Follow the swallows for a tropical treat
South Africa is enticing European golfers with an exotic mix of inexpensive golf, tropical weather and wonderful wildlife.
CLIVE AGRAN took the 11-hour flight to Durban to find out more . . .
It’s a large country with several popular golfing areas. I headed half-way down the east coast to the province of KwaZulu-Natal, just a short connecting flight from Johannesburg.
My opening round was played south of Durban at the Wild Coast Sun Country Club. Hewn from the rocks and inhospitable coastal terrain by Robert Trent Jones, it’s a rollercoaster ride from hill top to valley bottom and back again. Buggies are mandatory and a head for heights essential as you weave through gorges, over ravines and along cliff tops. There’s even a funicular behind the 12th green to take unbuggied tournament pros up to the 13th tee.
The greens are quick, certainly a lot quicker than the four-ball in front. Wild Coast, it has to be said, is a holiday course that attracts the casual as well as the accomplished. Weekends are therefore best avoided.
On a more positive note, the beautifully maintained course is a delight to play with the ever-present wind off the Indian Ocean making matters even more interesting. The six par threes are gems. If you don’t manage an ace on any of them, don’t worry, there are plenty available in the adjoining casino.
Travelling north, you pass half-a-dozen courses along the coast before reaching Selborne. Set a little back from the sea, it’s a pretty parkland layout that’s pleasing on the eye and yet easy on the legs. So, providing it’s not too hot, walking’s a viable option. There’s water on 15 of the holes, but nothing too intimidating.
With its lakes, gently rolling terrain and elegant stone bridges, Selborne has an almost romantic Capability Brown-type feel. In fact, the layout was the work of Dennis Barker, who created the course in the 1980s out of a dairy farm. A competent handicap golfer, his superb creation suggests that a big-name architect isn’t always necessary to produce something special.
Mr Barker’s house is now a hotel and a number of properties were built on the estate. Fortunately, unlike similar developments in America, the houses are tucked away and don’t intrude.
In fact, it’s hard to be upset by anything in such a sublime setting, not even the hysterical laughter than appears to greet every wayward shot and echoes around the adjoining jungle. It’s the monkeys – like everyone else – having a good time.
Was it worth battling through Durban’s rush-hour? You bet, for everything about the place is magical from the period clubhouse, with its fading photos of Bobby Locke and a youthful Gary Player, to the immaculate fairways with the links-like bumps and hollows.
New courses work at being spectacular; great one’s don’t have to try. Buggy free, the course exudes quality and the place wreaks of class.
Great golf holes, like elephants, are hard to describe yet you recognise one when you see one. The third at Durban Country Club is undoubtedly such an animal. From the elevated tee, it ripples into the distance between bushes on the right and trees on the left. The 12th is almost equally unforgettable and proves that a hole doesn’t need to be long to be testing.
The green sits on top of a giant mound that slopes steeply away in all directions so you’re second is struck with either a putter or a sandwedge. Legend has it that the then Prince of Wales took 17 here in 1925.
My final round was played at the Tom Weiskopf designed Zimbali, just north of Durban. It’s a course of two uneven halves. The first 11 holes are fairly open while the last seven are much tighter. Vertigo sufferers should consider skipping the 13th or tee-off with their eyes shut as the fairway looks about 1000 feet below. And the problems don’t end there as you’ve still to negotiate a few perilous hairpins on the way down. The bowel-loosening qualities of the hole possibly perhaps explain the loo behind the 14th tee.
Shortish hitters might also be alarmed by the 145-yard carry over impenetrable scrubland at the 7th and the intimidating second over a swamp at the 15th. The reward for perseverance is a great finishing hole and a complimentary bucks fizz behind the 18th green.
YOUR GOLF BREAK YOUR WAY
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