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A home for all nationalities
A UNIQUELY Swiss institution in Singapore is the Swiss Club, which is located in the prime Bukit Timah area. The Swiss Club was established in 1871 and is one of the oldest and most historic clubs in Singapore. Located on Bukit Tinggi, it is an elegant and family friendly retreat surrounded by lush greenery, offering a fabulous setting in the middle of the jungle. The club says that it is proud of its wonderful atmosphere and ambience.
The best way to describe the Swiss Club in just one word would be "unique", says Carsten Kjeldmann, the general manager of the club. "The Swiss Club's rich history and heritage is wonderful, something that needs to be experienced first-hand. The drive up to the club, from Swiss Club Road is amazing. With its lush greenery, grounds and jungle-like surroundings, you get the feeling of travelling back in time."
The main clubhouse, built in "chalet style", was completed in 1927. Its red and white features provides tranquility and stimulates the imagination of the colonial days, where dinner jackets and long dresses were required before cocktails were served at the lawn.
"Today, the Club is a family-friendly retreat for members and their guests, embracing Swiss traditions and providing a strong sense of community, a rich heritage and an active social life. The membership today consists of more than 40 different nationalities. In my opinion, that is special and makes the Swiss Club a very unique place," says Mr Kjeldmann.
The Swiss Club has a chequered history. It was founded in 1871 by Otto Alder and his friends. At that time, it was known as the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club of Singapore and was located in the forest area off Balestier Road. Members would gather with their rifles for shooting practice and other social activities.
"The club later relocated to its present location at Bukit Tinggi hill, and from 1902 the club maintained a 300 metre shooting range right up until the 80s. People did not only come here to shoot, the club was also a 'home away from home' for a lot of people - and many friendships were formed then, and this tradition continues up till now," says Mr Kjeldmann.
The Swiss Club's land today spans a total of 174,000 sq m. It provides a home not only for the Swiss Club, but also the Swiss, the German, the Dutch and the Korean Schools, the British Club and the Institute of Engineers. In addition, the entire Swiss Embassy compound is situated on Swiss Club land.
The Club boasts a rich cultural heritage and active social life and has members from all over the world. It provides a wide spectrum of activities. It keeps its members updated on events and other things new through its in-house magazine called Relax, e-newsletters and the club website.
"Our excellent restaurants include the semi-enclosed Arbenz restaurant which serves traditional Swiss and modern European fare with a touch of Asian finesse; and the lively poolside Pergola Café where raclette, fondue, schnitzel and wurst are crowd pleasers," says Mr Kjeldmann. International favourites, weekly specials and healthy choices are also on offer at the various Swiss Club F&B facilities.
The Club's sports facilities are second to none, and include five tennis courts, a nine a side FIFA certified Astro turf football field, Singapore's only padel court and a well-equipped gym, spa, hair salon and a charming 13-room boutique guesthouse.
"Movie nights for kids are a big hit at the moment, and obviously the upcoming Swiss National Day celebration on Aug 4, from 6 pm onwards, in partnership with the Swiss Embassy here. We are expecting about 550 happy participants, making this an event not to be missed," says Mr Kjeldmann.
The Swiss Club's management committee is elected annually by the club's members at the annual general meeting. The committee thereafter holds the authority to exercise and execute such objectives and responsibilities deemed to be in the best interest of the club. The general manager is appointed by the committee to conduct and fulfil all responsibilities related to the daily management of the Club. The committee and the general manager meet at least once a month to review the management of the Club and its activities.
The Swiss Club is, in fact, a club for all nationalities and is truly international. The demographics are predominantly Caucasian, accounting for approximately 80 per cent of its membership - of which 25 per cent are Swiss, 20 per cent are German, followed by the French and British nationals. The remaining 20 per cent are Asians of which 15 per cent are Singaporean and the remaining 5 per cent are a mix of various Asian nationalities.
"We brand ourselves as 'the Home for all Nationalities' and trust this is the right strategy, yet are aware that there are Swiss in Singapore whom may be unaware of the Swiss Club and its unique offerings. I therefore encourage anyone who has not yet had a chance to celebrate the Swiss National Day here to join us for an evening of music, food and social interaction," says Mr Kjeldmann.
Interestingly, the Swiss Club does not have a particular food or drink concept as one would expect in a dedicated restaurant. "We pay attention to our members' needs, and our chefs design menus with this in mind. Aside from the lovely traditional Swiss dishes we serve, the key for preparing good food is to pay attention to the produce," says Mr Kjeldmann.
"We have made a big shift and commitment over the past three years to reduce or eliminate frozen and semi-processed food. and focus on cooking fresh ingredients the right way. This naturally requires dedication, skills and training. We have to be flexible as we cater to all ages, dietary needs and budgets. We take a professional and personal interest in all areas of the club, ensuring our members and guests receive the high quality service and hospitality expected from us," he adds.
Mr Kjeldmann, who is a Dane and not Swiss, has worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years. "Although it a challenging profession with anti-social hours it provides a fantastic career - if you want it. Educated as a chef many years back, my career has taken me through hotels in Hong Kong, restaurants in Japan and resorts in Indonesia.
"I arrived in Singapore in 2004, and got introduced to the club industry here working for the Tanglin Club, British Club and LeVeL33 respectively. For the past three years now, I have been general manager of the lovely Swiss Club; and greatly enjoy my present job," says Mr Kjeldmann.
"At 50, happily married to a Japanese lady, I am the proud father of a new-born son - and the life journey has taken yet another exiting turn. Hope to meet you during the Swiss National Day celebration at the Swiss Club!"