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South Africa soon will be the top seaside golfing destination, Nicklaus says

By Michael Vlismas,

GEORGE, South Africa -- When the residents of the South African seaside village of George started repainting their houses in anticipation of the 2003 Presidents Cup coming to their Western Cape town, there was a definite sense of how valuable the event would be for this region known as the Garden Route.

But not even the sharpest marketing campaign could have matched United States team captain, Jack Nicklaus', ringing endorsement of South Africa's Garden Route as one of the world's premier golfing destinations when he boldly declared, "Frankly, I think that 50 years from now, some of the best seaside golf in the world will be right here."

Gary Player backed this up when he added, "What you (America) have on 17 Mile Drive, we have 1,000 miles of that!"

"It's the nearest thing to heaven," said Ernie Els, who has a home at Herold's Bay just outside George, and which is also the site for the world No. 3's first golf course in South Africa, Oubaai.

Even Tiger Woods chose the region, in particular the Shamwari Game Reserve, to propose to his girlfriend Elin Nordegren after the Presidents Cup and against the backdrop of an African sunset.

South Africa's Garden Route, which winds its way along the coastline from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in the shadow of the Outeniqua Mountain range, has long been renowned for its rugged beauty, offering spectacular mountain and ocean vistas and a wealth of fauna and flora.

But the region is now beginning to flex its muscles as a world-class golfing destination as well.

"There is no doubt that the Cape and in particular Cape Town and the Garden Route is one of the most exciting new golf destinations in the world," said Dr Mike Fabricius, CEO of Western Cape Tourism.

Atlantic Beach, Arabella, Fancourt, Goose Valley, Pezula, Oubaai, Pearl Valley, Simola, and Pinnacle Point are just some of the courses that dot this stretch of coastline.

"I promise you, this South African coast isn't shabby," said Nicklaus, who already has designed three courses in Africa. "It's pretty neat. I've flown a helicopter up and down this coastline for 10 years now, and I just see golf course after golf course after golf course that could be done here. A lot of them will be done and are being done.

"It's just like the Sand Belt in the Melbourne area, where they've done a lot of wonderful golf courses. But here you've got virgin territory to be able to do some of the things you want to do. Environmentally you have to make sure that what we are doing is the right thing to do. But there's unbelievable land for it. Unbelievable."

During the Presidents Cup, Player, captain of the International Team, spoke at length about how important tourism was for the growth of the South African economy and eradicating the effects of poverty currently gripping the greater part of the population.

"If we could get 20 million people a year it would make a big dent in poverty. I mean Orlando alone has 50 million and Spain, which doesn't have anywhere near the infrastructure and the beauty that we have in this country, gets 40 million.

"It's not a case of boasting. It's a case of a fact and nobody is aware of what we have in this country -- the wineries, the great people," Player said.

The Garden Route offers far more than just golf, though. As an eco-tourist destination, it is almost unrivalled in terms of sheer variety.

Whale watching is one of the principal attractions for local and overseas visitors, who are taken out by boat right up alongside these majestic beasts.

Trips to Nature's Valley, the National Parks of Tsitsikamma, Kariega, Addo Elephant Park and Shamwari are also a must.

George, known as the capital of the Garden Route, is the best tee off point for exploring the region.

International visitors are afforded easy access through the George Airport, which itself is only a 45-minute flight from Cape Town International, or about a two-hour flight from Johannesburg International.

Or you could drive the 440 kilometres from Cape Town to George in order to truly appreciate the natural wonder of the area.

The people at George Tourism are very helpful and will point you in the right direction in terms of planning your trip. They can be reached by phone on +27 44 801 9295/7 or e-mail at info@georgetourism.co.za.

Michael Vlismas is a freelance golf writer and has covered the game for Reuters, several international newspapers and publications such as the Daily Telegraph, Golf Digest and Golf Weekly, as well as having done radio work for the BBC World Service and other stations worldwide.

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