Sandy golf at Saadiyat Beach

We know Dubai quite well, been there multiple times, played various courses and figured we should see Abu Dhabi as well. It’s just one hour from Dubai and worth a visit.

Abu Dhabi is definitely not as spectacular as Dubai but that’s mainly on purpose. They don’t feel the need to put their country into that stress of becoming world’s best, biggest, tallest, etc. The largest of the seven Emirates by landmass however offers some interesting tourist attractions itself: the mosque, the Emirates Palace, the Corniche, various architectural highlights, some big malls, the F1 circuit, the Ferrari World, just to name a few.

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This is why it's called Saadiyat Beach! #GolfUAE16

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We decided to stay for three days and spoiled ourselves with two nights at the magnificent St. Regis Saadiyat Island. The island is situated north of downtown Abu Dhabi but not more than a 10 minutes drive from the Corniche. So it was close enough to easily discover the city and remote enough to enjoy the beautiful beach and tranquility of the hotel compound.

The St. Regis is a fantastic hotel and there is another feature I was interested in: the Gary Player beach-side championship golf course.

Abu Dhabi offers at least three great golf courses, Abu Dhabi GC, Yas Links GC and Saadiyat Beach GC. We all know Abu Dhabi GC from the famous European Tour event. It’s a fantastic course which without a doubt is on my bucket list for quite some time. The same is true for Yas and Saadiyat. So I had the choice but as we were staying at the St. Regis, it was pretty obvious we would go for the home course, not only because I was offered a special rate as hotel guest and Starwood Friend.

Through the booking process and some additional points on golf, I was introduced to a young man named Clinton, acting as the Abu Dhabi Starwood Sales Manager for golf. Coincidentally he had planned to play a round with his dad the very same day, so we played alongside in one group and enjoyed the course, the weather and the company.

What’s needed at Saadiyat Beach is pure target golf. It’s not always the driver you should choose for your tee shot, it’s more a spot you need to decide to put your ball and then make the club selection accordingly. Sometimes it’s a mid or long iron which brings you closer to a par at this course than the big stick.

The course offers lots of sand (who would have thought…), numerous water hazards, interesting architectural features, a very good condition in general and many endemic gazelles. What I didn’t know was that ‘Abu Dhabi’ actually means ‘Father of the Gazelle’ and hence there is a long heritage for this animal in the region.

As a course in the UAE you can imagine, the one resource they have plenty is sand. And yes there are a lot of bunkers on this course. All bunkers are slightly bigger than normal, fairway bunkers seemed all in play and there are some green side bunkers you really want to avoid. Also, the sand itself was very hard so it was a bit tricky to operate out of the bunkers.

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Difficult to concentrate on golf! Great views.

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Most impressive holes:

  • 2: Split fairways with the choice to either go left or right
  • 5: Par 4 with water to the left, playing towards the beach
  • 6: Par 3, literally ‘on’ the beach with the hole by the St. Regis beach/pool area
  • 14: Interrupted fairway
  • 15: Again an interrupted fairway, with an approach over water
  • 16: Beautiful par 4 towards the beach
  • 17: Picturesque par 3 on the beach
  • 18: Worthy finishing hole, dogleg right with water all the way on the right

The reason why I can’t rate the course with an eight or better, is mainly because of the construction work next to it going on right now. There are some hotels and villas being put up and that’s a bit annoying. Nothing too bad, and gone in mid-term but a factor why I only rate the course: 7/10

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – a nice course in the heart of Dubai

If you’ve read my last post, you might have realised that I started to struggle to find good and affordable courses in Dubai for our trip in April. This is mainly because of four things:

  1. Dubai courses are in general a bit more expensive than everything you know from back home. That’s possibly explainable by the quality and luxury you usually find at these clubs.
  2. Dubai courses are artificial areas in an environment which doesn’t actually fit. Purely from a biological and agricultural perspective, so much green grass does not belong in the desert, and maintaining it to the highest standards is difficult and expensive.
  3. The Euro/Dirham FX rate has been plummeting in recent months. No good news for European travellers!
  4. I have to admit I only checked the expensive courses because those are still missing on my list! In other words, when you are trying to play the Majlis, the Earth and Abu Dhabi, you can’t complain about cost, because it’s basically the creme de la creme of UAE courses which comes at a price. 

