Gateway to the Mountains
Directly translated from the local language ‘vula’ meaning open and ‘intaba’ meaning mountain, Vulintaba literally means ‘Open Mountain’, which is apt for this gem of a course.
This country estate can be found in the shadows of the impressive northern Drakensberg mountain range in KwaZulu-Natal. This is God’s country with the mountains reaching for the sky and the surrounding hills clad in long sweet grass. It is in this location where the DDV Design Group shaped out the enticing design of the nine-hole par-72 layout within the confines of the relatively new lifestyle estate.
A short 19kme drive from Newcastle, it is well located to have a perfect country feel, yet still have all the necessary amenities only a short drive away.
Shrouded in history and intrigue Newcastle played an important role as part of the transport route between Durban and Johannesburg as well as being an important location in the Anglo Boer War. In more recent times it has proved to be an important coal supplier which is linked to its pivotal role in the steel industry. Located in the north-western corner of KwaZulu-Natal, its status as the third largest city in the province is well earned, although not well known.
The estate boasts everything from mountain biking trails to fly fishing in a number of dams in the shadow of some rather impressive mountains. Boasting 582 free stands it is not an excessively large estate and what’s more is the stands do not encroach on the free-flowing layout of the course. Having nine holes with 72 different tee box options certainly allows for greenkeeper Diaan Louw to give the course a different temperament for each day of the year. Playing a total 6 812m – off the tips – it has a certain intimidation factor as it snakes its way through the green hills between the numerous rivers and ravines. The large bent grass greens, which allow for numerous pin placements, as well as the ample tee boxes easily trick one into believing it is indeed an 18-hole course.
The opening par-four 1st/10th hole allows for a little freedom off the tee box due to the very wide kikuyu fairway. Some dead ground before the landing area can be a little intimidating for the shorter hitters and although it has bunkers left and right, the landing area really is generous. The fairway narrows toward the large green and a bunker left and large bailout area right need to be avoided. The green itself has a number of mounds and slopes that needed to be negotiated to secure par.
The par-four 2nd/11th ratchets up the necessity for accuracy off the tee and begins to highlight the requirement for good course management on this links-style layout. Another straight hole, although slightly longer when played as the 11th, it has two fairway bunkers on either side of the landing area. A ravine running along the right side of the entire hole must be avoided at all costs. The longer hitters must decide on taking the big stick or steering a three wood to safety. A slightly elevated green can be found by avoiding a large bunker left and nasty pot bunker right.
On approaching the 3rd/12th know that the gloves are coming off as the relatively easy start comes to an abrupt end and the class for ‘course management 101’ is now in session. The topography of the mountain and a number of ravines, which making their way to through the course, shape this tricky hole.
The par-four 3rd it is a brutish hole of 466m when stretched to its full length. A good drive will leave you with a long shot to an elevated well-protected green. A bailout area is available left between two ravines. Miss it and a certain dropped shot can be expected. Played as the 3rd you may not have an option but to go for it, however when played as the par-five 12th the lay-up option comes into play. If you take that choice avoid the four greenside pot bunkers.
The 4th/13th is a perfect example of how different tee boxes completely change the character of the hole. As the 4th it is a short 317m par-four offering a genuine birdie opportunity for the better golfer. Its main protection comes in the form of no less then seven bunkers, some tiny, while others could house an entire putt-putt course. The full length of the green’s right-hand side is protected by a massive bunker, while a small pot bunker protects the front left corner. When playing this hole as the par-four 13th be sure to take a few minutes from the elevated tee box to enjoy the panoramic views of the estate, surrounding mountains and distant forests, it’s worth it.
The 13th at 489m is the longest par four on the course and commands the golfers full attention every metre of the way. A tee shot excessively wide of the generous landing area will find severe trouble in the form of bunkers and the local soetveld. Approaching the large green with a long iron again demands accuracy to avoid the massive bunker right and its small counterpart left. A par on this hole is like a badge of honour and definitely worth mentioning at the 19th.
The 5th/14th is another picturesque hole following the natural contours of the land shaped by the adjacent mountain and ravines coming off it. At 481m the par-five 5th is a good risk-and-reward opportunity. A good drive will leave you with the decision to either go for the elevated green, which lies across the ravine, or continue down the primary fairway. The green, although long, is narrow and protected by a triumvirate of nasty pot bunkers as well as a large drop off, right, into wetland. Shortened by over 100m the par-four 14th has a completely different demeanour. The landing area must be found leaving a very short approach to the raised green. However, from the new angle the now perpendicular lying green makes for a difficult target.
The par-three 6th/15 visually is a stunning hole. Slightly elevated, this short hole again puts a premium on accuracy due to a small green. The water hazard front right and large bunker behind the green will ensure the yardage book is checked a number of times.
Ample water is the order of the day on the par-four 7th/16th. On the first playing of the hole the fairway is straight down to the green with a river running down the right flank, which ultimately crosses the front of the green. The longer the drive the more the water encroaches on a narrowing fairway with a large fairway bunker left. The intimidating approach over the water is amplified by the five bunkers surrounding the green. Playing this hole as the 16th, although a similar distance to the 7th, the tee boxes are situated well to the right turning the hole into a strong dogleg right, as well as bringing a large dam into play from the tee box.
The par-three 8th/17th is a stunning creation of a hole. Playing over 220m the first time round it is a real monster. The fairway is split by an old stonewall which then forms part of a massive bunker right. The visually intimidating hole is further bolstered by another four bunkers, which lead the eye to the small target. Playing as the 17th it is slightly shorter and the angle of attack is moved slightly to the right.
The closing 9th/18th is a monster of a par five that does not relinquish many birdies. At 568m and 533m respectively, it will take two massive hits to reach the green. An aggressive drive will need to avoid a number of bunkers in the landing area. Laying up for two would be the advisable option as a river and two bunkers protect the green. Par is a good way to end the round.
With a long history in South Africa’s past from the Boer War and having a key role in the mining industry, Newcastle has many facets. The addition of a stellar golfing estate on its doorstep just adds to its allure. Although slightly off the beaten track, many would say this adds to the appeal, this estate is situated in prime KwaZulu-Natal countryside saturated with birds (320 species) and wildlife. The unique mountain territory surrounded by rolling green hills, interwoven by crystal clear rivers, makes for the perfect setting for a golfing experience not to be forgotten.
Local PGA professional Barend Wessels says Vulintaba will test all aspects of your game from accuracy off the tees to putting on large green. Most importantly however is managing your way around the course. Don’t fall into the trap that it’s only nine holes. The various tee boxes dictate club selection to ensure landing in the correct areas of the fairway. On your approach shot take note where the pins are located and avoid the ample trouble surrounding them. Oh yes and don’t forget to take a minute and enjoy the view of the magnificent mountains.
Affiliated visitors: 18 holes R220 (9 holes R145)
Non-affiliated visitors: 18 holes R415 (9 holes R240)
SAGA-affiliated students: 18 holes R140 (9 holes R100)
SAGA scholars: 18 holes R85 (9 holes R55)
Carts: 18 holes R200 (9 holes R140)
DISTANCES (FROM, ESTIMATED)
East London: 877km
Port Elizabeth: 1151km
Cape Town: 1503km
King Shaka Airport 367km