While many golf courses in South Africa are struggling to stay afloat, St Francis Links is riding the crest of the wave. Host to the Vodacom Origins of Golf presented by Samsung, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course is situated in a beautiful part of the country. And although it is off the beaten track, it is a huge success story. This is largely down to resident professional Jeff Clause and his team.
Clause (59) epitomises the DNA of St Francis Links. He is friendly and accommodating and his rapport with the players, both amateur and professional, is a big part of the success of the establishment. And although he was born in America, he has lived here for the past 24 years and considers himself a true South African.
“If you look at my golf shoes, I’ve got an American flag on my left shoe by birth and I’ve got a South African flag on my right shoe by choice,” said Clause. “I’ve been in this country for so long I am a part of the furniture. I’m a boytjie.
“I like looking after people. When the players come we like to make it really special for them. This is our ninth year at St Francis Links. My wife Liezl, who is a key part of the operation, and I came three months prior to opening.
“I think we beat the odds because from a financial standpoint everybody who buys property here is a member. That’s part of the formula … everybody contributes.”
Clause admits it hasn’t always been easy and smart business decisions had to be taken to ensure the longevity of the golf course and the estate.
“We got lean and mean when we saw the signs of an economic downturn. We overlapped positions and reduced some staff. But we tried to never compromise on our quality. Even our developers added their bit while we were going through that tight period. We built a leisure facility and we put a roof over our verandah. We’ve turned a profit in the last seven years, both from the golf club and on the estate.
“The cornerstone to our success is the teamwork that’s put in by everybody here. It’s not uncommon to see a golf operations person assisting with a wedding function. In overlapping, my golf course superintendent is also my estate superintendent.”
The golf course is in magnificent condition and the attention to detail is there for all to see, from the manicured fairways to the superb clubhouse.
“We don’t turn a lot of rounds, 15 000 rounds a year maybe, but because of the quality of the rounds we attract people from all over the world,” said Clause.
Another innovation is the construction of a par 3 teebox on each of the 18 holes.
Not only does it help speed up play, it has also added a fun dimension to the superb layout.
“I don’t know if anybody has done it in South Africa before. We did it to speed up play but also to give players an opportunity to work on the scoring shots. On this golf course, those are around the greens,” explained Clause.
“We set up a golf course from 70 to 130 metres. Everybody plays the same tee … juniors, seniors, ladies and men and it works.
“A par 3 course may be a little tricky on a course with more rounds, but you can either play it first thing in the morning or we set aside times in the afternoon. It is so much quicker – two-and-a-half to three hours for a round – that you can really play a twilight game of golf. It fits in with the whole concept of growing the game.”