A Jack Nicklaus Masterpiece in the Eastern Cape: St Francis Links

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The moment you stand on the first tee at St Francis Links in St Francis Bay, you realise what waits for you along the following 18 holes: a masterpiece, laid out in the rolling dunes of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, a links course meandering through dunes of coastal fynbos and coastal thicket, two omnipresent pieces of local flora.

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has designed a number of golf courses along the Garden Route in the passed years. During our trip we had the chance to experience some others, but what he created and established at St Francis Links really stands out in our opinion.

St Francis Bay is a small, chic holiday home town in the Eastern Cape. It’s famous for its Cape Dutch houses, all painted white with thatched roofs. It looks adorable and although we could only stay for one night, you get a feeling that life has a different quality over there with all the pretty and huge holiday houses, the beach, the canals, the breeze and the golf.

We had a 8am tee time and just arrived on time for check in, pay, buy the logo ball and yardage book and then head right to the first tee. Definitely not an optimal start, especially as we haven’t played much before, but our score wasn’t in focus that day, it was the course we wanted to experience to the fullest.

Most South Africa tourists wouldn’t even know where St Francis Bay is, even those who come regularly wouldn’t necessarily and immediately know where it is to be found. Between Port Elizabeth and the Tsitsikamma National Park, St Francis Bay is for some in the middle of nowhere. Even more outstanding that the initiators of St Francis Links and Jack Nicklaus chose this piece of land to create what we would call a top-notch course with all necessary facilities you can imagine.

St Francis Links is a complete golf estate, one of which you often find in South Africa. A gated golf community with an impressive and vast club house, loads of staff, huge villa properties and town houses nestled somewhere in the dunes and a fantastic course.

The club offers conferencing and wedding facilities too, but it’s fair to say that the golfer is in the club’s focus (next to the residents obviously). And boy, what a great course this is! Although we’re talking links golf here, it features a very interesting routing. Some holes are designed and shaped in a way that we’ve never experienced a hole ever before.

The course condition has been outstanding and the flora, the dunes, the setting in general together with the interesting course makes a great combination. It wasn’t much traffic on the course at that time in the morning and we could enjoy the undulated fairways, the heavy bunkering and the challenges Mr Jack Nicklaus had in mind for us. Penalising but definitely joyful.

What I really liked most was the setting of some of the tee boxes for the more backward located tees. Unbelievable imagination, Mr Nicklaus. Hats off. Best example may be the mens tees on hole no. 5. Definitely a stunner.

It has been a great round of golf. And even with no warm-up at all I managed to score two birdies and almost a hole-in-one. Only 10cm…

Most impressive holes:

  • 4: Par-3 with two(!) greens. It’s called ‘Double Vision’ and offers a second pin location on a completely separated green. Seen that before?
  • 5: One of the best tee boxes on earth and a hole with crazy bunkering along the fairway
  • 6: Challenging par-5
  • 11: Uphill par 4 with an intimidating tee shot for men
  • 13, 14, 15: A complete section around/over a lake, obviously loads of water in play
  • 16: Double-split fairway with a creek running right through it (check out the video below)
  • 18: Fantastic tee box, water left, dog-leg left and a great finish towards the club house

Check out the fantastic Hole Explorer on the St Francis website for more interactive information about the holes which Jack Nicklaus beautifully laid out in this gorgeous piece of land.

So for the course, we couldn’t be happier. In 2007 St Francis Links was awarded ‘Best New Course in South Africa’ and since then it ranks amongst South Africa’s Top 10 courses and also hosts Sunshine Tour events. And rightly so.

Although we were a bit disappointed by the staff friendliness and comforting on that day, the club facilities are indeed very good, people take care of your clubs, equip the cart with everything you need and make sure you have great time.

The carts feature the newest GPS systems with convenient touch-screens and with it no excuse for bad yardage or errant shots. So it’s only on you if you have a bad golf day. But we would recommend to enjoy the day to the fullest anyway, and not to concentrate on the score so much. But that’s obviously on you to decide.

So, in case South Africa is on your list for a golfing trip, make sure to take SFL into consideration. It’s a bit off the standard route along the Garden Route but definitely worth the detour. You won’t regret it.

Golficiency Rating: 8/10

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