EAST LONDON CLUBS TANGLED IN LEASE ROUGH
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.