South Africa Week – Part 1
Golf Educational to South Africa
In January I was invited to join a small party on a golf focused educational trip touring the southern-most coast of Africa from Cape Town via the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. The invitation was accepted for mid-April. My first visit to Cape Town in (too) many years and my first as a pretty average 18 handicapper.
Since there is such a wide variety of carriers that service this route I began, as all should do, by looking at my flight options, i.e. routing, timings, and costs. The only carrier that flies direct into Cape Town direct – and they know it, are British Airways from Heathrow; their fair came in at just shy of £1,000. Convenient – yes, expensive – most certainly. So indirect it was and since I live near Gatwick my next thought was Emirates via Dubai. Bingo! The timings were great, with good connections, and the fare…just £445, and they allow you to take 30kgs of checked luggage in two bags; so my golf clubs could come with me. Why so much BA? And why only 23kg of checked luggage?
The flight out was on one of Emirates new A380’s, a really comfortable plane and great in-flight entertainment. Food – the usual. The flight from Dubai to Cape Town was on an A320, so not as good as the A380, but as I slept most of the way – it did its job and arrived on time.
Cape Town International was rebuilt for the 2010 Football World Cup and is a friendly easy-to-navigate point of arrival.
I was met by the Adam, the MD of Gilt Edge – the arrangers of the trip – and taken to my overnight hotel – the Cape Milner; a contemporary boutique hotel in the quiet suburb of Tamboerskloof, just to the south-east of Signal Hill and a 10 minute drive to the V&A Waterfront. The room was large and well equipped with a great en-suite behind glass walls.
After a quick shower and a quick beer (obligatory), we drove to the V&A and met up with my host (Warren) and the other participants on the trip. Certainly an eclectic mix, one Czech, one Dutch, a
Finn and me. They would turn out to be superb company and to each bring something different to the group. A lovely fish supper was had in heart of the Waterfront, which has seen a massive amount of development and is now a vibrant place with a real ‘buzz’ about it.
After breakfast, our itinerary showed a surprise activity for half an hour; it had to be Table Mountain – didn’t it? How wrong was I, as we pulled up outside the reception area for NAC Helicopters. What a way to start the trip – a 15 minute flight to view the City from the clear blue skies. It’s a great way to get to understand the layout of Cape Town, the views are spectacular and it’s not that expensive. NAC Helicopters also offer 30 minute and 1 hour excursions in 3, 4 and 6 seater aircraft.
It was time to leave central Cape Town for our first round of golf (one of six on the trip) at Steenberg Golf Club in Tokai at the back end of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. The course is located on the Steenberg Estate, which has a long and esteemed history and now offers stylish accommodation in Cape Dutch style white washed and thatched buildings in the grounds of the old Manor House, all set within one of the oldest vineyard in South Africa. And yes their Merlot is awesome!
The course is within a parkland setting and despite the South Africans love of bunkers, it’s a playable course for most handicaps and great way to settle yourself into a golf holiday in South Africa, before you take on the challenge of the tougher courses you’ll experience. I managed to avoid a bunker until the 16th and water until the 18th. The odd par here and there and I sat in the clubhouse with a glass in hand feeling happy with my first outing.
Our overnight accommodation was at the Steenberg Hotel & Spa, a classically stylish property located between the course and the winery. We ate in the stylish and elegant the Catharina’s Restaurant in the old barn – the service was exemplary and the food exquisite.
Another beautiful day dawned and following a Cape Malay omelette and strong coffee, we headed first up to the winery, where you can a have a tour, a sundowner or a full meal overlooking the vines and the mountains beyond before driving down to the district of Newlands situated at the back of Table Mountain where we visited the Vineyard Hotel. Set in 7 acres of parkland the hotel offers 208 en-suite bedrooms in a variety of grades of rooms, suites and cottages. Its location is ideal for those who want to stay neither in the heart of Cape Town nor in the winelands, yet close to both. Excellent coffee as well.
Leaving Cape Town behind us we drove towards the winelands town of Paarl and to Pearl Valley, home to Jack Nicklaus’s Championship Signature Course. Unlike my round at Steenberg, I found a bunker off the first tee and many more on my way round. Actually, it may have taken me until the 17th before I didn’t hit sand somewhere on each hole. It just seemed as if Jack knew where my ball was going to land and put a bunker there for me!
The accommodation at Pearl Valley is not yet officially open but is of a high standard and consists of self-catering suites set in small blocks of 8 rooms just behind the practice green. If you do not want to self-cater, the clubhouse offers a range of meals, but a full service restaurant it is not.
The sun was again in full attendance as we hit the road again leaving Cape Town behind us as we drove to the quaint wine-lands village of Franschoek (‘French Corner’). The village (it’s really a little too small to call it a town) is nestled between hills on three sides giving it an Alpine feel, and consists of a few top quality properties (e.g. Le Quartier Francais and Leeu House) and some beautiful vineyards. It’s ideal if you’d like a Cape winelands experience without the masses…for a few days…
From there we crossed over a mountain pass, with a magnificent view back over Franschoek and its vineyards, and dropped down (eventually) onto the N2, which runs along the length of the south coast through George, Knysna and Port Elizabeth before turning north along the Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu Natal passing Durban. It eventually runs out of tarmac at near Johannesburg; a distance of some 1,400. It’s quite some road.
Our next stop was game reserve on the outskirts of Mossel Bay called Gondwana. Having travelled widely on safari in Southern Africa I was a little concerned that the experience would fall far short of my previous experiences. How wrong I was to be proved…
We had barely cleared the two wildlife security gates for the short drive to the Kwena Lodge, when we spotted some shapes just below the crest of a hill some 1,000 yards away. The call went up ‘ellies’ but they were too small and not moving like elephants. Rhino? We got closer, yes five white rhino were ambling gently down the track towards us. Warren wisely pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine and we sat as they walked up to the vehicle and then past us, almost within touching distance. A great introduction to Gondwana!
Our accommodation was a three bedroom house, a short distance from the main lodge – perfectly walkable but this is Africa so you don’t. Over the two game drives we came across elephants, rhino, a pride of lion and several different antelope species. The experience is a little ‘canned’ but in the context of the Garden Route golf & safari holiday, juts perfect for first-timers to Africa.
Following our early morning game drive and yes, with the sun shining yet again, we bade farewell to Gondwana and drove the short distance down to Mossel Bay and Pinnacle Point Golf Club (Par72, 6,460 yarsd). Set on the edge of the cliffs, with the next landmass south being Antartica, I had identified the course as likely to be a challenge with seven holes teeing off alongside the cliffs or over the sea between the ‘pinncle’ of land jutting out to sea. Sadly, I was right. The course got into my head and a simple shot to a Par 3 became a nerve-racking shank into the ocean far below. So unnecessary!
The course is amazing and the 18th one of the best I have ever played. This course kept on giving right to the end. In my view, it’s a MUST play course when you’re in this part of the world.
From Pinnacle Point we had an hour’s drive to get to Herold’s Bay and Oubaai Hotel Golf & Spa for an overnight stay before playing the Ernie Els designed Oubaai course the next morning.