A carefully planned fleet replacement programme over the past five years – facilitated by close consultation between supplier, Smith Power Equipment, and client – has helped retain the legendary repute that The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Course has always been renowned for throughout its rich, century-long golfing history in South Africa.
Situated northwest of Johannesburg’s hustling city centre sets one of the most famed golf clubs in South African history – The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf. In over a century of South African golfing history, few clubs, if any, are able to replicate a heritage like that of the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
The club is a product of a merger of the former Royal Johannesburg Golf Club and the former Kensington Golf Club in 1998. Possibly deemed the first merger of its kind in South Africa in the golf industry – it went on to produce a financially sound member-owned club with contemporary facilities.
At almost 130 years old, the club is one of the oldest in South Africa and received its royal prefix in 1931 when King George the Fifth visited South Africa. Two years after this famous visit, the second of the club’s two legendary courses was born and is known, quite widely, as the East Course.
The East Course has gone on to host no less than seven South African Opens and has played host to a large number of other significant national and international events. The West Course, though not as highly rated, is still considered a first-rate South African course and is preferred by many of the club’s members because of its ease of playability.
‘The merger of the two clubs in 1998 created a financially sound entity that allowed for the improvements to the clubhouse and the two courses. The result is a superb 36-hole facility, with two outstanding parkland golf courses ideally suited to meet the golfing needs of the 21st century,’ explains Shaun Brits, course manager at The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Course.
As Brits puts it, one of the factors that sets the club apart from a lot of other traditional golf clubs is that it’s not a country club; Royal focuses specifically on golf, and has done so since its inception, always steeping itself in both tradition and history. However, in the modern times where everything around us “evolves” in every aspect, five years ago, the club relooked a number of things – all the way from facilities to equipment – but still keeping with the traditional golf club theme that has seen it earn “the home of golf” accolade.
Apart from the modern facilities, a new management team that took the reins in 2014 also ushered in a new era for the club. Prior to the arrival of the management team, which is led by CEO Chris Bentley, the club was still run by a committee, which is the traditional structure for several golf courses.
There were several priorities on the management’s to-do list when they walked in. ‘We looked at every element of the business and there were several aspects that needed a fresh approach and some realignment to keep up with current and modern golf clubs,’ says Brits. Top of the new management team’s agenda was the equipment – a key enabler in giving the members the playability they desire from their course.
When Brits and the new management team walked in, for several reasons, the club had deferred its equipment replacement programme. Bruce Chambers, sales – Toro and Club Car Divisions at Smith Power Equipment, recalls the early days when Brits and him started looking at replenishing the old equipment, which was at the time, about three years past its replacement cycle. ‘About five years ago when we started to talk to Royal, a lot of their equipment was getting too old and obviously downtime and rising repair bills made the equipment inefficient,’ says Chambers.
In close consultation, Brits and Chambers came up with a fleet replacement programme. ‘Fleet replacement is not something that you just decide to do, it takes literally a year of planning and getting the kit approved. To outline the accomplishments of specific annual goals over the years, I would say consistently over the past four years, Royal has purchased and basically replaced 90 percent of its kit over that period,’ says Chambers.
‘When I walked in we hadn’t replaced for about three to four years, so we were that far behind,’ explains Brits. ‘The challenge we faced at the time was priority. So, if you have a R15-million fleet and you have a budget allocation of R2-million per year for replacement, for example, you don’t know where to start.’
As a result, every year for the past four years, Royal has religiously invested in equipment, earmarking priority, and obviously age. ‘There were certain things that we felt could be kept going, but certain items had to be replaced immediately, and that’s how we have progressed up until the last and recent equipment delivery in June this year,’ says Chambers.
Royal recently took delivery of 5 x Toro Flex 2120 walk behinds; 1 x Toro Sand Pro 3040 bunker rake; 1 x Toro Propass 200 topdresser; 4 x Toro Workman GTX utility vehicles; and 1 x Cosmo P500 fertiliser spreader. The order was informed by walkers’ priority for the East Course greens, as well as general maintenance needs.
‘Our priority strategy looked at the main areas that our members play on, and we saw that the tees, fairway greens and bunkers needed most attention,’ explains Brits. ‘So we looked at the agronomic stuff, like less volatile tractors. It has been very rewarding to work with Bruce and Smith Power, and the benefits of the association have been instrumental to the club’s new direction.’
Brits adds that the investments in new, premium Toro gear, supported by a reputable supplier, has resulted in huge savings in repairs, less downtime, and greater health of greens and fairways.
Investments into equipment are such big-ticket purchases and there are many factors that influence buying decisions. To put in context the astronomic nature of Royal’s fleet replacement programme over the last four years, the club runs between 60 and 70 units from Smith Power.
To reiterate the trust in the brands – Toro and Club Car – as well as the supplier, Smith Power Equipment, 90 percent of the equipment the club runs is Smith Power-supplied. ‘One of the factors that influenced our buying decision is that Toro is a leading brand in the golf equipment industry,’ says Brits. ‘I have been in the game for 18 years now, and have dealt with Smith Power over the years, and I should say the service levels from the team are just amazing.’
Brits is also enthused by Toro and Smith Power’s passion to the green keeping industry. ‘Smith Power is a team of professionals who are passionate about what they do, and the brands they represent. They are always willing to help wherever they can. For example, when we have tournaments and need a helping hand, whether it’s a machine to loan or rent, the guys always go that extra mile to help us. For me, they are more than just a company that sells equipment; they create long-lasting relationships for long-term partnerships.’
Brits further reiterates relationships of this nature don’t come by every day. He is of the view that often buying decisions are influenced by price, but there is more to consider than just price. ‘I think many in our industry look at price first, but for me, there is more to a buying decision than just price. When it comes to Toro and Smith Power, we really believe we are getting ‘value’ for money in every sense of the word,’ concludes Brits.