The cape, the wine, the golf: Pearl Valley Golf and Country Estate

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So far this journey had been fantastic throughout! We experienced wild animals, beautiful landscapes, amazing beaches and great golf. And this was before we even went to Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

And taking Stellenbosch as an example, for those of you who have been there and love wine, we know that this place is pretty awesome. It’s a picturesque place of earth, peaceful, relaxed and full of rich history of wine making. You basically can’t drive for one minute without passing another astonishingly beautiful vineyard, or wine estates as they tend to call it.

Putting the difficult history of the country aside, there were many settlers coming from Germany, France and the Netherlands, staying and producing one bottle of finest Pinotage, Chardonnay or Shiraz after the other. What’s left is a huge industry, world-renowned wine from across the winelands in and around Stellenbosch and with it absolute mind-blowing wine and country estates, beautifully restored and kept in good shape.

So in short, you can have a pretty good time in Stellenbosch, no doubt about it.

But one thing we had in mind as well was golf – as you do, naturally. One treat you might think about is get a good night’s sleep, play 18 holes of golf, get a shower, relax on the clubhouse terrace, eat some great food and then head off to a wine farm for a tasting or a normal dinner with a bottle of red, or two. Done. Perfect day!

There are actually several choices in terms of great courses in and around Stellenbosch: Erinvale, De Zalze, Devonvale and the one we were going for, Pearl Valley.

Pearl Valley is situated in a valley not far from the city of Paarl, which forms the wine triangle Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl. The posh estate features another Jack Nicklaus course (the third we saw on our journey) and is venue to several tour events and national championship tournaments.

The course has quite a usual resort or estate feeling with beautiful holes meandering through areas with huge villas along the fairways and around greens. The contour of the course is rather flat but not boring at all. Contrary, Nicklaus again managed to come up with very interesting holes.

We actually played with a Frankfurt-based golf buddy of mine, who chose to spend some months in the Cape Town region. As you do. But seriously, if you can, money and time is available and you happen to love golf, in that case the Garden Route and everything west of it is golfer’s dream. We met in the car park, entered the lobby, paid the (quite expensive, for South Africa standards) green fee and headed to the driving range. That was actually the first time during our trip we were able to spend more than 2 minutes on the practice grounds to be honest.

One thing that I most likely will never forget, there was a guy standing in the middle of the driving range, I’d say 160 metres from our position to water the lawn. He hardly moved and just tried not to miss a spot of the ground. First I thought, when is this guy done and leaves. It turns out it takes some time to water the drinving range by hand, so he stayed. Then I figured, wow, that’s dangerous, I should use a club with which I can’t reach the distance where he was working, but apparently all the others around me were pretty relaxed about the situation. Apart from the guy next to me who at some point whispered “shit” just after a shot. He must have felt that his shot pretty much was dead straight towards the 160 metres mark. I looked up, saw the ball coming down 2 metres next to the suicidal lawn waterer, who couldn’t care less. No reaction whatsoever!

But anyway, after we got some practice shots and putts in, we went to the first tee and started our round. The starter was nice and friendly, although he didn’t want my buddy play from the championship tees. He wasn’t very convincing though. There are five tee boxes available and I went for the middle ones – it turned out it was a good choice because although the course doesn’t look overly complicated and demanding, it has its specialities and I was relieved that at least distance was no issue.

I struck the ball well, had some good, some very good and clearly some very poor shots. After a couple of holes we were joined by another player, an English bloke who was on sabbatical too and coincidently worked in London in an office building right next to the one I was working in. So we must have met before, at least in a queue waiting for the Wasabi sushi lunch one day.

Some words on the course: it’s an interesting setting, has large bunkers and although some holes look pretty standard from a course architecture perspective, you won’t get bored to play the course at all.

Most impressive holes:

  • 2: Dogleg par-4 right with water all the way to the right
  • 4: Split par-5 fairway with a creek meandering through. You have to cross it three times.
  • 5: Two-level fairway
  • 7: Straight hole with water to the right just before the green
  • 8: Par-4 gain water all the way to the right, but this also in front of the green, creating sort of an island green
  • 13: Par-3 with (take a guess) water all the way to the right.

The course in general is well maintained, although from time to time I thought the greens could have been in a better shape. Which is strange because on no course on earth I experienced so many ground workers and green keepers (ok maybe in Mauritius) at the same time. Most of them weren’t working all the time, but when they did, they were standing in the middle of the fairway in driving distance or mowing the green.

The setting of the estate in the valley between all these beautiful mountains is somewhat special. You don’t have a spectacular view like at Pinnacle Point but you sense that this place has its own unique feeling. At least I mesmerised on every hole that Jack Nicklaus designed this course, that he had something in mind which really works and is a great course in between a posh residential country estate.

One last thing to service and equipment. The service, the friendliness and hospitality was very good, best example as always: you go inside for the halfway snack, come out, the carts are parked in front in the right order and your clubs have been cleaned—ready to go for the back nine. It’s always the little things that matter and which stay as positive memory. One thing that I definitely kept as a fairly negative memory is the quality of the carts and the on-board GPS systems. It’s a first world problem, I do see that, but they don’t have touch screen devices, so there is no measuring possible to possible obstacles such as bunkers, trees, water, etc. You have the information how far you have to hit for the green, that’s all you got.

All in all a great round, playing with friends and nice people in sunshine in mid December. What else can you ask for?

Golficiency Rating: 7/10

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