Tucked away on the KZN South Coast is a ‘little’ country course that punches well above its weight. writes MARK SAMPSON in Compleat Golfer.
Port Shepstone Country Club, or ‘Sheppie’ as the locals refer to it, is not your typical country course. If you arrive with low expectations, you should be pleasantly surprised at first sight, and by the time you leave you will be bemoaning the fact you’ve never played there before.
The course’s origins are traced back to 1928, when members of the Lower uMzimkulu Lawn Tennis Club decided to
lay out a nine-hole course which would wind around a central area set aside for cricket, rugby and hockey. Cricket is still played there. These days the club also offers tennis, bowls, squash and even belly dancing.
It oozes history with many tales of change, upgrades and flooding. None was more severe than the flood of 1959 which not only severely damaged the clubhouse but also the bridge across the river connecting to Port Shepstone.
The 9th tee retains the remnants of the railway line that ran through the golf course and over the river.
Due to the damage, the course was redesigned and opened in 1960. Each year the club has a memorial tournament – the Restoration Cup – to celebrate the occasion.
The course is very much a tale of two nines, different in nature due to the layout of the land alongside the uMzimkulu River.
The front nine, the tougher of the two, starts off flat but then enters a narrow area beside the river and high-lying
ground. The tight fairways, lined by thick coastal bush and mature trees, rise and fall out and back to the clubhouse. Although not long, balls that are hit wayward are seldom found.
The course starts with two relatively straightforward holes before the tight stroke-two 3rd. From the tee box of the 4th it is difficult to determine in which direction the hole lies as a massive tree obscures the fairway. At 274m, it is a short hole, but trying to bite off too much from the tee will result in finding the thick tree-lined rough. A 5-iron or less is advisable, leaving you with a short-iron into the green.
The 5th is without a doubt a highlight of the front nine. It’s a short par three at 142m, but you look down upon the green from a number of tiered tees more than 50m above the hole. The views towards the river and Port Shepstone show the beauty and maturity of the course. The heart of the green is a difficult target, guarded by two deep greenside bunkers.
The final hole on the back nine is where the old railway line is still visible, with a large poster of the bygone era. Be sure to take a minute’s history lesson on the area.
The back nine is more forgiving and on a much flatter route. It does, however, have a lot more water influencing the majority of the holes on the nine. Being a coastal course, the wind is often a factor and holes can change personality overnight, from a short pushover to a tight, intimidating monster.
Course knowledge on the back nine goes a long way, so be sure to take a caddie or get a member to join you. The trio of 16, 17 and 18 are great finishing holes.
The downhill par-four 16th meanders down to a semi-island green. A random palm tree about 240m out needs to be avoided so leave a medium-iron into this two-tiered green. The final par three, the 17th, is only 154m but often comes up as the most difficult hole. A combination of playing into the wind, an encroaching water hazard and a nasty bunker beside the green make it a hole not to be underestimated. The 18th is a 370m par four. (See our signature hole
on page 66 from PGA professional Jesse Verster about tackling this hole.)
A final note on the course is the quartet of par threes, which must be up with the best in the country. They are not long, but all different with large, mature trees defining a number of them. Sneaky changes in elevation make for tricky club selection.
Voted Best Course in 2015, ’16 and ’17 in the South Coast media’s Readers’ Choice Awards, which speaks volumes when one thinks of other courses in the area, Port Shepstone Country Club has genuine class. It has a proper country feel, with a hub of members always finding an excuse to be at the course.
A small, committed team of staff, each doing what they do because they love the course and area, keep the club running in a professional, friendly manner. The members’ hospitality is overwhelming as they are a genuine bunch of golf-loving folk who relish hearing feedback on their course; most likely as it’s usually high praise. Many of the members have been there for well over 30 years and have seen the course change into what is now a great layout and test of golf.
As far as ‘little’ country courses go, this is a giant.
CONTACT DETAILS: (039) 695 0141 | 082 301 0211 | [email protected]
– This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!