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Karen Country Club opens space to public – Business Daily

Apartments at The Residences at Karen by the Karen Country Club on August 5, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
The wooden gate opens up to a stone-edged gravel path. It is flanked by tall indigenous trees that meet to form a gorgeous canopy and a thick hedge. There is a palm tree that looks somewhat lonely. The atmosphere is quiet, save for soothing chirps from birds.
I am at The Residences, modern cottages and apartments that sit on the edge of the expansive 225 acres of the Karen Country Club Golf Course in Nairobi.
Opened six years ago, The Residences initially offered accommodation to club members and their guests. Members from select elite country clubs around the world are also allowed to stay here, under a reciprocity arrangement.
Recently, the club opened up The Residences to the public, thus venturing into the hospitality industry as a way to diversify and boost its earnings.
In years past, private golf clubs funded themselves with income from green fees, membership fees, food, and beverage sales, and shop sales.
However, with an ageing golfing clique that is not matching up with new younger memberships, and a harsh economy that has denied the wealthy the ability to pay for multiple club memberships, some country clubs are looking for other ways to make money.
“There was the need for the club to open up an angle of revenue generation that moves away from heavy reliance on membership subscriptions and entrance fees,” says Peter Olale, the commercial services manager at Karen Country Club which was founded in 1937.
The hospitality business is however not new to the club, because it has been hosting tournaments, fundraisers, and hiring out the perfectly-manicured lawns as wedding grounds for corporates and club members.
The Sh200 million investment has six stand-alone cottages and three apartment blocks, holding four rooms each. A walk to the cottages feels like Little Red Riding Hood sauntering through the forest to her grandmother’s cottage. Only that no wolf is waiting to eat me, just plenty of flowers and plants, and serenity.
Wood and stone are the main building materials used on the houses, bringing forth a rustic vibe. The stonework adds charm to the building.
Of this Mr Olale says, “We wanted to have the property architecture be in sync with forest and natural feel of the area, and also to have it fit with the main clubhouse’s tile and stone building. The rich history of the club filtered into the design of the residences.”
In the living room, the rustic vibe echoes all around via the sky-high wooden ceiling or roof that brings in an element of space and freshness, while the tiles infuse warmth.
Modernity seeps through the décor that blends both comfort and luxury and the electric fireplace that heats the room.
With the extra-long granite kitchen top, the surface of the dining table comfortably fits four people.
The 18 houses are named after bird species because the birdlife here is phenomenal.
“There are people who come here specifically for birdwatching,” he reveals, adding that there are over 100 species of birds and indigenous trees, some of which are over 80 years old.
Pre-Covid, occupancy stood at 70 percent all year round.
“With the economy bouncing back, we’re almost back to where we used to be,” says Mr Olale.
Guests are drawn from golf tournaments, sporting events, members and their visitors, people seeking staycations and weekend getaways, one-nighters, and honeymooners.
Americans make up the highest percentage of visitors from the international market.
The cost ranges from Sh19,200 to Sh58,000 a night depending on whether it is a single room, double room, or two-bed cottage.
Traditionally, golf clubs have been associated with rigidity due to their aristocratic practices. Opening up the spaces to the public has helped shed the exclusivity tag.
To appeal to a younger generation that does not fancy quiet places and ordering endless teapots, some country clubs have also hived off spaces for bars with loud music, a deejay, good whisky and cigars.
The investments seem to be paying off. There is more revenue coming in from hosting corporate and private parties. It has also maintained the interest of current clients and captured the attention of new ones.
The Karen Country Club is also opening up its clubhouse and the golf course to non-members.
“We have add-on services for residents. A stay here allows non-members to enjoy special rates on golf. Playing a 9 and 18 hole will cost you Sh2,500 and Sh5,000,” he says.
However, to maintain the old exclusive feel for members, there are days set aside for them only. The country club has also maintained some old rules.
“Visitors are expected to maintain the club’s general stand on decorum and dress attire,” cautions Mr Olale.
Photography is also forbidden, sportswear is not allowed in the clubhouse and there is a designated corner for phone conversations.
The country clubs are also moving away from their traditional mainstays — including golf. They now host people looking to play tennis or do bowling or swimming. There is also a gym and spa and a children’s park.
“Such engagements have gone a long way in demystifying the game and the people involved. We hope that this in turn will continue to make us a prime venue for hospitality experiences,” says Mr Olale.
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