A trip to a holiday town in the Eastern Cape has highlighted what golf should be focusing on.
Golf is an expensive game. If anything, it is getting costlier to play each year. Soaring equipment and maintenance costs have heaped much of the costs on to the ordinary club member. Some of the running costs are passed on to visitors, which equate to an expensive day out.
And that’s what golf is… a day out. It’s a hobby or form of entertainment which means the sport must combat cheaper and shorter forms of occupying oneself.
With shortened attention spans and changes in modern society, the question must be asked: Is golf doing its utmost to retain it’s current followers and attract new participants?
What does a visit to St Francis Links, a short drive from Port Elizabeth, have to do with answering some of golf’s toughest questions?
Having grown up in the area, the club has always held a special place in my psyche. It’s a Jack Nicklaus design, which means a serious test of golf across a memorable layout. The course is well thought out and offers a good test.
But a trip to St Francis Links is more than ‘just’ golf. It’s an experience as you drive up to the clubhouse perched atop the reclaimed dunes of St Francis Bay.
A hearty welcome – sure you can add personalised lockers and golf carts to the add-ons – awaits you as your clubs are transferred to the putting area. The staff are aware that they play a meaningful role in building the atmosphere. The check-in team offers a warm smile and set you on your way. It’s a large, upmarket clubhouse, but you don’t ever feel like you’re out of place. Oh to the contrary, as you are greeted and made aware of your surroundings.
A starter greets you on the tee box and runs you through the protocol. The halfway house is affordable and offers a good variety of options – and your meal is ready with a telephone on the ninth tee box there to speed up the day. While you eat, your clubs are cleaned and essentials restocked.
‘It’s the small things’ they say, that make for a good experience. And at St Francis Links, it’s a consistent flow of small things, well-executed, that allow for a more than just a round of golf on a great playing surface.
It may be one of the country’s finest courses, but there’s no reason why more clubs – regardless of status – around the country can’t buy into the theme of presenting each member and visitor alike with an experience. Repeat customers are almost inevitable under this model.
A smile, a friendly welcome combined with a few touches in the flow from arrival to tee time go a long way. The extras after the round – and there are several with Jeff Clause and his team around – are just gravy on top of an already memorable occasion.
A glance on social media and you’ll see the club embody this experiential mantra 365 days a year. In a somewhat sleepy holiday destination, the staff at St Francis Links are wide awake to the bigger picture.