The rise of
Southern Turf Management
Southern Turf Management is based at Kleinmond in the Western Cape, some 80 kilometres southeast of Cape Town in South Africa. The senior management team consists of Derick Bolton, his wife Ellen and Kosie Mentz. Founded in 2003, the company has grown significantly in the past 11 years and has an impressive client list including some of the most prestigious golf courses in the Western Cape.
The Management Team
Derick Bolton has worked in the industry for 19 years including a 10-year spell with Peter Matkovich at Bloemfontein Golf Club and the Prince’s Grant Golf Estate; and for the last 13 years at Arabella Country Estate.
His wife Ellen controls the administrative side of the business and has been instrumental in driving the systems and procedures that form the backbone of STM.
Kosie Mentz is an 18-year veteran of golf course construction and maintenance. He has built golf courses internationally for the Gary Player Group and DMK Golf Design in Asia, Middle East, US, Pacific Islands and South Africa. He was Resort Superintendent at Fancourt for six years, responsible for the four golf courses including the remodeling of the Montagu course in 2004-5.
I met Derick Bolton and Kosie Mentz at the De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate, home of the De Zalze Golf Club, which has hosted the World Amateur Team Championships as well as the largest ever South African Amateur Championships, back in 2006. Over lunch at the thatched clubhouse overlooking the Blaauwklippen River and the majestic Stellenbosch mountains, I asked them to explain the philosophy behind their business.
View from De Zalze clubhouse
“Our company strongly believes that our hands-on approach, and by that I mean the three directors, ensures that the highest standards are met at all times,” Derick Bolton said, “We visit our contracted golf courses regularly and this ensures a consistent approach to the management at each course.
“We have a holistic approach to the management of our clients’ golf courses which includes well-established administrative systems and training programmes for all our staff. In fact we are passionate about training in our business. We have two-year internships for mechanics and greenkeeping staff; these positions are for the less privileged as it is vitally important that we provide access to career opportunities for everyone.
“Early on, we identified that there was a need for consistently well-maintained golf courses, not only for our golfers, but also for the clubs’ management. If the owners and management know their course is in pristine condition, it leaves them free to focus on their core business and that’s maximising their revenue by ensuring that members, guests and corporate clients return to the facility.
“Our business model is based on an agreed fee that sees us takeover the existing golf course maintenance staff, together with the operational, management and administration costs associated with this. We have a huge pool of resources to draw from. Not only the experience of the senior staff within the business, but also from the systems and procedures that have been implemented and enhanced over the past 11 years.”
Kosie Mentz joined the conversation saying,
“The South African golf market is no different from that in Europe; the impact of the recession has been felt here and capital expenditure budgets have been reduced. That has a direct effect on machinery and irrigation related purchases. For example, where you might previously have had a budget of between ZAR 500,000 – 700,000, that’s now been reduced to around ZAR 350,000 or, put another way, that equates to a reduction in purchasing power of two new replacement machines a year.
CSE office in Capetown
“Having the right tools for the job is a fundamental prerequisite of what we do, so back in 2009, we signed a preferred supplier agreement with CSE Equipment Company, the South African distributor of Ransomes and Jacobsen products. Peter Askew, their sales director back then and the Ransomes Jacobsen territory manager Klasie Baard were instrumental in forging this relationship. This partnership has proved critical to the success of our business, because we share the same values; we provide first-class service 365 days a year and CSE have responded likewise.
“We re-signed the agreement again this year, with CSE and the manufacturer including a value added package to the contract, which enhances the overall performance of the equipment at no extra cost. We didn’t have to ask or demand this; it was their way of demonstrating that they valued the partnership, which has been mutually beneficial to both parties.
Staff training is the core of the business
Staff training is an integral part of the business
“Referring back to our support for our staff, we run an exemplary training programme which is reviewed on an annual basis and includes training from the superintendent down to the youngest member of staff. We are an inclusive business. Every month we have a meeting with all the superintendents present; we review our management of each venue, exchange best practices and identify those staff who are performing above expectation and who may be candidates to progress through the business. We can also look at any issues that have arisen and can normally resolve most things due to the experience around the table!”
Successs of the business
I asked Derick Bolton what he thought was the main reason behind the success of the business.
“I think by taking full responsibility for the maintenance operation and all the risks involved, club owners can concentrate on the other aspects of their business. They know exactly what their monthly or annual costs for our services are and that there will be no sudden surprises, if a machine needs to be replaced or major repairs are required. Also with a growing number of contracts, we can use our collective buying power to the benefit of individual courses.
“Also the high level administrative support from Ellen and her team ensures that all accounts, legalities and communications are done at a professional level. We can, and often do, assist club management in capital expenditure forecasting that pertains to a particular golf course.”
Derick Bolton, Rory Taylor, Kosie Mentz, Garry Pneumatiticos of CSE and Scott Forrest of Ransomes Jacobsen
Partway through lunch we were joined by Rory Taylor, De Zalze’s course superintendent, who apologised for his late arrival having just completed a course tour with his irrigation supplier. I asked him about his career and what benefits he thought STM had brought to the club since taking over the management of the course in July 2012.
“I was employed here back in 1998 and 1999 during construction and grow in. Then in 2000 I went to Arabella, where I was an assistant to Derick, who was superintendent at the time. I then had a spell at Princes Grant Golf Club on the Dolphin Coast northeast of Durban before departing for the UK, where I worked at The Wisley Golf Club, a 30 minute drive from central London.
“In 2003 I left the UK to take the first assistants post at Pennant Hills Golf Club in Australia, a private members club, 20 kilometres outside Sydney. Then in 2008 I returned to South Africa as superintendent at Steenberg and finally in November 2012, I was appointed as superintendent here.
