• Meet the Pro: AJ Steyn

    AJ Steyn

    In the latest of our series of introducing you to the people behind the golf clubs in South Africa, we stop off at East London Golf Club.

    How long have you been working at East London Golf Club?
    My role at ELGC began in March 2021, and it has been an absolute blast. Upon completing my prestige diploma in golf directorship and club management, I spent 11 years in the UK before returning to the homeland to take up a position at Pinnacle Point Estate. After four years I decided to venture back to Europe where I took up the director of golf position at a 5-Star resort in Vilnius, Lithuania. From there I moved to the Gorki Golf and Resort in St Petersburg, Russia. Then Covid hit and I was unable to return to Russia. Fortunately the East London position came up and I jumped at the opportunity.

    How did you get into golf and did you harbour any dreams of playing on Tour?
    As youngsters we all have that dream. I’ve been involved with the game since I was a youngster, with my father being a golf fanatic. While growing up in Vryburg, there was a Sunshine Tour player called Des Terblanche who gave me my first ‘official’ lesson. I played at junior provincial level, but soon realised it was a very competitive battle of skill and that making a living from playing would be a short-lived dream.

    East London is recognised as one of the finest layouts in the country. Do you feel the course would get better recognition if it were situated in a bigger hub?
    Absolutely. The club is a gem, but we are definitely missing out on a big chunk of the international traveller market. People want to play a variety of courses when planning an extended stay and that is where we fall short in comparison with places like the Garden Route. I’d like to invite all avid golfers to add ELGC as a bucket-list course.

    There is quite a collection of wildlife on the East London course …
    With the course forming part of the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve, we have an abundance of birdlife, with crowned eagles making the property their home. The blue duiker and bushbuck are indigenous to the area and a regular sight around the course. We used to have some nyala roaming around, but now we are only left with a tame herd of impala that seems to be well trained as we rarely encounter issues with them marking the greens.

    Does East London get extra busy when holidaymakers are in town?
    There is a definite influx of visitors over the festive season, but we have seen a phenomenal increase of rounds in the past year as golf became popular after lockdown and the restrictions brought on by the pandemic. From 1 January until the end of November, we did in excess of 30,000 rounds, with a consistent monthly average of between 2 700 to 3 000 rounds.

    Many people think that being a club manager means you are out on the course three times a week. How often do you get to play?
    How wrong their assumption would be! Running golf operations keeps you tied up and it proves difficult to commit to playing regularly. Realistically, I try to get out there with the members once a week, but there will be times when the business demands your attention and it might be a couple of weeks before you have another opportunity.

    Thinking back to the great Africa Open tournaments, the course stood up well to the professionals. Is there any chance of pro golf returning?
    East London Golf Club hosted seven Africa Opens and six SA Opens. It would be a great shame if professional golf didn’t return. We have a great relationship with Buffalo City Metro Municipality and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. They see the value of an event of this magnitude hosted within the province. There is a positive outlook to making the return of pro golf a real possibility.

    How do you ensure the visitor experience at East London is memorable?
    This is where we have come on in leaps and bounds. We work with people’s leisure time and we aim to make it memorable. I believe a manager should walk the walk of the customer every morning to see what they experience, from arrival to departure. In doing so, you also become aware of what your staff need and whether they have all the tools to ensure the expected service can be delivered.

    What has the club done to improve membership and round numbers?
    I would love to say we have rewritten the script on innovative tactics, but with rounds increasing dramatically, we actually had to introduce new rules relating to booking procedures, ensuring a system where we can accommodate most of our 900-odd members during peak playing times. This is a fortunate problem to have. A lot of effort has been employed to ensure we attract members to the club by having strong sponsorship allocated to competition days as well as the introduction of new events to the calendar, adding fun and entertainment to ensure great camaraderie and social atmosphere.

    What would you describe as your strengths when it comes to the role of golf director?
    Selling yourself with modesty is a tough task, but I see myself as an outspoken individual with good social skills, which contributes to being a good communicator. I also have no lack of enthusiasm for life in general and I have a natural passion to succeed.

    – Interview by Brendan Barratt

    – This Q&A first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!

    Compleat Golfer February 2022 cover

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