Letter From Africa - August 2022
Water, Water, Everywhere
If the Ancient Mariner had been a golfer, he would have felt right at home this year in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in South Africa, which was inundated by rainfall of almost biblical proportions.
Business of Golf Magazine’s long-suffering content editor (Steve Shewell) saw one third of his garden slide into the pool, which is now only fit as a mud wallow for buffaloes, hippos and other large pachyderms!
The swimming pool is that of BGM’s content editor – Steve Shewell.
Another third of the garden, including his rose bed, slid way into the neighbour’s stoep (veranda), which adds another, and entirely unwanted dimension to the old phrase – ‘say it with flowers’, or the idea of going a step (stoep in this case) too far!!
As is very often the case – despite the massive inundation, there is now water rationing, as this infrastructure, already fragile from age, went downstream too, so water-shedding is now in force, and hence the reason for the title to this edition of Letter from Africa.
Many golf courses in KZN were particularly hard hit, as these images and the video links demonstrate, unless of course you are an avid fan of water-sports, in which case the person surfing along one of Cotswold Downs’ fairways is epic.
This is a water scarce region, so with World Environment Day having just passed in June, this is a clear reminder that climate change is very real (if there could still be any lingering doubts!), and that extreme weather events are now becoming increasingly frequent.
Alistair Collier, who is the founder of the John Collier Survey (used by over 200 of South Africa’s golf clubs to monitor their own environmental and governance compliance levels, offered the following comment: “In terms of climate change the World Economic Forum has highlighted that nature is declining at an unprecedented rate, with nearly 1 million species at risk of extinction, because of human activity.
Earth system scientists have warned that the Amazon rainforest, the world’s coral reefs and the boreal forest biomes, are all fast approaching the cusp of irreversible tipping points, with far-reaching effects on the economy, society and life as we know it.
The consequences of all of this, are just as alarming for business and humanity, as they are for the environment.”
The UK has had its fair share of high snowfalls, extreme heat, wind, storms and flooding during the past 18 months, while poor Sydney in Australia looked like it was going to become the ‘new Venice’ – so nowhere is ‘safe’!
All of this has prompted the drafting of a Business of Golf Discussion, with the focus on around how golf can weather-proof itself, more effectively, against these types of weather events.
It will be an inter-continental discussion, and in the process, we shall be sharing experiences, successes and failures with various contributors from South Africa, Mauritius, Australia, Scotland, England and Wales.
The core of this discussion will be on how best to mitigate the effects of the weather, both in terms of the golf course, the surrounding infrastructure and revenues.
So, watch this space in GBN!
Back in KZN in South Africa, the mop-up continues, and saw great community efforts to help out i.e., where hospitality groups like Southern Sun, and its various units, are not only cleaned up their own areas, but also helped those less fortunate in terms of the mud slides and floods, which literally swept a number of communities away.
On the ‘mop-up’ operation John Aritho (pictured far right below), the general manager, at the Beverly Hills in Umhlanga near Durban commented as follows: “Our team at the Beverly Hills, lent a helping hand to the KZN Flood Relief initiative formed by East Coast Radio and Gift of the Givers, by donating food items, linen and towels.
KZN Flood Relief initiative at work
The aim of this initiative is to assist affected communities with essential items during this difficult period. Every effort counts and we are proud to contribute to rebuilding communities one effort at a time.”
The iconic Durban courses – Durban Country Club and Royal Durban - were very badly hit along with Papwa, Beachwood, and Amanzimtoti, a couple of which might be closed in whole, or in part, for some months to come.
Thank goodness the weather is changing to the drier winter months (we hope!) for this region, and South Africans are, in general, a tough and resourceful bunch (and have been through this before), so the recovery will be effective, and it is a good bet that it will be completed sooner rather than later!
KZN is my personal favourite of the 9 provinces, and has a great pay off line with Durban and its being the 'The warmest place to be!’, and the city stepped up to the plate by hosting the Tourism Indaba (a great tourism show-case for the whole of South Africa) despite the effects of the recent deluge.
South Africa’s Tourism Minister – Lindiwe Sisulu – ringing the bell to open the Africa Tourism Indaba in Durban, which due to COVID-19, is the first to be held for 3 years.
Minister Sisulu opening the Africa Tourism Indaba
Oddly, the province remains something of a hidden gem in golf terms to the international markets, but plans are afoot to change this perception too, in partnership with Durban and KZN Tourism – just as soon as we can get all of the water back to where it belongs!
With COVID now a problem, we are finally learning to live around it, as opposed to thinking of the virus as something that we must keep locking ourselves away from, the future for international tourism making a proper comeback in the region, looks to be at its brightest for at least 2 years.
There are now flights to the Kruger from Europe via Namibia, so golfers who want to combine a bushveld experience in the Kruger with golf can now do so without transiting through one of SA large metropolitan centres, and British Airways is ‘back’ with its direct flights to King Shaka Airport in Zululand KZN, so the ‘doors’ are open again!
