Worldgolf Travel

South African Golf Courses
By Sean Moyce

Teahouse on the 10th
East London Golf Club

The course of the East London Golf Club nestles among the dunes and rolling sandhills which overlook the famous Nahoon Beach and, to the south, the wooded leafiness of Marina Glen. It is a compelling beautiful setting, by turns wildly exposed and protectively secluded - one to which the dullest of sensibilities cannot fail to thrill.

It has challenged many generations of golfers, for the East London Golf Club is one of South Africa's oldest and proudest facilities. Indeed, club and course have an almost tangible 'presence' - that pervasive quality bred of tradition and long established excellence.
From the earliest years through to the late 1960s the East London Golf Club had an assured and merited place on the SA Open roster - an acknowledgment of its overall eminence as a championship venue. However, it bade farewell to the glamour of professional golf in the mid 1970s when, with the advent of television, sponsors would only commit to a venue where TV coverage was guaranteed. Consequently the visibility of the club diminished somewhat, though it has continued to host this country's premier amateur championship, most recently in 1993 as part of the clubs Centenary celebrations. In 1991, with backing from East London's singer biggest industry, professional golf returned to the club with the Mercedes Benz Challenge, then part of the burgeoning Winter Tour. With the installation in 92/93 of a water reticulation system which ensured year round course conditioning of the highest quality.

The Complete golfer included East London on its list of South Africa's finest courses and in November 1994 the panel of judges moved it up the list into the top five.

In it's entire history the East London Golf Club has had but five resident professionals, testimony to the loyalty which is inspired by the closely knit community of club members.

As has been the case for many years the East London Golf Club is the foremost club in the Border region and despite having disappeared from the limelight of television is a much visited, well used, and vibrant facility, currently enjoying approximately 30,000 rounds of golf annually.

Each and every hole is memorable, all the more so because the layout offers the most extraordinarily varied range of challenges. In general the front nine is tight and dramatic, mandating strategic planning and control. It features just one par three, the exhilarating 2nd, from whose drizzyingly elevated tee, vistas of the beautiful coastline open up, far below is the teasingly elusive green. Playing this hole in a rea buster is an experience no purist should miss. The first nine also features a marvelous links style par five (the 3rd) full of Scottish subtlety, and two wicked character par fours (the 5th and 6th) both driveable under the right conditions, but which epitomize the risk reward principle.

The second nine features several holes on which opening the shoulders is a more reasonable proposition the long, curving par five 11th the difficult par four 10 and the uphill par five 15th, are all holes made for hitters. In among these however, is the exciting 12th, two shotter where the medium iron approach, usually from a downslope or sideslope, must sail over a deep valley to a narrow green which nestles below dense coastal scrub. And the closing holes are as good and as daunting as you'll find anywhere, the par 3 -17th features an exposed and elevated tee from which one simply has to carry the ball a goodly distance, the green is a mere silver, surrounded on three sides by thick bush and bunkered in the bale out area to the right. And the 18th is the courses signature hole: it is a dog leg par four, featuring a blind tee shot to a narrow left curving fairway, beyond which on the right is golfing oblivion, reading the wind here is imperative, and those lucky enough to find the short grass from the tee face a medium iron approach to a narrow green, pinched by bunkers, which falls away sharply to back and right.

It is an exhilarating finish which tests both nerve and skill, it richly befits the fine layout to which it is a crescendo. The East London Golf Club is without question a deserving member of the aristocracy of South Africa's finest golf facilities.

For more pictures from East London

Gary Player Country Club, Sun City

The Gary Player Country Club course at Sun City has become known all over the world as the venue for the annual Million Dollar Challenge in the first week of the steamy, sun-drenched month of December, when fans in their tens of thousands turn out to see the golf.

Most of the game's superstars in the 90's and 90s have graced the fairways of this magnificent bushveld course, carved out of an extinct volcano in the wild (largely unexplored) and wonderful (rich plant, animal and birdlife), Pilanesberg mountains, and surrounded by high ground on all sides. Since the inaugural Million Dollar Challenge in 1982, the Sun City course has consistently provided a superb, world-class test for the likes of Nick Price, Nick Faldo, David Frost, Bernhard Langer, Ernie Els and Seve Ballesteros.

Towards the mid-1990s the spectacular layout was in such good condition that Langer (not a man to exaggerate) put it in the same class as Spain's Valderamma - home to the 1997 Ryder Cup - and America's Augusta National, permanent venue for the United States Masters.

Off the back markers the course measures a staggering 6947 meters, which ranks among the longest courses in world golf. It is a par-72, but the rating is 76. Not one of the 18 holes can actually be classed as easy, although a variety of tees does make it possible to shorten the course quite considerably and render it far more user-friendly for the club golfer. The par-four 8Ih hole, for instance, is a tigerish 431 metres off the 'Gold' professional tees, but just 316 metres off the 'White' club markers.

