Gooderson Leisure Corporation was established in 1958, when Robert Gooderson acquired the first of his hotels in Durban – The Lonsdale Hotel. Later that year, Alan Gooderson left England to join his family in South Africa and began his career working in The Lonsdale where he developed hospitality skills and expertise that served him for the rest of his career. In 1979, Alan bought the business from his family and pursued a new strategy, which included entering into the timeshare industry.
Dave Barnett, the owner of DS Barnett Construction and Civil Engineering, tells the story of his 36-year relationship with Alan Gooderson and their roles in pioneering timesharing and leisure development in the Drakensberg valley.
The start of a long and fruitful relationship
My introduction to Drakensberg Gardens was in 1987 when Alan’s father, Robert Gooderson, appointed us to build the twelve new Viewpoint Rooms. I was living about six kilometres down the road at Castleburn, so it worked out perfectly. The Gooderson family had owned the Hotel from the 1960’s. During that contract Alan took over the reins of the Group and it was with him that I dealt from then on. We were both young men then – I was forty-three years and he a few years my elder. The Hotel in those days needed a lot of attention and we undertook major room upgrades and lots of new infrastructural work. Alan infected me with his vision for the future, and I was privileged to be able to join him for the ride.
The big year was 1989
I had applied to the Town and Regional Planning Commission on Alan’s behalf for the build of his first timeshare venture at the Hotel. Alan had agreed to my unit design proposals, and we got going on the eighteen units of Riverbend with the double storey units as you enter the Hotel. During that year we also built major new infrastructure such as the Glengarry Dam, the new sewer plant and a main road through the Hotel. As the year drew to a close, one evening Alan and I were going over more of his ideas over drinks in the old Kraal Inn bar at the Hotel. I can remember it as if it was yesterday – like one of those moments you remember where you were when you heard that Kennedy had been shot! He said:
“David – he always calls me that not Dave – do you think we could build an eighteen hole golf course?”
I’d had enough to drink that I couldn’t say anything but “yes” and that’s how the golf course was born. The next week we did a contour survey of the rough veld and old potato and mielie lands, which we then plotted into a drawing on a serviette with a Koki pen. After walking the proposed layout, with big injections of Alan’s golf skills, the planning was finalised. We spent the next year or two with our earthmoving machines, tractors and planters turning his dream into the reality of a fine and one of the most scenic golf courses in our country.
A natural progression to timeshare
As the golf course progressed, what better project could there be than a timeshare development and calling it Fairways. Work began in 1993 and went on in phases for just over ten years until the sixty-two thatched units were completed. The view over the golf course with the backdrop of the magnificent main Drakensberg mountains is both spectacular and unique. No wonder this particular development is Alan’s favourite. In 2005, we built Alan’s family home overlooking Fairways. There was always something he had for us to build within the property. He has a great eye for restoring the older parts of the Hotel and adding new dimensions in the way of additional blocks of rooms and recreation areas.
The catastrophic fire of 2003
December 2003 saw a catastrophic fire that destroyed the main hotel building. I well remember phoning Alan late that night with the news that the building was gone. Once he knew nobody had been hurt, he told me not to worry and I believe he was already envisioning how much better he’d make the hotel look when we rebuilt it. Our rebuilding took most of 2004, during which there many meetings and discussions culminating in the fine new facility that greets his guests today.
A deep friendship
It has been one of the greatest good fortunes of my life to have had this 36-year relationship with Alan. Not only have I enjoyed the ‘ride’ on the construction side, but during this time both my wife, Sue, and I got to know Alan’s dear late wife, Judith. She was a rock to Alan and stood alongside of him in his challenging business. Personally, I had many dealings with Judith about the finishings of the new buildings and refurbishments. She shared the same business principles that I valued with Alan, and my wife and I are saddened by her death.
A simple formula
Alan has not only been the best client any contractor could ever wish, but also a valued friend. Over this period we have worked on a basis of absolute trust in one another. Alan has had the vision for Drakensberg Gardens and its final destination value – for both hotel guests and timeshare owners alike – and he has given me the privilege to build and bring this into being. It’s quite a simple formula – he knows what he wants, he asks what it’s going to cost and look like, we agree, I build, and he pays me on the nail – what I call “old school” values.