“You asked me what benefits I thought STM had brought to De Zalze; well you should probably ask Dave Hansen, the CEO of De Zalze Golf; I’ve seen his endorsement of STM!
“In 2006 the management here called in Derick Bolton as course consultant. They were able to witness first-hand the value of having him in an advisory capacity on their team, especially with regard to the management of their major asset.
“They had seen the effect that Derick and Kosie had on the quality of the playing surfaces at the three other Peter Matkovich-designed courses in the Western Cape and have been rewarded with similar results here. The quality, definition and presentation of the course is improving all the time.”
The STM Portfolio
The course at Arabella Golf Club is rated number 4 in South Africa by Golf Digest magazine and number 2 by Compleat Golfer. It hosted the Nelson Mandela Invitational from 2003 to 2006 and is the only golf course in the country ISO 14001 accredited, the international standard for environmental management.
The Atlantic Beach Golf Course is an 18 hole Links-style course, situated just 700 metres from the ocean. It features spectacular views of the sea and Table Mountain and winds its way through the undulating dunes, peppered with islands of fynbos, the natural vegetation of South Africa.
De Zalze Golf Course is situated within the De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate and was designed by Peter Matkovich, the course architect responsible for Leopard Rock, Arabella and Pinnacle Point amongst others. At 6,369 metres from the championship tees, it’s a course with a mix of parkland holes, water features and the Blaauwklippen River which comes into play at various intervals.
Located just 5 minutes outside Stellenbosch and surrounded by rolling vineyards and majestic mountains, Devonvale Golf Club’s magnificent 6,136 metre, 18-hole is situated on the north-facing slopes of the Devon Valley. The course has hosted the South African Ladies Open, Sunshine Tour events plus many Provincial Opens and Inter-provincial tournaments.
Durbanville Golf Course is situated in Cape Town’s northern suburbs and has, in recent years, seen considerable improvements. The golf course nowadays has excellent fairways and good-putting surfaces, while manicuring and the introduction of newly shaped greens have served to enhance the club’s reputation. At 6,045 metres it has a reputation for being less demanding than the other Cape courses.
The Hermanus Golf Club, situated in the small fishing village on the coast of Walker Bay, has become one of the most popular golf courses in South Africa. It is also one of the oldest established courses, with a history dating back to the early 1900s. In 2007, the start of STM’s contract, the course was extended by the addition of a further nine holes by Peter Matkovich and is now a 27-hole golf destination offering privacy to its members, yet accessibility to the public.
Highland Gate is situated in the rolling hills outside South Africa’s fly-fishing capital, Dullstroom and is a two and a half hour drive from Johannesburg. Dullstroom is arguably the premier trout fishing destination in South Africa and is an easy 2 hour drive from Johannesburg. It features an Ernie Els Signature 18-hole championship golf course and driving range and has been maintained by STM since 2010.
Founded in 1956 as a golf and country club, King David Golf Course was designed by Bob Grimsdel, the leading course architect of his day. In the 1950s there was a large Jewish community living in the Parow/Bellville area of Cape Town that made up the bulk of King David Country Club’s membership. Today it is a thriving multi-cultural golf club and in 2009 was voted the most improved course in South Africa by Golf Digest magazine.
Mowbray Golf Club is located about 15 minutes from the Waterfront and Cape Town’s International Airport. The 18-hole parkland course is 6,029 metres from the back tees with a par of 72. As with any coastal course, a significant feature is the wind. STM took responsibility for the course in 2010.
Since opening in 1994, the Prince’s Grant Golf Course, located 80 kilometers northeast of Durban on the Dolphin Coast has earned a reputation for excellence, including the Compleat Golfer 5-Star Golf Experience Award, and being named Best Golf Development in South Africa by the World Property Awards. With large greens and impressive fairways, the Peter Matkovich-designed course is ranked amongst the best in South Africa.
Situated in the Constantia Valley, just outside of Cape Town, the Steenberg Golf Estate features a picturesque Peter Matkovich-designed course, with the longest par 5 in the country at 564 metres. The Steenberg golf course is rated as one of the top three courses to visit and works its way through the vineyards of the country’s oldest wine farm. It is renowned for its greens, particularly the 14th hole and has the largest green in Africa. It has been in STM’s portfolio since 2005.
Stellenbosch Golf Club celebrated its centenary in 2004, but it was only in 1953 that it grew from a 9-hole course into 18 holes. It is situated in the centre of the fertile and scenic winegrowing area of the Cape, less than an hour’s drive out of Cape Town. The 18-hole, par 72 course has hosted the South African Open and South African Masters and, compared to courses in Cape Town and on the Cape Peninsula, is protected from the wind. The relatively narrow fairways are lined with trees and straight driving is required in order to avoid the hazard of the nearby vines. STM took over the course maintenance in August 2010.
In 2012, STM were awarded the grounds maintenance contract at Arabella Country Estate, one of Cape Town’s most luxurious golf estates, situated approximately 28 kilometres from Hermanus and 7 kilometres from Kleinmond. It spans a total area of 113 hectares and is located within the transitional zone of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and the adjacent Bot River Lagoon. The management of this property must conform to the objectives of the Biosphere Reserve, which includes the protection of the natural environment on, and surrounding, the property.
Reddam House is a co-educational, non-denominational, independent school
encouraging students to learn in a relaxed, self-disciplined academic environment. Cradled by the majestic mountains in the beautiful Constantia valley, overlooking the Steenberg vineyards and Steenberg golf estate it provides an holistic education where the three pillars of Academia, Sport and Culture are tackled with equal passion and energy. In September 2011, STM were contracted to maintain the school’s cricket, rugby and athletic fields.