Kingswood HOA in the driver’s seat14th Dec 2020
After consultations and town hall meetings in 2019, a reassuring 87% of Kingswood home owners agreed that the HOA would buy Kingswood golf course from Kingswood Golf Properties ( Pty) Ltd. We chatted to CEO Willem Jacobs, who led the team that achieved the transfer and now leads the management team, to get some insight into the process – and of the plans going forward.
Kingswood HOA Properties (Pty) Ltd was formed to house the golf course and related assets. The company is solely owned by the HOA, and therefore by the home owners of the estate. The Kingswood HOA Properties (Pty) Ltd is managed by Willem Jacobs as the CEO and Danie Obermeyer and Ivan van Heerden take care of the course operational managament. Part of the transaction was also to buy the Kingswood name so the HOA is the sole custodian of the Kingswood brand, and thus has full control of how the brand is used and perceived going forward. Willem says: ‘The HOA is committed to ensuring a beautiful course, and to keeping it in great condition. To this end, home owners contribute part of their monthly levy towards its upkeep.’
Transfer of the property was delayed from March to the end of October 2020, mainly because of Covid, but the HOA management wasn’t idle while waiting for transfer. There was significant planning and work behind the scenes so that, when the HOA became responsible for the course from 28 October, the agreement with Kingswood Golf Operations to rent the golf course and run the golfing and related activities and the team could move quickly to start upgrading and preparing the course for the 2020/21 season, and beyond.
Course maintenance had been difficuult for Kingswood Golf Properties due to lack of funds over the last few years, and much of the equipment that is needed to do the work was old and often out of action, and repairs were costly. Fortunately, sale agreements for critical new machinery were made back in February, and the deals were upheld despite negative currency fluctuations.
At the top of the list was a new spray rig to put fertiliser on the fairways, greens, green surrounds, tee boxes and tee box surrounds. Next in line were a greens mower, a tee box and green surrounds mower, and four Turf Gator™ utility vehicles. Previously there had been little investment in the course maintenance equipment, and no preventative maintenance, so the approach had been to fix problems when they arose. But the new plan is to do the opposite – proactive maintenance rather than working from one breakdown to the next. As Willem points out: ‘This is the advantage of renewing the fleet of equipment, implementing preventative maintenance and setting up a maintenance regime – breakdowns should be the exception and not the rule.’ Willem asked Travis Rochat, a consultant who formerly worked for John Deere, to advise on the course workshop and its systems. Travis will set up a workshop programme, preventative maintenance programme and registers, and redesign the layout of the workshop, as well as effectively communicating with the existing mechanics to ensure that they are all on board with the new maintenance regime. The workshop was painted, the floor was resurfaced, and quite a lot of junk and scrap was removed and sold. In addition, health and safety practices were put firmly in place.
The complete golf course staff complement has been taken over by the new company, with not a single retrenchment. There are now 19 people employed by Kingswood HOA Properties (Pty) Ltd, four times the previous number of staff that was previously managed by the HOA. All staff members have the same benefits and years of service as before, but there have been some adjustments with changed working hours, policies and procedures, and more effective management.
Projects and challenges
Willem and his team have a list of special projects and challenges, not least of which is the 11-year-old irrigation system and faulty satellite boxes, but these will be dealt with when time and budget allow. In the meantime, they are fixing up bridges, and have cleaned up the dams so that they are now assets for the enjoyment of all residents, and for the bird life that is returning.
Return to glory, and control
It’s safe to say that there is a vision and a plan with a dynamic and forward-thinking team driving it. There is tremendous potential to grow further but, primarily, Willem wants Kingswood to return to its former status as an iconic destination course for golfers from all around South Africa and further afield. Willem is elated that the transfer has happened. It has been a lot of extra work, he says, and golf course management has proved to be a steep learning curve. ‘But’, he adds, ‘it’s reassuring to know that control of this amazing asset is firmly with those most invested in the property. Whatever is fixed is done, we can bank on it and we know it’s going to work. We have the advantage that we can manage this course in-house, unlike many HOA-owned courses in South Africa.’
The original course designer and Kingswood resident, Danie Obermeyer, has acted as a consultant, ensuring that the actual course maintenance regimes are back to where they should be. ‘Danie’s really getting involved and the results are showing,’ says Willem. Our men’s and ladies’ captains will provide feedback. We obtained quotes for outsourced management, but we decided to keep it in-house, as the Kingswood HOA Properties (Pty) Ltd is not profit-driven, unlike third party providers. Ultimately, we are passionate about this course, and we know what needs to be done to make it work properly.’ Over time this approach will lift the whole asset. Although home owners have experienced a spike in their levy, they will be rewarded with an increase in value, and added enjoyment of the course as an open space, as much as it is a golfing venue.
Value and the brand
While Willem wishes the team had had just one more month to prepare for the season, they have done what they can. ‘I’m confident the course will be back to its former glory, and will enrich and grow the asset value of the home owners’ investments. The golf course plays a large part of the perception of the estate. Property values relate directly to the upkeep of the golf course – what it looks like, its status and, of course, the brand backing it.’
Even though the HOA team has only had control of the course for less than two months, they have felt energised by the positive feedback they’ve received. With the management team’s proactive approach, and the enthusiastic backing of home owners, it looks as if 2021 will be the year that Kingswood Golf Course comes into its own – and it will grow from strength to strength for many more years beyond.