St Francis Links8th Feb 2017
Experience Our World
The one thing we can be sure of in life is change. Nothing stays the same. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they get worse, and sometimes they just get older.
But certain things − like a good wine, a good marriage or a beautiful tree, mature into something sublime. Communities can too, and so can residential estates. It looks like that’s what’s happening to St Francis Links as it celebrates its tenth anniversary. They’re still working on it, but so far every year has been better than the one before.
The first ten years
Estate Living chatted to Jeff Clause, who, with his wife Liezl, has been involved in the estate since before its opening in 2006.
“We took occupation of the clubhouse only ten days before opening,” he said, “with Jack Nicklaus and 800 special guests in attendance! We hired the staff – many of whom are still here today – and developed the model for our operational structures.”
So they’ve seen, and guided the growth and development of the estate over its first ten – sometimes scary, sometimes wonderful – years.
There’ve been some ups and downs, as Jeff describes. “In the first two years, more than 490 properties of the 540 on offer were sold. It was boom time in South Africa, and some properties were bought and resold before transfer. But then the recession forced some of the original property investors to resell. Prices fell and the new buyers were the real winners. Having said that, the new owners are almost all starting to build. There’s been a lot of building over the last three years, and it kind of snowballs. Stand owners are inspired to build as they see houses going up next door, and our estate has become a community with nearly 50% of the homeowners in residence.”
The developers were a partnership between the original landowner, local property developer Lionel Donnelly, golf course gurus Golf Data, and WBHO Construction. Work started on site in 2005 and, at the end of 2006, the Jack Nicklaus signature golf course was officially opened at a fabulous function attended by members, guests and of course, the designer: golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
Early property investment in the estate was substantial, with most of the initial sales before and shortly after the official opening.
But there are still some properties available direct from the developers because, as Jeff explains, “During the resale period, the developers held onto their properties, some of the best on the estate, so as not to compete or compromise. Today, these are available at market prices. The developers will remain fully supportive of the estate during the selling period before handing over the club and estate to the members.”
Here and now
St Francis Links is an impressive place to live. It’s close to some fabulous beaches, with iconic surf spots, great fishing and a range of other water sports. You can ride a horse on the beach, go hiking, mountain biking or paragliding, paddle on the Kromme River, visit some interesting historical and cultural sites, and really spoil yourself with fabulous restaurants and coffee shops, great shopping and wonderful spas. And really, all this compliments the golf course, which is, without exaggeration, a real winner. It was voted the best new course in South Africa when it opened in December 2006, and has not been out of the top ten since, It has helped put the small seaside town of St Francis Bay firmly on the national and international golfing map. All this is largely due to the skill and vision of designer Jack Nicklaus who is on record as saying that this was some of the best land he had ever seen – so he had some pretty good raw material to work with.
With careful attention to the undulating dunes and leaving broad corridors undeveloped so that the natural vegetation can thrive, the developers have created a perfect balance between the golf course, the natural areas and the residential component. The 450 ha estate is made up of beautiful properties which are 1000 m2 up to 1900 m2 for larger homes and greater living space. It also offers two separate areas, The Chalets and Links Village which offer small erven of 580 m2 and which are perfect for the first-time homeowners, retired couples and those looking for easy maintenance for a lock up and go lifestyle. The master plan and architectural guidelines require the homes to follow the same colour theme as the original St Francis Bay village and canal development – white walls with dark roofs. Height restrictions ensure that each home enjoys spectacular views, and the careful layout and undulating terrain guarantee privacy. Of course this all looked very good on paper, but ten years on, it is now a reality. On a recent visit to the estate, Gary Player said that the way the homes on the estate were built around the golf course offered the best balance he had ever seen anywhere.
Most of the homeowners, Jeff continued, are “young families and ‘forever-young’ couples.” Good schools and the proximity to Port Elizabeth and the airport make it easy for commuting business people and parents. The golf course, hiking trails and leisure centre with heated pool and gym attract people who appreciate today’s healthy lifestyle.” And, of course, St Francis Bay has been a magnet for surfers ever since Bruce Brown rode that seemingly endless perfect right break while filming the iconic 1960s surf movie Endless Summer.
And, Jeff says, the estate is on a sound financial and management footing. The board of directors consists of homeowners and representatives of the developer, who all own property and pay levies in their own right. Jeff leads an executive committee of four who report quarterly to the board. St Francis Links is run as a sound business without compromising quality or service. The club and the estate are separate companies, both overseen by the board, and the homeowners are the owners and members of both entities.
The next ten years and beyond
We asked Jeff about his plans for the second ten years of the estate’s life. How, we asked, did he see the estate growing and developing, and what did he expect or hope for in the next cycle − the next ten years? His reply was decidedly upbeat, “We are always looking to add to the array of activities on offer. As we move into our second ten years, It’s all about community – growing the spirit of friendship and camaraderie on the estate. Communication is the key to everything and we talk to each other through weekly newsletters, monthly social get-togethers, and regularly with different events and functions. We believe that every person who arrives on the estate is a potential homeowner, and our entire staff embraces that, so we treat every guest as a member for the duration of their stay.”
Harcourts, one of the real estate agents committed to selling and managing property on the Links, share space with their sales material in the Clubhouse.
Marsha Cooper, the Principal of Harcourts St Francis Bay explains that investors experience a high return on holiday and short stay rentals. St Francis Links is also very popular with families living and working in the area, so there is a waiting list for long-term occupancy.
So it seems St Francis Links is – and will continue to be – a community in which active families can raise their children in a place where they can learn how to ride waves, how to play golf and how to put balance into their lives – the balance between surf and turf, and the balance between family time and me time. A place where they can grow into whatever direction is right for them. As Jeff sums it up, the long-term vision for the estate is “to provide a secure environment with a solid financial base and a great variety of lifestyle choices.”