SOMERSET WEST, South Africa - Erinvale is a great setting for a visitor to get a feel for South African golf, preferably with two big Afrikaners, sweating and cursing their way good-naturedly around the course.
Erinvale is in the winelands region, with spectacular views of the Hottentots Holland mountain range, where Hottentots - the name the Dutch gave to the South African tribe they found there - used to take refuge after stealing cows. The mountains form a barrier between the Cape Peninsula and the south coast and, if you were hiking and not playing golf, you could still see the wagon ruts from early settlers.
From the higher back nine, you can see Cape Town in the distance, and the ocean, and from almost the whole course you'll have views of the surrounding hills, the vineyards gleaming in the African sun. Wine dominates this part of the rugged country at the tip of the African continent.
In this case, the two blend spectacularly; Erinvale is one of the better courses in the country - ranked the seventh toughest by the South Africa edition of Golf Digest - and it puts out a newsletter for the Erinvale Wine Society. When you're in the little tourist town of Somerset West, you could almost believe you're in a small, rural French town, chatting with smartly-dressed women in outdoor cafes and sipping sparkling wine.
"This is the nicest golf course in the area," said American Dwayne Kyle. "The back nine is very hilly and the front nine is very flat, with more homes. There are some spectacular views on the back nine."
Indeed there are, some of them up close and personal; if you're lucky, you may see bontebok behind the fence at No. 16. Bontebok, easy to spot with the flash of white on their faces, were once considered the rarest antelope in the world. They are found only in protected areas in South Africa.
The course is well-maintained - the greens and fairways were in pretty good shape though South Africa was going through a bad drought at the time of this writing - with the front nine weaving through parkland terrain and the back decorated with views and fynbos, a bushy South African plant.
There's a good variety of holes and enough water to keep it interesting. It was designed by South African Gary Player, who also did the Gary Player Country Club, perennially ranked at the top of the country's courses. Course officials haven't done much to alter Player's original design, though they did plant some trees.
The course can be difficult. No. 1, a dogleg right over a fynbo dam, has been rated among the toughest opening holes in South Africa. Your second shot is to a table-top green guarded by bunkers with a dam to the right.
No. 6 is a long par 4 that takes a good drive to reach it with any degree of accuracy in regulation and No. 17 is a narrow, downhill par 4 between pines on the left and out of bounds on the right, to a small green impeded by bunkers. No. 13 is probably the most scenic hole on the course, a par 5 overlooking False Bay.
At about 7,000 yards, Erinvale may be the best course of the 30 or so in the Cape area. "This is only $10 more than Stellenbosch and it's a lot more than $10 better," Kyle said. "This is easily a $60 golf course (360 South African rands), which is about what you'd pay back in the States. It's like an upper, mid-level Scottsdale course. Stellenbosch is way over-priced."
Erinvale has hosted the World Cup in 1996 and the South African Airways Open in 2003 and 2004.
The course is also very women-friendly. Women compete every Tuesday and the club also has a program called "The Babes," who play "relaxing, stress-free golf," on Thursdays and "where (some) scores are ignored."
Erinvale has a huge, three-story clubhouse overlooking the ninth and 18th holes and a lake and a lively staff. There is a large, wooden sun deck.
Erinvale is a residential golf community, but there are plenty of places to stay in Somerset West, like the Helderberg Cottages, six self-catering cottages sleeping up to six people.
Erinvale has the Terrace Bar, but South Africa, particularly this region, has an abundance of great restaurants. For a real treat, try the Haute Cabriere Cellar Restaurant, on the Cabriere Estate in Franschhoek. This is where French Huguenots came 300 years ago to establish their wine vineyards, at the invitation of South Africa.
The restaurant is built into a hill overlooking the Franshhoek Valley - try to get there in late afternoon with the sun slanting down on the Drakenstein Mountains. In the back are the Pinot Noir vineyards where the grapes are grown; you can taste the wine in the restaurant's cellar, where the wine is maturing.
There are no starters or appetizers, just small and large portions of items like oysters, salmon trout or rack of lamb, together with the chefs' sparkling wine recommendations.
The Hottentots, whose name for themselves was Khoekhoen, used to look down on the South Africa Bushmen, who lived off wild game and plants. The Khoekhoen were so wealthy from their stock, it enabled them to coat themselves in a mixture of butter fat and red ochre.
April 27, 2005
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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