Christopher Bentley – A Passionate Hospitality professional, setting new benchmarks and changing the landscape of Club Management
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“I believe business is all about people! and the goal is to make people’s lives better. Whether it’s staff, members, or patrons it’s all about improvement, reaching goals, new heights, creating memories, and delivering exceptional experiences that tie people to the brand and facility,” states Christopher Bentley. Christopher is the CEO of Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. He states that creating a collective vision and achieving those goals/milestones together, gives people immense purpose and a feeling of unity to achieve the things they never thought possible – enhancing the business with innovation and delivering beyond all expectations.
Leading A Company to Success Is Not an Easy Road to Take
Christopher started his career in the golf business in 2005 and quickly developed a passion for people’s hospitality and innovation. “Whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, resort, or golf club it’s all about how you make people ‘feel’, attitude to shape a better future and leave a legacy for others,” he says. Clearly, we live in a complex world and there is no easy road to success, success that is worth talking about is simply because the road to extraordinary achievement is not easy. You have to roll the rock up the hill and be willing to challenge the conventional mold of how things have been done, whist still preserving the history and traditions. A fine balancing acts.
Challenges Make You Stronger
At the tender age of 27, Chris was the youngest appointed executive in the South African golf industry, and the entrusted custodian to not only preserve but also rejuvenate one of the most prestigious golf facilities on the continent (Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club) and so to strategically pave the future sustainability and offering of the facility. Many said he was too young and inexperienced. The truth is he was, but he states that gave him the burning desire to prove those who said; he could’t, wrong! “I was blessed to be given the opportunity and certainly entered the deep end, but I had little to lose and embraced the challenge. As in anyone’s career and life, it’s the challenges you overcome that build character and shape you as a person,” says Christopher.
He learned early that you can’t be scared, logic prevails, and not to worry about the things you can’t control but rather the things you can. Staying true to yourself and continuing to keep doing the right things even against adversity. The importance of building great teams around you make it far easier when faced with challenges compared to taking things on by yourself. The pandemic has been a great example of facing challenges and it boils down to the team culture which remains the ‘unspoken language’. Christopher says that he is continually inspired by the way their business has risen to challenges – with flexibility, resilience, courage, and caring hearts. It’s not always the challenge you face but how you react/respond to it which determines the outcome. Needless to say, nothing happens without the love and support of his family who is the absolute cornerstone of his success.
Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club and Its Services
The story of Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club began in 1890, a privately-owned members club, where visitors are welcome. Over a century of South African golfing history, few clubs, if any, can claim a heritage like that of the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. The Club is the product of a merger of the former Royal Johannesburg Golf Club and the former Kensington Golf Club in 1998. The first merger of its kind in South Africa. The Club is known as the Home of Golf in South Africa, housing the Gauteng Senior Golfer’s Society, the PGA of South Africa, and the Club Managers Association of South Africa. Located to the east of Johannesburg and just 15 minutes’ drive from OR Tambo International Airport and the Private Rand Airport, Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club is one of Africa’s most esteemed golf Clubs. Boasting a rich history with 2 superb 18-hole golf courses (The West Course and the Championship East Course), renowned practice facilities, a boutique golf shop, and PGA qualified professionals to assist at every turn. The Club is complemented by a sublime culinary & lifestyle offering and is currently executing a near billion-rand property development which will see the first 200 homeowners moving onto the Royal Estate by the end of 2022. The Club is steeped in tradition and history (130 years) yet setting the pace in club hospitality & innovative management, it continues to be one of the most esteemed Clubs to be a member of. This famous clubhouse & bell tower create the ultimate setting for a luxury golf club, outstanding conferencing, boutique gymnasium, events, dining, and locker room facility finished with exceptional views. In recent years under the leadership of Chris Bentley, the Club has developed a culture and team like no other. The list of local and international awards racked up is something unmatched and provides a standard of excellence in club management, hospitality, golf, and tourism that’s unsurpassed.
