Letter From Africa: Pachyderms And Other Challenges!

By John Cockayne | Golf Business News | Destination Golf Travel

For some months (with the advent of the first lockdown in South Africa in March 2020 in fact) a hippopotamus, known as Harpo, was spotted in our small town on the edges of the Hartbeespoort dam (Harties), having taken up residence in the adjacent waters, writes John Cockayne.

While he has been very good both for morale, especially among animal lovers and as a talking point, both here and further south across the Northwest Province’s border with Gauteng, he has not been setting a good example in terms of the required health protocols.

Curfews are of little concern to him, as he has been seen walking around our estate at night, long after he should have been tucked in bed at home and left footprints in our back flower bed, as evidence of these nocturnal transgressions.

He never wears a mask and when the recent inter-provincial travel restrictions were in place, he had the temerity to sashay forth to the south across the border into Gauteng and take in the big city lights.

On this excursion (it has been reported that he is now back at home in Harties and more large footprints in our flower beds suggest this to be true), he was spotted wandering about in the leafy and upmarket suburb of Bryanston.

Having criticised Harpo’s disregard of the health protocols, to be fair he does observe the social distancing requirements.

This positive aspect of his behaviour is probably due to his ramblings being in the cool of the night and the fact that the human residents, of the areas he frequents, are not overly keen to ‘associate’ too closely with a mammal that can weigh up to 7 000 lbs!!

To give this a sense of scale; if you consider that most professional rugby union team’s scrums weigh in at around the 1800lbs mark – you will realise that Harpo is a seriously big fellow!

So, for those of you worrying about foxes disturbing the bins in your suburb, spare a thought for me as I take my rubbish out at night, while never being quite sure of who might be ambling about nearby in the dark!

If Harpo is a gargantuan task, then that faced by golf in its efforts to be seen to be environmentally friendly are much larger.

This is not because golf does not care, but more because it has been slightly slow on the uptake and is historically poor in sharing its good news stories. The levels of communications have been so poor that many anti-golf ‘knockers’ still think that we use tap water to irrigate the greens and fairways!

To be fair, there has been very little said to date to really dissuade them from this view, and other equally negative opinions and prejudices, as golf continues to keep quiet about what good it does do.

Still on the subject of hippos, in May I visited the lowveld in Mpumalanga at the invite of Tsogo Sun’s Sabi River Sun Resort. This was on the occasion of the reopening of its golf course, after the greens had been rebuilt. The re-launch had been delayed by the activities of a cyclone, which had dumped a biblical quantity of rain in the area in February as the images show.

For those not quite sure what a cyclone might look like – imagine something up to 2,000 kilometres in diameter, which acts like a large washing machine by sucking up water from the ocean in its path, circulating it in the air and then rinsing it out over everything that passes under it!

A good time was had by all at the relaunch, the weather and the course were perfect and the family of hippos, who live in the large dam, adjacent to the 4th, 16th and 17th holes, were impeccably behaved throughout!

The trip had a dual purpose, the second of which was to introduce Alistair Collier from the John Collier Golf Survey  (JCS), and the mechanics of the programme to Sabi River Sun’s management team. 

There are several environmental programmes available to golf clubs in South Africa, such as Audubon, but what is particularly compelling about JCS’ proposition, especially in these difficult economic times, is that it is home grown and free of charge to the participating clubs.

This makes the support tools, questionnaire and their related elements specific to the region and its particular challenges, both in environmental and governance terms. 

JCS takes the data from all the surveys received from clubs throughout South Africa and then this is published in the John Collier Annual Golf Survey.

The JCS panel then re-visits the questionnaires, to ascertain which club had submitted the most comprehensive report each year.

Notwithstanding a positive 44% response rate from golf clubs and a 30% national compliance level, it is inevitable that there are clubs that will stand out as exceptional.

This survey was no different and despite there being several strong contenders, the panel’s conclusion was to give the TOP CLUB award to Leopard Creek, which will be known to all followers of European Tour events.

In making their assessment of the data returned, the reviewers were particularly impressed with the level of detail and standards set, in terms of good governance and environmental compliance, by the Leopard Creek team and it was appropriate, that the club’s efforts should be recognised on World Environment Day.

2020 was a year with multiple crises, including the global COVID-19 pandemic, but all the participating clubs had stepped up to the plate in recognising their environmental responsibilities.

In winning the JCS award, where Leopard Creek had been particularly effective was in linking the practical application of ecosystem restoration, its relationship with nature and then in taking the specific steps needed to move from crisis to healing.

Leopard Creek’s initiatives are an example of what many clubs are doing to contribute to help fight the climate crisis. These activities, on a collective scale, will also help to enhance food security, water supply and livelihoods, in the areas around the clubs involved, while putting the participating clubs in a position to move towards environmentally sensitive tourism and creating a carbon neutral environment. 

While on the subject of tourism, the Magaliesberg Mountains, which provide the backdrop to the view from my office in Hartbeespoort, are over 100 million years old.

Perhaps the only thing more ancient than them, might be the ANC’s thinking about the relevance of golf tourism to the regional economy.

However, to be fair, and as golf is slow to tell its own good news stories, in order to help promote its own economic relevance, Peter Dros, the director sales and marketing at Fancourt on South Africa’s Garden Route, has initiated the Leadership Marketing Forum.

This is an example of networking at its most effective and combines a group of like-minded estates, golf clubs and venues, who have regular e-meetings to share news, challenges, solutions, etc.

I asked Peter Dros to summarise the group’s objectives which he said were as follows:

1.         We have a developing and strengthening relationship with regional tourism structures, but we shall need to get the same structures, in all of the other golf regions in South Africa, to also appreciate the extent and value of the golf travel sector in the overall tourism mix.

2.         Alignment – we need to work on our strategic alliances so as to offer the best value to tourists, whether they are local or international.

3.         The development of a collective voice, both to present the value of golf and to make sure that we are properly represented at overseas trade shows and fairs. If budgets are being cut then this makes the need to cooperate and work together more important than ever.

4.         Collaboration and sharing intel and experiences, which as you commented in the introduction is effectively networking at its best.