Looking around Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are certainly nice other alternatives to play, one of which is definitely the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. This course is located a bit more away from all the others but in contrast to them, more or less in the heart of the old part of Dubai. This has some pros and cons which I will discuss in a minute.

What attracted me was a couple of things: it’s quite famous because it’s one of the first ones ever opened here, it has an iconic club house and features one of the most famous tee boxes in golf world-wide!

But one thing after the other. I got a taxi to the course, checked in and was quite happy that my booking via Golfscape the night before, worked quite nicely. And I got it at a price which the official website did not offer – which was a bonus.

In mid-day heat I started to hit some balls on the range, which was indeed necessary as I haven’t had touched a golf club for a couple of months; this was my first round in 2016! After two pyramids of golf balls and some first thoughts around how to cope with and stay out of the sun, I started my round.

I got my own cart and played on my own. Not much traffic at all. The two-ball in front of me I had overtaken at the second hole already. From that point onwards I had nobody in front and behind me until maybe the third last hole. So one could say the course was pretty empty!

The course quality I would rate with a ‘good’. There were some yellow-ish and brown areas here and there but after all you can see that those people are trying to keep it in the best possible shape. This is apparently tricky around April as someone told me later, because this is the time when the winter-grass disappears and makes room for the summer-grass. That was supposed to be the reasoning behind the various grass colours on the course.

But I didn’t bother too much and tried to get the nicest round possible in the books, i.e. scorecard. I wasn’t doing that badly, lost some balls but at the same time hammered some nice tee shots (…unusual…) and played some great pars and even a birdie. Not bad for the first round of the year, however in 35°C much more likely than with the common winter golf attire you need in Central Europe in that season.

Some comments on the setting of the course: as mentioned earlier, it’s a city course. Which is good for the accessibility of the property but at the same time comes with all negative side effects. Some holes are routed along congested highways and the metro. Unfortunately this is not only the case for one or two but for several holes.

The course has four faces I would say: the highway, the residences, the inner course and the creek side. The highway is bad, that’s pretty obvious. The residential area is very common in the UAE as the golf holes meander through town houses and villas, so that’s a normal thing to experience. The inner course is a part of the course where multiple holes are next to each other without any structures or obstacles in between. This area was very nice and was followed by some holes along the creek shore line.

The latter is indeed nice to look at, you see boats, seaplanes and the Dubai skyline in the background.

But let me go back a bit. Hole 6 stands out, no doubt about it. As shown above, the tee box is a concrete island structure which you reach via a small bridge. So you walk onto the little grassy island, tee up your ball and play back to the mainland. I’m not sure about some official rankings but for me this belongs to the Top 5 tee boxes world-wide.

After the round I relaxed on the sun terrace of the iconic club house (which resembles the sails of an Arab dhow) and made plans for the next round.

Holes that really stood out:

  • 2: Par 4, over water, unfortunately next to the highway
  • 6: Impressive tee box, water and a great setting
  • 8: Par 3 over water
  • 10: Par 5 along water
  • 13: Par 5 with an island green
  • 16: Nice par 3 towards the Dubai Creek
  • 17,18: Beautiful home stretch along the creek, over water on the 18th, towards the club house

Golficiency Rating: 6/10

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

Golf Travel 2016: The United Arab Emirates (again)

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When people asked me what new year’s resolutions I had for 2016, I tell them “play more golf”. Of course I have quite some ambition for my handicap this year too, but playing more and more regular golf is something everybody can understand and relate to—even non-golfers.

Although the new year is just three weeks old, we are already working on some plans for a fantastic golf trip to the United Arab Emirates in March or April. This time we are looking to spend 10 days in the UAE and split it up between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

As this will be the first time for us to travel to Abu Dhabi, we will most definitely squeeze in some sightseeing as well, but golf should play a substantial part of the trip. Looking at the Golficiency Bucket List, there are some really big names in golf, which we want to tackle this time:

Dubai

  • Emirates Golf Club, Majlis Course
  • Jumeirah Golf Estates, Earth Course

Abu Dhabi

  • Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
  • Yas Island Golf Club

Every one of these courses stands out in a very unique way. The Majlis as being one of the first courses in the UAE, hosting numerous professional events such as the Omega Dubai Desert Classic; Greg Norman’s Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf forms the famous season finale to the European Tour with the DP World Tour Championship; Gary Player’s Saadiyat Beach course situated right by the sea featuring a combination of desert and links golf at the same time; and finally Kyle Phillips’ Yas Island Golf Club, part of the multi-billion Yas Island complex with the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit, the Ferrari World theme park and the golf course just adjacent to it.

