Published by : Stuart McLean - 31 March 2020

The national lockdown over the coronavirus has already within the first week claimed its first “permanent” golf course closure.

While all golf clubs and courses in South Africa are closed for the 21-day duration of the lockdown – although basic maintenance work continues – the owners of Vaal de Grace at Parys in the Free State have shut down the course “permanently” and retrenched staff.

Vaal de Grace, ranked No 63 in the Top 100, is a Nick Price design, opened in 2008 as part of a residential estate built on an island within the Vaal River.

Vaal de Grace Golf Estate

However, because there has never been any monthly contribution in the way of levies from estate home-owners towards maintaining the golf course, it has always run on a low budget. A proper clubhouse has never been built. Instead, a converted house has served as a substitute. The current course owners, who live on the estate, don’t have the funds to pay for maintenance costs and wages during the lockdown without any income from green fees.

New golf director Mike Baylis, who arrived last year from Zimbabwe, has remained on site to ensure the course, mainly the greens and tee boxes, is irrigated daily. He said he was trying to obtain permission to mow the greens at least twice a week.

Vaal de Grace residents will obviously be concerned by these latest developments, as the loss or damage to the golf course could have a significant effect on the value of their properties.

The Vaal de Grace Home Owners Association voted against purchasing the course, or even a 50% holding in it, at the last annual meeting.

Golf courses left unmaintained for even a couple of weeks can quickly deteriorate and turn into a vast field of long grass. That happened at Orkney GC earlier this year when mowers were unable to get on to the front nine after weeks of steady rain.

When Atlantic Beach Links in Cape Town lost its fairways during the 2017/18 water crisis, houses on the Atlantic Beach estate were said to have been negatively impacted, with the average price of homes decreasing by R500 000, a loss of value to the estate of R430 million. Subsequently the Atlantic Beach HOA approved the purchase of the golf club at a special general meeting in July 2019.

Two other Central Gauteng golf clubs, already in dire financial trouble before the lockdown, will be further stressed by the 21-day closure. They are Randfontein and Leeuwkop, which have both lost a significant number of members in recent months to Krugersdorp and Kyalami respectively.

Randfontein, a past Top 100 course, was in a bad way earlier this year, with only one greens mower working and limited maintenance being done.

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