One of South Africa’s iconic golf courses, the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City, is not among those which have opened up again during lockdown. In all likelihood it will remain closed until later in July or even August.
“The Sun City resort remains closed under Level 3 restrictions, and the earliest it could re-open would be under Level 2 or Level 1,” said Ken Payet, the Operations Manager for Sport & Recreation at Sun City. Payet has been one of 150 staff who remained at the Pilanesberg resort during the first two months of lockdown, most of those involved in maintenance and security. “We’re lobbying for the resort to open as soon as possible, but no date has been set for the re-opening.
“Apart from security issues in allowing outside people into the resort, it would be too costly for us to re-open either the Gary Player or the Lost City course at this stage for day visitors,” said Payet. “Most of the golfers who play here come from Gauteng, and they are not allowed to travel outside their province to the North West. So the cost of re-opening would not justify the number of rounds we could expect. As you can expect the courses are looking pristine. Fortunately the cooler weather means the greens are not stressing, so maintenance can be minimised.”
Sun City has been hit hard in terms of green fee revenue by the golf course closures. The GPCC and Lost City Course average between 2500 and 3000 rounds a month – day visitors pay R1200 and hotel guests R900 – so that’s roughly a loss of R3-million a month. And the GPCC has 168 caddies who have been without work all this time.
“We’ve been able to look after the caddies with money from our Caddie Foundation funds, but that can only go so far with such a large number. We’re still assisting them with food vouchers. Our caddies are looked upon as key people at the resort. They spend five hours a day interacting with guests on the course, and play a special role. We’re hoping to boost the Caddie Foundation fund again through donations from the public.”
Payet is also Tournament Director for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, due to be played at the GPCC from December 3 to 6, a month later than earlier scheduled on the Race to Dubai. “We’re hoping that everything will be back to normal by then, so we can admit spectators and corporate hospitality guests,” he said. “However, we will not go ahead with the tournament if there are the same restrictions applying right now on the PGA Tour. A behind-closed-doors scenario will not happen. We would then rather postpone. Having the tournament atmosphere and crowds is essential.”
Payet revealed that the local wildlife have taken over the courses in the absence of golfers. “The buck are walking down the fairways and even the fish eagles which hang out around the 16th and 17th holes at the GPCC are being seen on the course. We had rare elephant sightings next to the park fence alongside the 13th hole at GPCC.”
The staff complement at Sun City has grown to 250 under Level 3 regulations. Refurbishment work is happening at the Cascades Hotel and the Valley of the Waves. Proposed course changes to the GPCC suggested by Gary Player will not happen this year.
Sun City also lost their experienced golf course superintendent Konrad Suhr during lockdown. A man who helped prepare the Gary Player course for several Nedbank Challenge tournaments, he resigned and has taken up the same position at Pinnacle Point in the Garden Route.