Although we are quite experienced with desert golf and courses in Dubai in particular, we cannot wait for this trip and these fantastic courses we have on our agenda.

If for whatever reason we’re not able to play two rounds of golf in Abu Dhabi, we might consider playing the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club instead. That beauty is still missing on the Dubai map, too.

Pinnacle Point publishes Golficiency article

My round at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, South Africa has been an absolute delight. The course played itself into my heart and most definitely into my current Top 5 list.

This breathtaking experience led to a Golficiency course review in which the club earned 9 ouf of 10 points—and rightly so. It’s just an amazing golf venue and I cannot express how jealous I am of those who are members at the club or even live on the property. Of course I wouldn’t play the course every day if I could, but having the chance to play it more often than once a year, already is a treat.

Obviously Pinnacle Point appreciates the positive comments and posted the Golficiency article on Facebook. And I’d love to be back one day!

 

“Pinnacle Point is like Pebble Beach on steroids!”

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Peter Matkovich, the course architect of Pinnacle Point, regards this place as “the most dramatic golf course site [he has] ever encountered anywhere in the world.” Darren Clarke describes it as “the best golf course on the planet.” And the press voted it as one of the top 10 new courses in the world the year it opened. So all these people can’t be wrong about the course, can they?

After we played St Francis Links, Pezula and Oubaai on our route along the Garden Route, on our quest to play some of South Africa’s best golf courses, we stopped in the lovely coastal town of Mossel Bay. It is home to Louis Oosthuizen and this is where he shot his famous round of 57 at Mossel Bay Golf Club. Not far from downtown Mossel Bay we arrived at Pinnacle Point, a golf estate sitting on top of rocky cliff formations, offering guests and members the most spectacular views you can imagine on a golf course. Pinnacle Point, the estate where Louis Oosthuizen now resides by the way, offers an 18 hole golf course in impeccable condition with breathtaking holes which you’ve never seen in your life.

The ocean is omni-present from 1 to 18, the tee boxes look like nowhere else in the world and you can’t put your camera down because there is another great picture to be taken at every angle. It’s hard to concentrate on golf – which would be necessary as this course is nothing for wimps. You need a decent swing, quite a carry and a well-trained direction and distance control. It’s target golf what’s useful here or you lose some balls.

Pinnacle Point has a strict rule: every ball that’s get sucked in the fynbos or thicket mustn’t be retrieved and you may proceed following the water rule. Any non-consideration can be fined with R1,000. It’s a harsh rule but it seems they want to speed up play a little (because everybody will definitely lose some balls) and also make sure nobody gets bitten by the local snakes. So they declared the whole rough as nature sanctuary and conservation area—clearly only until another billionaire wants to put up his villa at this very spot.

The scenery in general is delightful. The sea, the cliffs, the undulating and rolling fairways just at the rim, the interesting hole architecture, the tee boxes and even all these fantastic houses on the property make you think: “I wanna live, play and die here!”

Course-wise it starts with one or two pretty “normal” holes. Nothing to fancy. Interesting but just above average. Hole 3 is very nice, and holes 4 and 5 kick off with some serious badass stuff. I would say from hole 5 onwards, this course turns into a beast and lets only those through who are brave (and good) enough. I’m not saying the course is unplayable, it’s definitely not, even beginners can have fun here, it’s just that some shots are so intimidating, you need a steady hand to execute all these shots and you must believe in your game. And sometimes you just need to forget the bad shots and enjoy the beautiful view—there you have plenty. For free.

Most impressive holes:

  • 4: Playing on top of a ridge
  • 5: More or less blind tee shot, long carry over some thicket, larger landing area than it seems. Huge bunkers and downhill second shot.
  • 6: Tee boxes hillside laid out like terraces, driving over a gorge in a huge ditch. Second has to go towards a green formation which looks more like a green moon rather than golf hole. Unreal!
  • 7: Par-3 with elevated tees, over a cliff onto a rather small green. Unbelievable hole!
  • 8: Playing alongside the cliffs, normal tee shot with a second shot to another clifftop green
  • 9: Par-3 over a cliff. Incredible hole!
  • 13: Another par-3 over a cliff. Scenic!
  • 17: Longest par-3, difficult but worth it.
  • 18: Par-5 and a true test in the end with huge bunkers on the left, dogleg left, towards the cliff rim with a rather big-sized green.

