon­don’s other 18-holer, Alexan­der, near the air­port, has closed down. For­mer SA Air­ways CEO Khaya Ngqula, who brought the Africa Open to the city, pur­chased the lease a few years ago, but was un­able to make the club work fi­nan­cially.

Gonu­bie Golf Club’s lease has ex­pired.

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