Golf in South Africa

South Africa is well-known for its glorious year-round sunshine and abundant wildlife, but it is perhaps less celebrated for another abundant resource - world-class golf facilities. Contributors: Stuart McLean & Duncan Cruikshank

Big Game Country

Southern Africa isn't all wildlife, wilderness and sunshine. There is golf to be played - and lots of it, says Duncan Cruickshank, editor of South Africa's Compleat Golfer magazine. He reveals some of the region's best venues. Southern Africa is well-known for its glorious year-round sunshine and abundant wildlife, but it is perhaps less celebrated for another abundant resource - world-class golf facilities.

South Africa alone has some 450 courses, a large number of which have nine-holes and are found dotted among the myriad small towns scattered across the country. The larger towns and cities have grander, more traditional 18-hole clubs, some of which have the reputation of being world class.As in most countries where golf has become an important part of the leisure scene, there are three main types of facility for foreign visitors to sample: the traditional private club, the resort course at a hotel complex and the rather more modern residential golf estate.

Among the best known clubs is Durban Country Club in KwaZulu-Natal, the only course in South Africa to rank consistently among the world's top 100 on the majority of lists. The Royal Cape GC in Cape Town is Africa's oldest (nearing 120 years) and one of just six or seven in Southern Africa that carry the coveted 'Royal' prefix to their name.With the diversity in climates throughout the region, a planned trip can take in many different course types. There is a genuine links course at Humewood Golf Club in Port Elizabeth on the East Coast, of which the legendary Bobby Locke (winner of four Open Championships) once said, 'If ever the Open was to be played outside Great Britain, this would be the place.'

Moving up the coast into the lush sub-tropical vegetation of KwaZulu-Natal, there are spectacular courses such as the Wild Coast Country Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. It overlooks the Indian Ocean and is buffeted by warm sea winds.In the drier (and higher) interior, there are magnificent examples of splendid parkland layouts in and around Johannesburg, Pretoria and the surrounding mining towns, and as far north as Harare in Zimbabwe. The rarefied air found in this summer-rainfall area makes for ego-enhancing golf, with the ball travelling some 10% further than at the coast; the highveld breezes have little effect on its flight.

For desert golf, look no further than Namibia - the capital, Windhoek, has a magnificent country club with a casino resort to keep gamblers happy. Two resorts within South Africa deserve special mention and one or both should be included in any golfer's itinerary.Sun City, notorious in the apartheid era as the sanction-busting gambling capital, is now better known as the host venue of the 'Million Dollar Challenge', the professional tournament with the biggest first prize in world golf. Its two courses, the Gary Player Country Club and The Lost City Country Club, are simply excellent. The hotels and entertainment offered are comparable with the very best worldwide and there is the added bonus of nearby game parks, in which all of the Big Five can be seen.Fancourt, on the southern Cape coast, is another golfer's paradise. The new Links course, the third 18-hole course to be built at the resort, is already being hailed as the best on the continent. It is no surprise that it has been chosen to host the 2002 President's Cup, the Ryder Cup-style team match between the USA and the rest of the world (excluding Europe).

The area surrounding Fancourt is dotted with excellent golf courses and the region is fast gaining the reputation of being Africa's 'Monterey Peninsula'. Residential estate courses, with their relaxed, secure living environments, account for most of the new venues in the region. An exceptional example is Sparrebosch on the cliffs of Knysna, also in the southern Cape. All the region's residential estate courses accept visitors, but it's wise to phone prior to arrival to check on visitor restrictions.For a combination of golf and a truly African game-spotting experience, try the Hans Merensky GC. Located on land that was once part of the Kruger National Park, many of the park's inhabitants pay scant regard to fencing. Particularly during the drier winter months, elephant, several species of antelope, giraffe, warthogs and even the big cats can be spotted on the course.

The Sabie River Sun resort makes for perhaps a safer golf-and-wildlife experience. Situated close to the Kruger Gate of the Kruger National Park, the course features pools inhabited by hippo, which tend to keep to themselves if undisturbed. There is also a picturesque nine-holer at Skukuza Camp, within the park itself. Be warned though - there are no fences, so off-line shots are often best left alone.The celebrated wine-growing region of Stellenbosch, just outside Cape Town, features several fine golf courses, the newest of which can be found on the Spier Wine Estate. The course has an excellent mix of parkland holes, with its main defence coming from the prevailing winds of the area.

For the traveller, the estate's luxurious hotel is the ideal base from which to explore not only the golf facilties but Spier's other attractions, including an open-air amphitheatre and cheetah enclosure, as well as the surrounding winelands. Southern Africa offers unparalleled beauty, excellent year-round climates and genuine value for money. In fact, when the most expensive round of golf equates to less than 35, it is downright cheap and offers experiences that any self-respecting player cannot afford to miss.

Copyright © 2004 Travel Africa Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.
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