Fit for a queen
Only 7km from the Pietermaritzburg city centre we find a layout that is steeped in history and requires accuracy from the first hole to the last
Victoria Club has a long history, stretching back to 1859 when 46 men held its inaugural meeting. Over time it has moved locations several times and in 1997 merged with Maritzburg Country Club, which was renamed Victoria Country Club. Maritzburg Country Club had been established in 1934, when Bob Grimsdell created the layout. The course was upgraded by Golf Data in 2007 when the club created an adjoining housing estate named the Victoria Country Club Estate.
The upside of a mature, natural layout is the wonderful birdlife and an abundance of large trees. The downside, if you can call it that, is the fact you need to avoid these trees to enjoy the experience and keep the scoring as low as possible.
From the 1st hole, a short downhill par four, the necessity for accuracy and club selection is revealed. At a meagre 305m, an easy par would be expected. This is not the case. Thick bush lurking to the left, large trees to the right and the hole shaping from left to right all need to be negotiated. Once at the green, and having avoided the left bunker, the sloping contours on fast bent grass test the putting stroke. And so the tone for the next 17 holes is set.
The 2nd hole is a straightforward par four, 371m long, slightly uphill. The fairway is very much a part of the course in terms of course management. If shaping the ball off the tee is part of your game, you must take the slope into account. Although green all year round, the run can still be substantial, and with so many mature trees around, running into the rough is best avoided.
The 3rd is one of only three par fives on the course. Missing the fairway bunker off the tee will give the longer hitters a chance of getting up for two, although they will have to shape the ball from right to left to reach the dual-bunkered target. The large green slopes from left-back to front and a two-putt is the order of the day.
The 4th is a 405m downhill par four which carries the stroke rating of two. Again, the fairway slopes from left to right and as it is downhill, the ball does roll on a bit.
The dogleg-left 5th is another a low stroke and one that needs to be played a few times to work out the line and club selection. Staying tight to the dogleg helps with a shorter approach, and is advisable for the shorter hitters. One of the more difficult greens on the course awaits with its sloping double tier and a couple of bunkers leading up to it. Finding the level where the flag is located is highly recommended.
The first par three, although not long at 150m, has an intimidating bunker complex surrounding the green. Slightly elevated from the tee, finding the putting surface is not a problem, but bear in mind that the right-hand side is out of bounds.
A short, straight par four follows, but given that it has a narrow fairway, an iron is recommended if you want to find the green in two.
Next up is the easiest hole on the course, a 135m par three. The large surface makes for an easy target at such short range, so make sure you leave the ball below the hole, as this green slopes from back to front.
The 9th is another example of why Victoria Country Club needs to be played a few times. The uphill dogleg left appears to be straightforward off the tee, but push your ball slightly right and you may well end up in the water hazard adjacent to the 11th. The longer hitters should leave the driver in the bag. The green is fairly narrow and slopes from back to front – again leaving the ball below the hole would be the prudent thing to do.
Victoria Country Club is one of the few courses in South Africa with an uneven split out and back. You continue moving away on the 10th before turning back with eight holes to play. The 10th is a lengthy, uphill par four, but the straight fairway can catch you out if the slope from right to left is not taken into account. The raised green has a bunker short left and back right, which helps to give it the rating of stroke five.
The back eight start with a downward par five, weighing in at a hefty 520m. As you near the hole a number of water hazards on the right encroach on the fairway, making for a tricky lay-up. While avoiding the water, be sure not to land up in the clump of trees left.
The par-four 12th is the feature hole, picturesque but filled with danger. Find out what local pro Garath Arnold has to say about this, rated the most difficult on the course, on page ??. But as a respite after the stroke-one, comes the shortest hole on the course, at only 125m.
The 14th is a monstrous uphill par four with a raised green and narrow fairway as well as out-of-bounds along its entire right flank. The sloping kidney-shape green has a bunker short left. A par on this hole is worth gold.
Turning back to come downhill, the 15th is a relatively short par four with the biggest obstacle being a fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway. Leaving the driver in the bag is advisable to avoid a long sandy approach.
Next up is the par-four, stroke-13 16th, with the fairway sloping from left to right. Having two distinct levels – the higher only in reach for the very long hitters – it features a short, yet steep uphill approach. The green, with one bunker, is relatively small and flat compared the others on the course.
The last short hole of the course lies 144m away, below the tee box. A water hazard short and bunkers front left and over the back emphasise the need for the correct club-selection.
The 18th sums up the major traits of the course – it needs accuracy off the tee, with out of bounds on the right, and for the lay-up; the fairway is undulating and the green large and sloping. For the longer hitters this is a birdie opportunity to finish the round.
The uphill and downhill variation, as well as the large, quick greens, make for a testing round of golf. Accuracy off the tee box and on the approach will be rewarded with low scores.
The club borders the Queen Elizabeth Nature Reserve, which adds to the appeal of the golfing experience and the possibility of seeing a number of small mammals and bird species, the highlight being the African crowned eagle (see Environment, page ??).
In 2007 Golf Data completed an extensive makeover of the greens, shaping and reseeding to USGA-spec bent grass. As good a layout as it is, the greens now complement its meandering nature and have established it as one of the must-play courses in the area.
The country club’s facilities, restaurant and clubhouse lift it to a level of being able to host tournaments at all levels. Its proximity, and easy access to the Pietermaritzburg CBD doesn’t detract from its countryside feel.