By George, It's Great
The courses in and around the South African coastal town of George are so good they'll make a major champion out of you, reports Alex Jenkins
When Louis Oosthuizen took the halfway lead at The Open Championship last month, most assumed he would quickly relinquish his advantage to other, more famous folk. Not I. The reason was quite simple: the wind blows mighty hard in South Africa's Western Cape. Oostzhuizen, aside from being a first-rate ball- striker, is from Mossel Bay, a pleasant town overlooking the Indian Ocean, about a 45-minute drive from the regional centre George. You simply can't grow up playing golf in the area without being particularly adept at handling the odd hurricane or two. Oosthuizen, nicknamed Shrek by his mates for his gap-toothed grin and angular ears, is more adept than most: he once shot 57 around his home course – and it certainly wasn't flat-calm that day. Little wonder, then, why little Louis was more than up to the task when the rest of the field at St Andrews was under the cosh of a little North Sea breeze.
Louis aside, the region has produced a number of famous golfing names. Ernie Els is a resident, as is Trevor Immelman. Tim Clark practices in the area and Retief Goosen, when not tending to his nearby vineyard, tees it up at Fancourt Links – host to the 2003 Presidents Cup and one of the most ferocious (and brilliant) courses you'll find anywhere. But the figure that has made the biggest impact on modern golf in South Africa isn't a golfer at all but a former boxer. His name, of course, is Nelson Mandela. Following the isolation of the apartheid era, South Africa's return to the international community during his presidency ignited a boom in investment that transformed the country into a leading tourist destination. The hosting of the recent FIFA World Cup has certainly helped; golf has been a big part of this success story for years, as new luxury resorts take their place alongside the country's classic courses.
WHERE TO PLAY
FANCOURT (THE LINKS) HHHHH Quite possibly the finest golf resort in the southern hemisphere, Fancourt, situated on the edge of George, drew worldwide acclaim following the 2003 Presidents Cup, which saw the United States tie with the Rest of the World team following a memorable playoff featuring Tiger Woods and gallery favourite Ernie Els. Home to three excellent courses, it's the Gary Player-designed Links Course (which staged the President's Cup, among other notable events) that garners the most platitudes. By far South Africa's toughest course – and if it were situated on Irish or Scottish coastal terrain, it would be one of their toughest too – this former airfield features a landscape of high mounds and dunes swaying with tall fescue and rye grasses. Truly links-like in nature (although it's entirely man- made), the Links has a magnificent backdrop: the spectacular Outeniqua Mountains dominate the horizon on many holes. The next-best at Fancourt is the Montagu Course, a wonderful parkland layout that is kept in superb condition year-round. Don't forget your putting touch: green speeds routinely run in excess of 11 on the
YARDAGE: 6,958. PAR: 72 Designed by Gary Player Greens Fee: US$150 (hotel guests only) Contact: fancourt.co.za
OUBAAI GOLF RESORT HHHH Part of the first-class Hyatt Resort, this is the first Ernie Els-designed layout in the country – and a magnificent addition to the three-time major champion's design portfolio. Occupying clifftop terrain to the south of George, making it one of the most windswept courses in the region, this is a fascinating mixture of linksland and parkland styles, one that plays naturally hard and fast. Opening up with a couple of manageable and – dare I say it? – forgettable par fours, Oubaai, which means 'Old Bay' in the local dialect, becomes considerably more fierce as the round goes on. There are numerous superb holes, although a special mention to the sixteenth and seventeenth - the former, a medium-length par-four, plays along a ridgeline, while the latter is a tiny hole, one of the best par threes in the land. Played into the teeth of the onshore wind, this spectacular short hole, which sits above the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, makes a mockery of its diminutive
YARDAGE: 7,125. PAR: 72 Designed by Ernie Els Greens Fee: US$75 Contact: oubaai.co.za
PEZULA GOLF CLUB HHHH On the clifftop plateau on the Knysna Heads,
with a lagoon on one side, the Indian Ocean on the other and the Outeniqua Mountains as the backdrop, Pezula packs as much scenery as any place. Formerly known as Sparrebosche, this Ronald Fream and David Dale design, which opened in 2000, is a loud, theatrical design. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for with raw challenge and excitement, as at the par-four fourteenth, where the ocean has the leading role. A three-wood gains you a large landing area; waves crash on the cliffs below. It's hard to ignore the danger of sand around the small green – it's enough to shoot a scene from Lawrence of Arabia – but if you can manage to keep the wind from whipping your punch wedge into another time zone, you'll make par. YARDAGE: 6,517. PAR: 72.
Designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. Greens Fee: US$100 Contact: pezula.co.za
BEST OF THE REST
The Outeniqua Course at Fancourt is no weak sister to the Links and Montague courses, while Pinnacle Point (pinnaclepoint.co.za), a Darren Clarke and Peter Matkovich design might be the most invigorating of all, given its spectacular seaside locale. Other courses worth trying include Simola Golf & Country Estate (simolaestate. co.za), a wonderful Jack Nicklaus design that ranks among the best in South Africa, and Mossel Bay Golf Club (mosselbaygolfclub.com), Louis Oosthuizen's home track, which claims to be the friendliest in South Africa.
WHERE TO STAY
In order to play the Links (or its sister courses, the Montagu and Outeniqua), one must stay at the encompassing Fancourt resort (fancourt. co.za). The 150-room hotel offers first-rate luxury in both the manor house and its garden suites. Another good base is the Hyatt Regency Oubaai Golf Resort & Spa (hyatt.com), smack bang on the Ernie Els-designed Oubaai Course, only 30-minutes from the centre of George.
WHEN TO GO
The Western Cape has an almost Mediterranean climate, with mild changeable winters (May to September) when most of the rainfall occurs, and hot summers (October to April). HK Golfer visited in May, which, as we discovered, can be both warm and, if the weather comes from the south, bone- chillingly cool during the day, Nighttime and early morning temperatures can dip below five degrees Celsius, so bear that in mind when packing.
South African Airways (flysaa.com) flies daily between Hong Kong and Johannesburg – flight time 13 hours; from there it's a two-hour hope to George. Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific. com) flies five-times weekly.
Written by Alex Jenkins
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