It would be remiss to overlook the history of Rondebosch Golf Club, especially since it rates as one of the grand old dames of South African golf, stretching back to the beginning of last century. However, while this history paints a picture of what golf was like in South Africa throughout the 104 years that Rondebosch GC has existed, it is the current set-up at the course that could set the tone for how golf clubs need to operate in order to be successful
in bridging the seemingly never-ending recession.
Although Rondebosch GC was only officially formed in 1911, its roots trace back to 1885, when golf was first introduced to the colony. Cape Golf Club was built in nearby Wynberg, but over the next two decades, due to space limitations, the game’s growing popularity and land rights issues, two courses were eventually built, the first being a layout on the Rondebosch Common and the other what is now Royal Cape Golf Club. However, members of the course on Rondebosch Common began to seek independence from Cape Golf Club and in 1911 formed Rondebosch Golf Club. For the next 15 years the club moved around the suburb before finally settling in its current position, where Bob Grimsdell laid out the original course design.
The course has since seen numerous changes, largely due to new highways being introduced in the 1950s and again in 1994, with further adjustments taking place in 1995 when the council decided to widen the Black River, a major feature on a number of holes. It was at this point that the most extensive changes to the course were made. Many saw these as huge improvements and they included the new 16th layout, now regarded as the course’s signature hole. This par four measures only 303 metres from the yellow (competition) tee and dog-legs around a portion of the Black River, making it a realistic one-shotter for longer hitters if the wind is assisting and they are brave enough to take on the undulating green surrounded by bunkers. Those who choose to lay up still need to be accurate enough to avoid the clump of trees to the right of the fairway and the water hazard just short of it.
Table Mountain can be seen from many of the holes at Rondebosch Golf Club, especially when crossing the Black River to play the 10th, 11th (seen above) and 12th.
There has been the odd tree planted and bunker added since the major renovations in 1995, but none of these have been as significant as the changes to the running of Rondebosch, most of which have occurred in the last two years since Wayne Hill took over as general manager of the club. His philosophy has been to keep the club progressing with the times and while he has been the catalyst for many changes to the membership structures and how the clubhouse operates, Hill would be the first to give credit to a progressive club committee for allowing him to ensure Rondebosch maintains its traditions while still becoming a course that all golfers are welcome to play.
“Over the last two years there has been a significant change to how the club operates,” reckons Hill.“The club was stuck in the traditional ways of running a club and was no longer in touch with what is needed to run a modern club. Over the last two years rounds are up from 32 000 to over 46 000, with memberships having increased by over 200 new members. As a club we have recognised that the market has changed and we are evolving to meet the new challenges within the golf market.”
A big reason for the increase in members is the change in membership categories. Where there used to be in excess of 20 types of memberships, there are now two: a pay-to-play option and an all-in option. While the all-in option allows you to play as much golf as possible throughout the year, the pay-to-play has been immensely popular due to the low annual subscription fee and the very reasonable greenfees per round – R130 in off-peak times (weekdays excluding Wednesday afternoons) and R200 during peak times. Both the unlimited and pay-to-play annual subscription fees can be settled using monthly debit orders and this too has made it easier to be a member of a golf club.
The visitors’ greenfee makes Rondebosch one of the most accessible courses in the Cape too. Whether affiliated or not, one can tee it up on the course during off-peak times for just R175 (winter rate) and not much more in the summer. During peak times (Wednesday afternoons, Saturdays and Sunday mornings) the course is still open to visitors, but only those who are affiliated to other clubs.
“Rondebosch Golf Club represents Cape Town from a demographic point of view,” Hill says. “We are affordable to everyone and accessible to all golfers and that is one of our biggest assets.”
The way the golf course plays has been another big influence on the success of the club. The course is kept in great condition throughout the year and the rough has been trimmed down and fairways widened in places in order to make it more enjoyable for any level of golfer. According to Hill, there are enough trees, bunkers and other hazards throughout the course to ensure you are sufficiently punished for errant shots, but losing golf balls in the round is not acceptable.
Rondebosch’s clubhouse opens out onto the practice putting green and is well-utilised both upstairs and down.
And judging by the results of the recently held Western Province Amateur Championships at Rondebosch in April, where just two players managed to finish the strokeplay event under par, the course still offers enough of a challenge despite the shorter rough.
One cannot fault a single hole at Rondebosch and even though there have been many changes to the original Grimsdell layout, one suspects he would be pretty proud of the current configuration.
The front nine, or eight holes in this case, heads toward the bustling CBD of Cape Town and is sheltered by trees almost entirely, while the back 10 holes are far more open to the elements, especially the notorious winds that tend to batter the region for much of the year.
Each hole is unique and requires meticulous course management due to the variety of trees and slopes. None of the par fours are particularly long on the card, four of which measure under 300 metres from the white tees, and are driveable for the really long hitters, but again the wind and changes in elevation need to be factored in each time.
Coming back to the successful operation of the golf club, it is most noticeable in the clubhouse where significant changes have been made to create a more relaxed atmosphere for members and visitors alike. The pro shop is much larger than before and the upstairs area, which used to be the members’ bar, has now been converted into a function area open to anyone for any event. Hill has even managed to hold live music nights of up to 300 people within the space.
The traditional achievement boards and cabinets housing trophies still adorn the walls in the clubhouse. It would not be hard to find Gilly Tebbutt’s name on the list of ladies club champions with the South African Golf Hall of Famer having won the title no fewer than 35 times, previously under the name Gilly Whitfield up until 1987.
Golf has suffered from an elitist perception for many decades and Rondebosch has managed to break away from the mould of traditional golf clubs. This has been achieved through not only relaxing many of the stringent and out-dated codes of the game, but also through realising how to successfully run a members’ club that is able to accommodate all visitors and make them feel at home. It has indeed earned the right to call itself Cape Town’s club of choice.
GETTING THERE: From the N2 heading towards Cape Town city centre, take the Raapenberg Road off-ramp and immediately keep left towards Klipfontein Road. At the traffic lights turn left and continue past the Rondebosch Medical Centre, under the bridge and turn left at the traffic lights – the entrance is on the left.
GOLF COURSE: Parkland, par 72, 6 019m (championship tees – rated 71). Kikuyu tees and fairways, poa annua greens.
DESIGNER: Bob Grimsdell
GENERAL MANAGER: Wayne Hill
CLUB CAPTAIN: Ben Venter
GOLF MANAGER: PJ Herholdt
COURSE GREENKEEPER: Beattie West
GREENFEES: Off-peak – (weekdays excluding Wednesday afternoons) R220, Sundays visitors welcome – R275, visitors must be affiliated to play before 12pm Sunday.
CONTACT TEL: 021 689 4176
■ The condition of the course, particularly the greens, is always great.
■ The pro shop is well stocked and the staff at the golf check-in counter are friendly and attentive.
■ The Black River that passes through the course can at times be full of litter, making it look unattractive.
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