Redefining The Hospitality Industry
“Innovation, sustainability, and inclusivity remain at the heart of what we do. We have included the entire family and lifestyle offering. Live, Play, Work, Relax and most importantly have fun!” exclaims Chris. They have completely re-engineered the business model to create new income streams that never existed to compliment the membership and green fee revenue but at the same time enhanced the courses, built exceptional new facilities and created an incredible value proposition.
The most significant and innovative move they have made as a company was to restructure the Club (2015) from a committee-run facility into a professional management team reporting to a Board on mandate. This immediately propelled and transformed the club operations into a professionally run facility, allowing business and strategy to be executed at pace. The second is their property development – which is a very unique model that’s created annuity income in perpetuity, through the development of over 400 luxury apartments on the outskirts of both our golf courses. Their approach has been to – “Be in control of your destiny”.
Christopher believes the significant influence of change has already been accomplished and is paved for future generations. The beginning of his career was marked by his appointment as Director of Golf at Serengeti Estates (age 24) where he was fortunate to be involved in the pre-opening and post-launch of the facility. He has won numerous awards for his spectacular work and achievements throughout his career but most notably voted the PGA Professional and Manager of the year in 2021. “The truth is – I’m just surrounded by exceptional people and they make me look good,” he states.
His plan for the future is to complete the vision – current upgrades and property development rollout at Royal. To further enhance the overall business offering and to increase membership while shaping and inspiring the next Club leader.
Responsibilities As CEO
Christopher defines himself and his achievements as a Legacy for others. He leads the most incredible team at one of the most prestigious clubs on the continent. “It’s hard to believe it’s my 9th year as the CEO of this remarkable facility, responsible for the overall management, operations, and strategic leadership of the entire business. 250 hectares, 8 Departments, 100 personnel, 1400 Members, 300 daily patrons, 2 Golf Courses, 2 restaurants, 2 culinary kitchens, Wellness/ fitness, and Kids Club. Property development of 400 luxury apartments,” he states.
His typical day at work starts early, and he generally arrives at the club to start work at 5:30 am. Casual Coffee with their senior managers discussing everything Royal. Meet and greet patrons wherever possible throughout the day. Walkthrough the entire building, checking cleanliness and uniformity. Drive the golf courses to check standards saying ‘hi’ to the staff. Meetings with Food & Beverage, Finance, Marketing, Events, Golf & Clients Construction & project site visits. He takes care of the overall administration and ccommunications while also helping others wherever possible.
Maintaining Balance in Personal and Professional Life
“Firstly, I think golf is the best sport in the world and a wonderful platform to create memories, grow the game, make people happy, improve people’s lives and these days provide a safe place to escape,” says Chris. He helps and inspires others to believe that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.
Chris strongly believes the key to having a passion for your job long-term is to ensure a balanced life. “When we work, we work hard but I don’t believe in working to death day in day out. If people are “well” and balanced and happy at home, rested, I generally find they are far happier and energized when at work. I live and promote a balanced lifestyle, eat well, exercise, family time, work hard and play harder,” he explains. His family, staff, and industry mentors motivate him every day. Most importantly he states that it is about leaving a LEGACY for others! Because the things we do for ourselves are gone when we are, but the things we do for others remain your legacy forever.
He is currently completing a degree in business administration (BBA) hopes to finish in the coming years and then move on to his master’s one day. His message to aspiring business leaders is to take the approach of improving people’s lives in everything you do. You have to roll the rock up the hill and surround yourself with remarkable and talented people. Nothing great in business is ever achieved alone. “You got to control what you can you have to keep learning and accept that you will suck at something every day – I do! But you ‘gotta’ keep rolling that rock,” exclaims Chris.
He is a firm believer that what you put into the world is what you will get out. It’s a complicated place – keep things simple, keep your finger on the pulse, and always look to the horizon.