All those holes I didn’t mention are equally stunning. It’s really difficult to do justice to the whole course as everything is standing out for various reasons.

Pinnacle Point is probably the most scenic course I’ve ever played. It’s not easy, features an incredible design and players are in constant dialogue between club, ball, green and the sea. A club member later told us, for him Pinnacle Point is like Pebble Beach on steroids. We couldn’t have phrased it better. It really is a great test of golf in one of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Some holes I definitely won’t forget my whole life.

I have to say that the complete staff is extraordinarily helpful and friendly. In South Africa service at similar locations is generally very good. People taking care of your clubs, shoes, the carts and so forth. At Pinnacle Point it is just a bit better than everywhere else: service personnel well trained, quick and friendly, the starter knows your name even during halfway or when you’ve finished and they clean your clubs and equip your cart with everything necessary after hole 9, just when you are having a nice snack in the halfway house. It’s even the tiny bits that fit together here. And we absolutely appreciated the hospitality that day.

On a technical note, the carts featured the newest high-end touch screens which helped a lot with the required target golf. Then it’s just on you as the golfer to find the target…

As far as club houses go, this one stands out as well: multi-level sun decks, enough space to sit, relax, enjoy drinks, food and the view. I can’t remember when I so much enjoyed a round of golf before.

And now imagine people like Louis Oosthuizen live here on the property and can play this course every single day… Makes me extremely jealous! That very evening we went out for dinner at the Route 57 restaurant in Mossel Bay. Guess who owns it! Exactly, Louis Oosthuizen. That guy…

Golficiency Rating: 9/10

Ernie Els’ clifftop resort course at Oubaai Golf Club

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When you are an avid golfer and you are staying in George, South Africa for a little while, you have a couple of choices. You have 3 world-famous Gary Player golf courses at Fancourt to choose from, one Ernie Els signature course at Oubaai, the George Golf Club and at least 5 other courses in the region not far from each other.

Fancourt are quite strict with people who are admitted to play the famous ‘Links’ course. That’s generally just possible for estate residents and resort guests. As we stayed at the Oubaai Resort a bit outside of town in Herold’s Bay, not at Fancourt, we figured it’s probably not a bad idea to play the resort’s own Oubaai course. Especially because the Montagu course at Fancourt was blocked for a corporate tournament that day.

A word and a blow, we got a tee time quite short notice—2 hours in advance really. How is that even possible, you might ask, but truth be told, the hotel and the course was pretty empty. Especially the hotel seemed as if we and maybe another handful were the only guests on the rather large compound. What seemed weird in the hotel in the beginning turned out to be quite cool on the golf course, as we hardly saw anybody else playing there.

But first things first. Oubaai is an Ernie Els signature golf course, and it’s actually his first one in South Africa. And although the hotel complex is falling behind in quality, the course seems to be in rather OK shape. There might be some yellow-ish areas here and there and some others which lack maintenance, but nothing too bad to mention.

The course is a very typical hotel resort property layout with wide fairways, mainly challenging golfers not with the tee shot but with the shot into the green. It features an interesting design but is far from being overly complicated, difficult or consequently exciting. But it’s not getting boring either. All golf holes have their right to exist in the way they do and there are at least two fantastic and outstanding holes: the 6th and the 17th.

The 6th is a 180m par-3 over a gorge (for men) and hence demands a brave tee shot to a fairly small target. This is by far the most interesting hole on the course, at least in heart beats per minute terms.

The 17th is another par-3 and is the absolute signature hole at Oubaai; very short, played from an elevated tee box towards a green sitting directly on the cliff. It’s an easy hole but has some serious golf porn potential. Unfortunately we had some low hanging clouds that day, otherwise we had some pictures taken that could easily work as Golficiency homepage banners. Very beautiful. It must have been the distracting views across the ocean that we both screwed up our birdie putts.

We finished up our round surprisingly quick for a high-season mid-day round of golf but quite liked the fact that it was possible at all.

The only sub-optimal points I’d like to mention are the pretty lame GPS and screen devices on board the golf carts. They are non-touch-screen devices and lack quite some functionality compared to those with touch screens.