The Sun City course can also be tough when the pins are tucked away in the comers of the slick, cloverleaf greens. And then there are, of course, also the scary water hazards in the form of rivers and man-made dams, not to mention the hostile thorn trees and bushes - home of the dangerous puff adder - just off the smooth, carpet - like fairways. Holes 3, 8 and 11 are all extremely punishing par-fours, with long carries to narrow fairways, and thick bush is a constant threat if the golfer errs even slightly off line. The 422 metre par-four 18th is a dramatic closing hole where the approach must be hit over a wide expanse of water, but everybody's favourite is the par-five 9th, with its island green.

Depending on where the tees are, the Ernie Els of this world may require anything from an eight-iron to a three-wood to get home in two. This is a hole for the true gambler. Eagles are not uncommon for the star players, but there's always a chance of double and even triple bogeys as well at number 9. Fulton Allem on two occasions found a watery grave here in the 1989 Million Dollar when he was on his way to a crippling eight, which unfortunately destroyed his chances in the tournament.

Frost, Ballesteros and Langer have all won the Million Dollar more than once. But the most impressive performance in the history of the event (which was first played in 1982) was when Nick Price completed the 72 holes in a staggering 24-under par total of 264 in 1993, to break the tournament record by eight strokes.

He started off his final round with an eagle two at the I'd hole when he sank a wedge shot from about 100 meters out.

The Gary Player Country Club is part of the huge Sun City casino, sporting and entertainment complex with the Lost City course right next door and the impressive Pilanesberg Game Reserve on adjacent ground.

Course details: 18 holes, par-72, rating 76, 6947 metres

There are beautiful kikuyu fairways and world-class bent grass greens. Water comes into play on seven holes.

Fancourt Golf and Country Club

When the celebrated English novelist, Anthony Trollope, visited this part of the world in 1877, he stated that there was no place on earth prettier than the village of George in South Africa. Here, the majestic Outeniqua Mountains lie immediately to the north of the town, while the cliffs and clean, white beaches or dreamy little places like Herold's Bay and Victoria Bay - a surfers paradise - are just a few kilometres to the south.
To the east, a 10 minute drive away, is the famous Wilderness resort with lakes on one side and the sea on the other. To the east lies a fisherman's paradise at Mossel Bay.

George can lay claim to two outstanding golf venues. One is the 18-hole George Golf Club and the other is the Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate at Bainco on the town's western boundary.

Fancourt has been voted the premier resort in South Africa by the country's hotel federation. Its setting almost exhausts superlatives, as do the hotel and grounds. This was the venue for the Fancourt Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Bells' cup in the mid 1990s. The professional gofers who took part in these tournaments almost to a man rated this the best conditioned course and best venue on the South African PGS's FNB Tour.

By alternating nines, Fancourt offers three challenging 18 hole options 0 the East course (1-9, 10-18) the South (10-18, 19-27) and the West (19-27, 1-9). Few players will disagree that the 6th hole is both extremely challenging and very memorable. This 149 metre par three has an elevated tee and the golfer hits down towards a peninsula green extending out into a lake. With water on the left, right and at the back of the green, the tee shot is a frightening one.

Self doubt quickly creeps in when the dangers of the hole are assessed and it takes courage and belief in one's ability to execute the right shot. The 8th is an outstanding par five of 470 metres, downhill all the way. But water at the left and at the back of the putting surface demands a brave approach from the player intent on reaching the green in two.

Course architect Gary Player has modeled the 182 metre 17th on Augusta's famous 12th hole. But Fancourt's par three is even more tricky. It has water from tee to green and plays a club or two longer. Attractive flowerbeds frame the green.

The 450 metre par 18th is both a dramatic and beautiful hole, with the fairway running through an avenue of old oak trees, and water fronting the green in the shape of a horseshoe. Behind the green is the huge, plush clubhouse, where portraits and photographs of the game's great players from a 'hall of fame' in the wide corridor that runs the length of the building.
Holes 19 to 27 run along a river valley. Water comes into play at each of the four excellent finishing holes two par fours, a par three and a par five. The penultimate hole on this loop borders a hops growing area (peculiar to the George region) and is only 138 metres from tee to green. But in order to go for the flag, especially if its tucked away on the right of the green, the tee shot must be hit over the comer of the small lake that comes into play. Any slight miscue and you're in the water.

Course details: Three par 36 9 hole loops. There are immaculate kikuyu fairways and superb penlink bent grass greens, possibly the best in South Africa. Water comes into play in 21 of the 27 holes and the whole layout is beautifully manicured and certainly up the high standards experienced at up market American golf resorts. This course has been consistently rated among the top four courses in South Africa.

Facilities: A professional an excellent driving range (range balls provided free) practice tee and a clubhouse which provides light snacks and a dining room, with tennis, swimming, concierge and tour services.