By Michael Davis
BONAVENTURE Tai has taken a circuitous route to the manager’s position at the Chalambar Golf and Bowls Club in Ararat about 200 kilometres west of Melbourne.
Born in the Cook Islands, he worked in accommodation and hospitality before moving to New Zealand in the 1990s where he worked in beverage and hospitality at family restaurants and international airports.
A career with an international hotel group followed by stints at a sporting club and then Flemington Racecourse made him the ideal candidate when the job came up in Ararat.
“I liked Ararat and saw the potential for growth in the town and the club itself,” he said.
Unfortunately, about the time Tai started at Chalambar, Covid-19 hit and things changed dramatically across the country.
Tai becomes emotional when he talks about the many friends he left behind in the hotel industry having their lives changed dramatically and irrevocably due to the pandemic.
He knows he dodged a bullet leaving the industry but even in Ararat they had to think outside the square.
Thanks to government support, and the fact that the Ararat community was so strong, Tai says “we are just getting by”.
The GM introduced bingo two nights a week, a trivia night, and a music night at their bar and bistro which holds 150 people.
They also started doing takeaway during the pandemic and offering a food cart service on the golf course.
All initiatives have been embraced by members and the wider community.
“The music nights feature only local artists and musicians,” he said proudly.
“Without that sense of community spirit we could not have done it.”
The real icing on the cake is membership increasing by more than 100 to 450 during the tough times.
The new members are by and large male, many of them teenagers, the rest in their twenties and thirties.
“Sport in the area stopped, but they could still play golf and they have embraced it,” Tai said.
“We are getting to the stage now that we are just getting by.
“I have been here for the entire journey during Covid and it been tough.
“And we have had to make a few changes which thankfully have been accepted.”
Chalambar employs people across the club.
The 18-hole golf course has a full-time superintendent, two trainees and a handyman.
“Between them they do a fantastic on the (18-hole) course,” Tai said
The GM is a keen golfer and loves the couch grass course.
“It wasn’t great in winter because of drainage, but it is at its best in summer with the lightning fast couch greens. That’s when it really comes into its own.
“People complain that the greens are too quick but most people, including me, love it,” he said
Since the pandemic, Tai said he has gone out of his way to make sure local Ararat businesses do all the work needed at the club.
“In a country community, you have to support your local businesses,” he said
In turn, local business has responded by supporting the club through tough times.
“A lot of the businesses are family-run and they have supported all the things we’ve been trying to do not only by coming themselves but bringing their families along, too,” Tai said.
“That’s the big difference I have found between being here and in the international hotel industry.
“It is the real sense of community and belonging. Everybody supports one another. It is fantastic.
“We have a very close relationship with the locals. That’s the big difference.
“I would say 80 per cent of the work we get done here is done by locals.
“For me, it’s a fantastic time to be at the golf club.
“At the moment we’re hanging on.
We’re holding our own,but the future is getting brighter and brighter.”