Having recently attended a travel conference in Marbella in Spain, Leroy Ferreira, Fancourt’s new marketing and sales director (pictured), commented to me that certain factors are playing into our hands, and are helping to refuel the desire in travellers who have been ‘out of Africa’ for the past 2 years to return, and I quote from a recent discussion with him:
“The demand for travel in general seems to be very strong, and Africa was a ‘target’ destination.
In the demand for Africa, there are factors playing out unexpectedly to our advantage.
The obvious one is that the war in Ukraine is making many Europeans disinclined to travel in Europe.
Eastern destinations were almost a non-starter in discussion terms, while some other previously popular destinations have played themselves out of the reckoning having been in lockdown for so long.
People are very disinclined to travel to destinations where there is the chance that the rules of the game change while they are away on vacation!”
The events in Ukraine (how can anyone in their right mind, cross another country’s borders with an army, but then state that they are not be invading it and then shell its cities while insisting that we are no waging war!), are tragic beyond words.
No one wants to profit from another’s misery, and Germany, along with several other EU countries, might want to think about this in terms of the continued use of oil and gas from Russia!
However, not surprisingly, these events have certainly made Europeans less inclined to travel and vacation within Europe, and also given the environmental lobby a shot in the arm, as never have alternative energy options looked quite so attractive as they do right now!
Whatever the stimuli might be, and wherever it comes from, golf certainly needs to continue to generate more rounds and sustain these increases.
The indicators that the rounds’ numbers are up (a global trend), but that this has been accompanied here by a down tick in members’ numbers is not a good sign.
Given that golf as a whole did not moderate its management practices, or activities to warrant (or even deserve, some say) the unexpected increases, the exact reasons for these remains unknown.
I, for one, believe that the increase in rounds played, after the Pandemic lockdowns were eased, will eventually prove to have been a bubble.
In this region, it is pretty obvious that what we need to do is to create is a sustainable level of increased activity, based on more rounds being played by more people, and not more rounds being played by less people!
Ho hum, don’t hold your breath though, because this will take a quantum shift in thinking, backed by real action!
As an example of ‘golf’s’ ponderous nature – it took years for the regulations to be modified to allow spike marks to be repaired again on the putting surface, and yet a perfect drive, which comes to rest in someone else’s divot in the centre of the fairway, is still considered to be a ‘rub of the green’, so play it as it lies!
In this debate about changing rules, we should remember that the average golfer is not faced with the trials experienced by the tour pros who will generally find any divot neatly filled with sand (sometimes even dyed green for aesthetic reasons and TV coverage), but ‘divot marks’, which often look like small shallow graves, left by the hackers ahead, who are gouging their way around the links!
The clubs here are equally challenged by their own divots, in terms of generating increased revenues, especially given the surge in oil prices, which has had an immediate inflationary impact on almost all inputs costs, from fuel to spare parts.
Balmy conditions are the hallmark of a coastal winter in KZN, while the glorious crisp blue-sky days of the long Autumn in the Highveld are the order of the day – it is rather like living inside a very big blue diamond!
The Cape can be a little ‘iffy’ weatherwise, at this time of the year, but any bad weather never really lasts for long, before SA’s trademark blue skies make a reappearance.
Wherever you are in the country, these conditions make for perfect golfing weather, so the sooner you get down here the better!
In short, Southern Africa is a region for all seasons, and I recently asked Damian Wrigley at Pearl Valley in the Cape, how his ‘swallows’ and northern clime visitors viewed their sojourn in the south at Val de Vie Estate, and he said: “As you suggest, more and more people are seeing both Southern Africa and the Cape as a year-round destination.
In fact, it would be safe to say that we have a 10-month season, and enjoy a steady flow of traffic throughout the year, in all our facilities, including the golf course, although there are still the high volume ‘pressure’ times.
As a result, our numbers are up, in what used to be seen as the ‘off season’, (actually more of a shoulder season in reality) and the weather and lifestyle is certainly a factor in this.
This in turn means that we are reviewing the capacity we have in terms of providing services to a much higher percentage of permanent, or longer term, local and overseas residents.
You once told me that the British Isles would have sunk from the weight of the population over a hundred years ago, if the weather had been any good, and that you had left to come South, because you couldn’t wait a whole year for something that might never happen – the British summer!
This is a key motivator, along with the lifestyle elements here in the Cape, and we have seen a marked increase, in ‘permanents’ at Val de Vie (some of this increase driven by the work from home trend that became the norm with COVID), and a rise in this category of residents, from 38% to 40%, to its current level of 68%.”
Pearl Valley Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at Val de Vie Estate, Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa
So, if you are in the northern hemisphere – enjoy the summer, and if you are in the southern half of the World, summer is only just around the corner!