Ian Leach, a doyen of golf club management, has finally retired at the age of 77. For the last four years he was General Manager at Elements Private Golf Reserve in the Waterberg Region of Limpopo. His successor is Gerhard Lombard, formerly the GM at Waterkloof.
Leach came to golf club management late in life, appointed as CEO at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington in 2000 after a 37-year career with the South African subsidiary of Caterpillar Incorporated.
“I was a member at Royal when the club merged with Kensington in January 2000,” recalled Leach. “By the middle of that year there was still no manager in office. I had this dream of spending my latter years in the golf industry, and decided to apply for the position.
“I could never have imagined what was to follow, beginning with five exciting years at Royal J&K. We turned the profitability of the club around in the second year of the merger, integrated the two diverse membership bases, and rehabilitated the stream through the property.”
Leach followed that by starting a consulting service to the golf industry – he managed Compleat Golfer’s 5-Star Experience project, served two years as president of the Club Managers Association, and was a member of the Golf Development Board – but it wasn’t long before he was appointed GM of the new Euphoria bushveld estate where an Annika Sorenstam course was opened in 2008. It was the beginning of a lengthy and enjoyable relationship with three Limpopo golf & wildlife estates.
“When Euphoria went into liquidation I consulted again for a short period before being approached by Zebula Country Club to run their golf operations, which I did for five years. Highlights at Zebula included getting involved with Kidz Golf and working with Adventures with Elephants. Remarkably the elephants were trained to hand over prizes to tournament winners.”
There was a brief return to Euphoria before moving to Elements to manage the club under the new ownership of the body corporate. “My four years at Elements could not have been a better way to end a 60-year working career,” said Leach, who lived in a rented home on the remote Waterberg estate. “Elements had experienced difficulties for several years before the body corporate negotiated to buy out the former commercial operator and take over direct management of the estate. We returned the club to reasonable profitability, and restored the credibility of Elements in the eyes of the golfing community. We secured hosting of the 2021 Mid-Amateur Interprovincial, and Elements has returned to the Top 20 of the rankings. This has had an immediate, positive reaction from golfers.”
Leach has played 95 courses in the current Top 100. His plan in retirement is to play all 100 by the end of the year. “I’ve just done a Cape trip to play Pinnacle Point and Worcester to reach 95. Somehow I must get to Sishen to see that for the first time.”
Where does he see the golf industry heading? “A frequently asked question and not easy to answer. The growth and development of club management has been a significant change over the past 20 years. It has become a profession with dedicated and competent managers in control. Golf is becoming more expensive and this will inevitably affect future demand, particularly for the traditional 18 holes.
“I don’t see any new courses being built in the near future, and the total number of existing clubs is likely to decline further. I see 9-hole golf becoming more popular and Par-3 courses being established. Having said this, golf will remain a popular sport.”
END OF AN ERO FOR PRETORIA CC CLUB PROS
It’s the end of an era at Pretoria Country Club with the news that joint club professionals Athol Dowie and Sybrand van der Spuy are relinquishing their full-time positions at the club after 40 years of working together in a unique partnership.
Dowie and Van der Spuy, both honorary life members of the PGA of SA, are not disappearing from Pretoria CC, but the pro shop operation was taken over by Global Golf on March 1.
The pair are still working part-time, overseeing competitions and golf days. Dowie remains active giving lessons. “I’ve never been this busy with lessons before,” admitted the 71-year-old whose uninterrupted link with the club goes back 56 years to 1965 when he joined as a junior member. He was a three-time club champion.
“A year ago, before lockdown, I was doing 30 lessons a week; now it’s between 50 and 60. The course is incredibly busy, averaging something like 4000 rounds a month since last June when golf re-opened after lockdown. Its popularity has a lot to do with its fantastic condition. I’ve never seen it this good, not even when the club was hosting the Tshwane Open on the European Tour (2015 to 2017). It’s twice as good as it was then.”
Pretoria CC have only had three sets of club professionals in the last 90 years, a record likely unmatched in South Africa. (The Hayes family have been at Zwartkop CC for 80 years.) George van Niekerk was the pro from 1930 to 1955, and was succeeded by Graham Roebert from 1955 to 1980.
Dowie worked for Roebert in the pro shop during his school holidays. He had an academic bent and studied BComm Economics at Tukkies, going on to work at the Bureau for Economic Research. In 1977 he recommended that Roebert employ his friend and fellow club member Van der Spuy, then doing a law degree, as his assistant.
“When Graham had a heart attack in 1980 he decided to retire and move to the coast. He asked me if I’d like to take over the pro shop with Sybrand and I jumped at the opportunity. The shop has kept us extremely busy, and we’ve enjoyed the wonderful support and friendship of the members these last 40 years.”