The other annoying thing is that the golf club somehow belongs to the hotel, but somehow doesn’t. So you can’t charge any purchases or beverages/food onto your room bill, nor are you allowed to enter the property without the hotel porter who takes you to the club house in a 15 minute ride with a golf cart. All that is for security reasons obviously as nobody should be allowed to enter the golf housing estate without proper and official company. Understandable but a bit inconvenient if you ask me. As in all golf estates in South Africa the upper ten thousand want to feel secure when they step outside their huge beachside and clifftop mansions. Point taken. But there must be other ways to keep out the non-golfing burglars. It works in other estates too.

We were later told that Nelson Mandela’s niece lives on the property (in quite some palace) and even Ernie Els, Mr Big Easy himself, lives just around the corner from there, at least when he’s around which obviously is not too often as a touring professional with other residences in Florida and London.

By the way, as a warning, if you are like me and you booked the hotel not only for golf, but for the Hyatt Regency resort quality, the hotel amenities and the South Africa Golf Hall of Fame museum on premise, please be warned: the Hyatt Regency group left the resort to new owners a while ago, all shops in the yard are closed down, the overall look and feel of the hotel complex has to be described as ‘surrendering’ and last but not least the South Africa Golf Hall of Fame was also closed down and apparently moved on to Cape Town.

So after all, some mixed feelings about the hotel property in general but quite positive on the course itself. Not a top-notch course from an architectural standpoint but absolutely a great day on the course with breathtaking views.

Golficiency Rating: 6/10

High up with the (golf) gods at Pezula Golf Club

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On our way along the Garden Route in South Africa we also stayed in Knysna for a couple of days and enjoyed the comforting and luxurious Conrad Pezula resort. As a hotel guest it was no question that we wanted to play the attached golf course, especially as it constantly ranks high in South Africa’s list of best golf courses.

Pezula is a word in the Shona language and loosely translated means something like ‘high up with the gods’. After playing this magnificent course located on the Eastern Knysna Head we can support the idea that some golf gods might have been involved in creating this beautiful course. It’s a breathtaking experience and you feel some supernatural powers all the way, it’s just not easy to transform that into perfect strokes and scores.

But anyway, Pezula sits on top of the Sparrebosch cliff and offers views over the Indian Ocean to the one side and the Knysna lagoon to the other. With that there is a lot of distraction which again does not support your score either; it’s both the landscape and the course layout which will blow you away.

It’s difficult to put Pezula in a specific golf architecture genre, but like Pinnacle Point, which has a similar look and feel, Pezula wouldn’t fit into a strict segmentation. It features some inland holes with a classic parkland feel, offers some rolling holes without any (or at least very little) vegetation just like links courses – and all this on top of some cliffs with great views over the ocean.

The course in general is quite difficult to play, you would want to place your balls wisely, need some length off the tee and some course experience will help as well. The wind plays a role and also the huge elevation changes from tee to green or vice versa are not to be underestimated.

Pezula is a cart-only course, which is a good thing because the overall setting of the course can be described as extremely hilly and also the distances from green to tee are longer than usual I would suppose.

The service of the personnel was extremely good, everybody is friendly and helpful, just as you would expect in South Africa.

As a collector I was a bit disappointed that Pezula doesn’t offer any yardage book. Their excuse was that their GPS system would do all the work, which is correct in a way, but I would have loved to take something home with me together with the customary logo ball.

Some small areas here and there were unfortunately under repair and even some bunkers were completely closed due to ongoing maintenance work. That’s not pretty but understandable as we played the course just days before the big holiday season kicked off. Usual prep I guess.

Most impressive holes:

  • 1: Difficult start, par-5, stroke 1 with a split fairway. Long-hitters can reach the second part of the fairway behind a small but ball-sucking gorge with the second shot. Others have to lay-up and hope for a bogey.
  • 2: Along water to the right.
  • 5: Parkland par-3.
  • 10: Down-hill tee shot followed by up-hill approach shot.
  • 14: Probably the most scenic green in the whole of South Africa?! Definitely the most photographed in Pezula. Relatively short par-4 with a medium-sized green, guarded by a totally crazy bunker system. Offering fantastic ocean views!
  • 16, 17: Two par-4s with intimidating tee shots for men, playing over huge rough and gorge areas, asking for long hits and enough carry.

As a conclusion, when you are traveling the Garden Route, Knysna is a typical stop. Treat yourself with at least one fantastic round of golf at Pezula if you have time, probably another one at Simola on the other side of town and make sure you enjoy the ocean and the South African hospitality as much as you can. It’s a beautiful country and this spot is particularly pretty.

Golficiency Rating: 8/10

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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