Located on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Prince’s Grant is a golfer’s delight and a bustling housing estate, writes MARK SAMPSON in Compleat Golfer.
The entire Dolphin Coast is booming with developments and north of Ballito, what used to be rather small isolated villages are now linked by homesteads and new shopping centres.
Prince’s Grant, though, was one of the first golf estates in South Africa. The area is rich in history, and the land on which the estate is located comes with a sweet story.
In October 1856, the land was granted by Queen Victoria to a certain George Wilson Prince. It formed part of a huge farm named Hyde Park, spanning an impressive 3,354 acres across the rich, rolling hills adjacent to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Part of the farm was sold to a Mr Babu Bodasing, who had arrived in South Africa in 1874 from India to work as a labourer in the sugarfields.
Bodasing’s story starts with frugal beginnings and a humble background, although he had a knowledge of sugarcane farming from his homeland. At the end of his indenture, he was granted a small plot of land. It was the start of a small empire: he continually added to his holdings until at one stage they covered some 7,000 acres, making him one of the area’s biggest property moguls.
The large tracts of land stayed in the family for many years and on his passing in November 1919, he was reputed to be one of the wealthiest businessmen in Durban. Through the years, much of it was sold off and the area where Prince’s Grant is now located was sold to Guy Smith – of Prince’s Grant Property Share Block Limited – by Raj Bodasing, who is still associated with the estate as a shareholder and director.
It wasn’t until much later that the course was officially opened after years of blood, sweat and tears by Smith. He was a Pietermaritzburg lawyer who was inspired by Augusta National. With that as a motivation he acquired a personal loan of R120,000 for marketing the estate, after which work began in earnest. Course designer and local KZN resident Peter Matkovich was approached to design the course. This proved to be one of the numerous hurdles Smith faced as he had a clear vision in mind as to the layout, routing, bunkering and shaping of the course – and he and Matkovich did not always see eye to eye.
One of Smith’s better decisions was to hire Jeremy Stubbs, a local landscaper, whose role was to repopulate the land with indigenous flora. He was tasked with finding fast-growing plants that would establish themselves and secure the ground over the four ridge lines on which the course is designed. The course was eventually opened in 1994.
Bear in mind that the marketing and construction of the estate and course all had to be done while Smith maintained a day job as a legal partner in a law firm.
A mere five years after conception, the course was sold to the home owners, with Smith moving on to create a successful estate in the Nottingham Road area in the form of Gowrie Farm Estate (featured as Course of the Month, August 2017).
The Prince’s Grant course meanders up and down the four ridge lines through the well-established pockets of indigenous coastal bush and forest. Being a coastal course, a sea breeze is part of the experience. If it’s not obvious on arrival, a glance at the scorecard should give it away, with a quote from Bobby Jones stating, ‘A wind should be regarded as part of the course.’ Certain holes, like the 1st, 9th, 10th, 11th and 15th, sit atop these ridges, making club selection difficult at times and it’s often aggravated by the undulating nature of the fairways.
It has a nice selection of long and short holes, but it isn’t a course to be overpowered, as even the short par fours have protection with thick vegetation, water hazards and boundary pegs.
The course has a number of notable holes; the first is the short 3rd, which has a massive drop in elevation – close to 15m. Being only 152m, it is a short-iron for most. However, it is not about the length but rather the protection of the long, narrow green and the wind funnelling through the chute of trees that can cause difficulties. From the isolated tee box, the wind is even more difficult to gauge. The priority would be to get the ball over the hazard protecting the green and when in doubt, according to the members, playing for the bank over the green is a good option. In wet conditions, though, the ball may stay up on the bank, which will bring two bunkers into play.
The 9th is one of the most exposed holes on the course and with that, wind is guaranteed. It is pretty straight but, at 376m into the wind, it turns into a monster. Having out-of-bounds along the right of the fairway and a lone fairway bunker, the tee shot can be intimidating. A long-iron or more can be expected to reach the raised green surrounded by four bunkers and a strong drop-off on the right of the green. The stroke-one rating is well deserved.
For good reason, the signature hole is the par-five 15th. Golf operations manager Dane Vosloo talks us through playing this hole on page 71.
The closing hole at Prince’s Grant is a corker: 456m sliding uphill towards a semi-island green. The fairway has a small stream up its left side which crosses the front of the green. From the tee box three bunkers in the landing area need to be avoided. Similar to the 15th, going for the green in two is not advised as a watery demise is the most likely outcome. Take your medicine and lay up, play for the centre of the green and two-putt to finish the round with a par before heading up to the clubhouse. It’s a stunning finishing hole well worthy of the stroke-four rating.
Prince’s Grant is well situated away from the hustle and bustle of Durban’s northern suburbs. The estate is a safe location for family holidays, golf and numerous other activities. In terms of services, it is an ideal location for weddings and conferences, with onsite accommodation at the lodge with its bar facilities and a la carte restaurant overlooking the estate.
As for the course, its nature changes daily due to the wind, making for a unique experience on each outing and it should be on every golfer’s bucket list.
– This article first appeared in our January issue of Compleat Golfer