To grow golf, stop focusing just on golf
ST FRANCIS LINKS (12 December 2014) - A Park Run. A skateboard competition. A four-day hike. And maybe a bit of golf, if you want. That's Jeff Clause's vision for golf clubs and estates in South Africa.
Clause, a PGA of South Africa Master Professional who is now in his 30th year as a PGA member, is the CEO of St Francis Links and somebody who thinks differently about the game. And it's his creativity that has made St Francis Links one of the top performers in a local golf industry that faces several challenges.
Clause's secret is that he refuses to see a golf club or estate as just a venue for golf.
"I'm here to run a business to attract people to St Francis Links, not just for a short stay but hopefully a long stay and to live here," says Clause.
Attracting people to a golf facility or estate can come in many fashions, and Clause has implemented the following.
"We do the Park Run, and that's been very popular. We've had as many as 200 people for that on a Saturday.
"We've had the Sector 9 skateboard race here for a few years now. Our fifth hole is a pretty elevated tee on the top of the dune, and the path that comes down alongside that enables you to get up to a pretty good speed on a skateboard.
"We also take part in a thing called the Chokka Trail, which is a great walk over four days that finishes on the estate."
For Clause, it's all about using the golf estate as a means to enhance the lifestyles of the members and prospective new members.
"All golf clubs want to capture the golfer, but must also realise that the golfer has other attentions and interests."
The aim is to increase the visibility of what the golf course has and can offer, but also to participate in the community and the community initiatives around the golf course.
According to Clause, challenges in the economy and the leisure time people have available to them means the golf industry needs to change its thinking and approach.
"People's time is limited. The days of getting to the course at 8am, playing a round of golf, having a few drinks and then coming home at 5pm tired is long gone. We must try and initiate faster golf, so I've designed a par-three course within our course. You play it in two thirds of the time but are exposed to the entire golf course. I'd also like to get rid of the stimpmeter (a device used to measure the speed of the greens) in the game. Golf course superintendents always want fast greens, but rolling putts six feet by and then three feet past again, well, the average golfer doesn't enjoy that.
"And when we have a high handicap golf group coming in or if we're expecting some big wind, then we set the course up easier. It's about going back to the basics and planning ahead a bit."
And Clause believes the game is taken far too seriously for its own good.
"We'd bring more people into the game if we could remind them to be kids. You know, adults struggle with golf because they base it on life and business. They spent their lives trying to achieve success and want the same out of golf. But if we could get people to take away from golf that one great putt or one good bunker shot and quit worrying about the total score, I think they'll enjoy it more."
Clause is also more than happy to correct the expectations of the traditionalists in the industry in his quest to grow the game.
"One day a member called me and said, ‘There are kids playing soccer next to the seventh green', and my reply was, ‘Isn't that great'. I like the birders to come here as well. I mean, why not expose the most beautiful natural settings in our country, namely our golf courses. Let's get people just walking around our golf courses and enjoying them for what they are. All we do is make rules to prohibit it. Let's stop worrying so much about the hardcore side of golf. Yes we want to produce great champions. But at the same time we want people to come out here and not care what their score is."