The latest in our series of introducing you to the faces behind the golf clubs in South Africa. This month we stop off in Cape Town to talk to Milnerton Links’ club manager.
Give us a brief rundown of your connection with Milnerton.
I’ve always been at Milnerton in one form or another. I’ve been a member for 50 years. I was club captain in 1998-99 and I was president of the club for seven years after that. I had been in business and after my presidency at the club I was asked if I wanted to come back and manage the club in 2009. I’m still here. Initially we had lots of things to get right, but the club is doing well at the moment.
What is your role at the club?
The club has never really had a ‘golf director’ role. In the past we had the club professional, who ran the pro shop, and the general manager, who ran the club. When I took over, I decided that because I knew golf and the club so well, I could do both roles. I still do – although we do have Kyle Lee here, an ex-pro who runs the pro shop and does an excellent job. I still set up the course for competitions and do all the general management duties.
How did you get into golf?
Golf has been my passion from the time I opened my eyes. I started playing when I was five and I played Junior Foundation events from age 12. Then all I could think about was turning pro and playing on the Tour, but when I watched some of the top professionals playing here in the SA Masters in the late 1970s, I realised I wasn’t nearly good enough to make it on Tour.
Other than having the best view in Cape Town, what are some of the perks of working at Milnerton?
The biggest perk is that I’m working in an industry I dearly love. I am fortunate enough to live five minutes away and of course I get to look at the view every day. The biggest challenge, year on year, is to achieve our budgets. The past two years have been difficult because we haven’t had any foreign tourists to boost our earnings. Milnerton, like so many other clubs, fell into the trap of relying too much on foreign tourist rounds and when they were suddenly taken away it became more difficult to remain sustainable.
So, how have you handled things at the club post-lockdown?
Our rounds are slightly up. Obviously we lost two months in 2020, but if we compare rounds when the course has been open, we are slightly ahead. We generally do around 49 000 rounds per year, 60% being member rounds and 40% visitor rounds. We are well supported by our local visitors in this regard, which I strongly believe is largely due to the consistently good condition of our course.
Back in the day, Milnerton was a regular stop on the Sunshine Tour. But has the course become too short for the pros?
I wouldn’t say it’s too short, because we can always set it up to be difficult and of course the wind often blows here. So ‘short’ can mean nothing when it’s blowing. At a stretch we could host a Winter Tour event, but the problem is we don’t have a huge amount of space for hospitality tents. Added to that, we also have the problem of the range being in the middle of the course and our 1st and 10th tees are so far apart that it would be difficult to have a two-tee start.
How do you adjust the course set-up for tournaments? How do you protect the course from the bombers?
I’d love to host the SA Amateur at some point. I’d like to see how the top amateurs handle playing in the wind. Even if the wind didn’t blow, we could still make the course quite tricky – we would turn the 6th and 17th into par fours and we could add a few white stakes [out of bounds] to make it harder. For example, if one was to put white stakes between the 1st and 18th fairways it would change the complexity of both holes drastically. A couple of years back, when we hosted the Western Province Amateur here, we put some white stakes on the left side of the 15th fairway. It turned an easy hole into a very tricky one, as players were nervous of going out of bounds.
I know the members are proud of their club – what was the reaction to the course’s latest ranking of 86th?
Well, it’s disappointing, because we strive to move up the rankings, but it’s not completely unexpected because in every ranking we seem to sit between 80th and 90th. I’m sure the members will agree that we are a lot better than that, but what could count against us is our ageing clubhouse, which is not as grand as many other courses. We do have the best view, though.
What are some of the innovations the club has introduced to improve membership and round numbers?
Increasing membership remains a challenge. Our subs are among the most affordable in Cape Town and we also have a number of different membership categories.
What would you describe as your strengths when it comes to the role of club manager?
My biggest strength is that coming from a business background, I’m fortunate that I understand the importance of getting things done timeously. I also recognise what problems to look for, where to look and how to prevent them from recurring. I’d like to think I’m level-headed and steady and that I try to do the best of my ability. I’m a workaholic by nature and would probably describe myself as a semi-perfectionist.
– Interview by Brendan Barratt
– This Q&A first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!