The golfing members at Irene Country Club had more reason to be overjoyed than anyone else in the country when their golf course in Gauteng North was re-opened on June 13. They had pretty much been without a golf course for six months, not just the 11 weeks of lockdown.
The beautiful parkland course at Irene, ranked No 43 in South Africa, is situated on the Hennops River which flows through Centurion, and heavy rain on December 10 produced a devastating flood as the river overflowed across the fairways, greens and even the club’s cricket field. The Hennops normally winds a narrow and sinuous course through the property, but the flood transformed the area around the clubhouse into a lake. It also damaged several holes at Centurion Country Club further along its passage.
At Irene, 100 metres of a boundary palisade wall alongside the ninth hole collapsed due to the pressure of the water.
Floods generally only affect five or six holes at Irene bordering the river, but this one had a more diabolical outcome. The surging water tore through the club pumphouse and put it out of action for weeks. When the rain ceased and the flood water receded, there was no operational irrigation system to hydrate the greens during a period of intense summer heat.
The result, after silt accumulation or burn damage, was that all 18 greens, plus the practice putting green, chipping green and nursery green, needed major repair work. Irene has an estimated one hectare of green surface and each green needed different treatment.
Adding to a challenging situation for the country club was that they had no greenkeeper and had recently employed a new general manager in Janyne Marais. Her first day at the club on February 1 was the beginning of a baptism of fire. Formerly the GM of the Club Management Association of SA, this was her introductory experience of being in charge of a golf club. She had worked in a marketing position at Glendower.
“I arrived at a club which was in the midst of a trying and difficult time recovering from the flood, little knowing that worse was to come in Covid and then staff retrenchments!” she said, fitting in this interview among the many demands on her time. Irene is a big club, with 1860 members, and one of the most vibrant country clubs in the country. Golf is the biggest section, with 682 members, yet the other four sports played there – tennis, cricket, bowls and squash – are especially strong. Irene has hosted Davis Cup tennis matches. Plus, there’s a sizeable social membership.
“I’ve found out in a short crazy time that Irene has many amazing members for whom the club means the world,” said Marais. “They are doing everything to support the club in its current dire financial state. They mostly want to contribute rather than ask for re-imbursement for the loss of half a year of golf.”
The recovery process of the greens could only begin in February once there had been an insurance settlement, the pumphouse repaired, site visits and consultations. The work to reseed 9 greens and resod another 12 greens was given to Agrano Turf, a golf and landscape company formed in 2014 by Shaun Brits, the course superintendent at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington. The project was managed by 29-year-old Jerry Steyn, who has subsequently been appointed Irene’s greenkeeper. The lockdown closure of the course did help speed up the grow-in of the greens.
Irene again looks a picture with fairways and greens in excellent condition, and members have been out in force. However, some weekdays are quiet and Marais said the club is welcoming visitors.