After a period of uncertainty, King David Mowbray Golf Club can prepare for a bright future as one of the Cape’s top parkland golf courses, writes BRENDAN BARRATT.
For the first-time visitor, the initial impressions of King David Mowbray Golf Club are particularly impressive. From the parking area, where the course itself is obscured by the clubhouse, players must walk through a tunnel beneath the building to access the pro shop and the first tee.
The tunnel itself is decorated with framed black and white photographs that pay tribute to the men and women who have played a part in the history of the club, from former club professionals such as Ken Elkin, Muss Gammon and Dale Hayes to the superstars who have graced its fairways over time. To see images of the game’s legends, including Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els is to quickly discern that this golf club is very much part of the history of golf in the Cape, and indeed the country.
As golfers emerge on the other side of the tunnel, they are greeted by panoramic views of the lush Cape Town layout – almost as though the curtains of the stage have been suddenly drawn open to reveal what lies beyond. In this case, a subtly challenging, tree-lined course that dates back to 1910 and harbours fine views of Cape Town’s most famous landmark, Table Mountain.
Yet for all the club’s prominent history – the old Mowbray Golf Club hosted seven South African Opens, five SA Amateur Championships, the recent Cape Town Open on the Sunshine Tour and the World Cup of Disabled Golf – the club had long been suffocating under an uncertain future. As its 100-year lease with the city neared its conclusion and rumours of plans for low-cost housing on the premises spread, there were real concerns that the 110-year-old club could be lost to the expansion plans of a modern city.
A timely merger between Mowbray Golf Club and King David Golf Club four years ago has resulted in healthy cash and membership injections into the club and today it is clear to the visitor that this facility is in a very healthy space. The clubhouse appears spick and span, the service is professional and, at times, booking a tee time can prove to be a challenge given the course’s popularity.
Now, with all signs hinting of a renewal of the lease for another 10 years, King David Mowbray Golf Club has, at last, an opportunity to plan forward to a bright new future – despite with the curveball that the Covid-19 threw at the world at the beginning of the year.
‘Economically, it’s tough right now,’ says club manager Don Ball. ‘Like every other golf club we have lost members through hard times, but we also gained a few as people came to realise the benefits and relative safety of playing golf during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Here at KDM we have such a great space, not only in terms of the golf course but also in terms of the building. There’s a nice ambience to it and it feels comfortable and welcoming, with a nice vibe.
‘The course itself is a really top layout and it feels to me like all we need to do is to finesse it back to championship level and we can become the best non-estate course in the Cape.’
Certainly the playable design of the course has much to do with the popularity of the King David Mowbray club. This has always been a comfortable layout for all levels of golfer. It is undeniably short, stretching to less than 6 000m from the very tips, yet even the country’s top golfers were unable to tear it up during last year’s Cape Town Open.
The course was protected from the big hitters by its many trees, effective doglegs and firm putting surfaces. Making matters trickier is the route of the course, where players seldom face a hole that plays directly into or downwind. It’s hard to hit it close to the pin when the wind is gusting across you.
For the average club golfer, however, who is more reliant on pars than birdies to neaten up his or her scorecard, the King David Mowbray layout offers plenty of opportunities and more than enough room for the wayward striker.
Off the club tees, eight of the par fours measure around 350m or less, with two of those playing under 300m, while the par fives, particularly the 417m 6th and the 421m 14th are just about in reach in two shots for most players.
Yet King David Mowbray also offers a number of very difficult par fours that demand the utmost respect.
The 2nd hole, at 359m, is a long two-shotter that plays into the prevailing wind, while the 15th is another that has the potential to wreck the scorecard.
The 18th, particularly when played from the back tee box, is a true beast of a hole and one of the most challenging closing holes in the country. At over 400m in length, and with a water hazard protecting the front left hand side of the green, it is comfortably the most difficult hole on the course, regardless of what the rating on the scorecard tells you. Although it is played mainly downwind, many a promising round has derailed at this fine closing hole and many a post-round libation has tasted more bitter for it.
While it’s fair to say that all four shorts at KDM are excellent golf holes, it is the 16th that is particularly noteworthy. At just 127m from the club tee, it requires a short hit over water to a reasonably big green, protected by three bunkers. What sets this hole apart from the rest is the water feature in front and stunning mountain backdrop that, together, frame the hole beautifully.
Over the years, King David Mowbray has thrown out many memorable moments.
It was here in 1971 when Simon Hobday won the South African Open in somewhat controversial circumstances, beating Gary Player into a rare runner-up finish in the national open.
The story goes that Hobday was leading the event comfortably when Player began one of his final-round charges, shooting seven birdies in a row to reel him in. On the 14th hole, Hobday called a penalty on himself after a wild swing in the bunker had caused him to topple right over. As he fell, he felt something bump him and assumed it could only have been the ball bouncing back off the bunker face.
Fortunately for Hobday, the president of the SAGU at the time, John de Kock, witnessed the incident and confirmed that the ball had squirted off to the right rather than striking the golfer. Hobday corrected his card in time and was declared the winner, although Player argued that he had played the final hole conservatively, under the belief that Hobday’s penalty was in place.
King David Mowbray was also the scene of one of the greatest hole-in-one prizes in golfing history. Ben Fouchee was the lucky beneficiary of 1 000 cases of Bell’s whisky when he aced the 16th hole during the final round of the 1991 Bell’s Cup. Interestingly, that prize was valued at more than what the winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit earned all season.
In the last couple of years, the club has become the go-to host for a number of high profile professional and amateur events in Cape Town, including events on the Sunshine Tour, Sunshine Ladies Tour and the 2019 South African Amateur Championship, won by rising star Wilco Nienaber.
Having been through its fair share of ups and downs over the past decade, one can sense a positive new energy at the club as it embarks upon a more certain future and sets its sights on becoming Cape Town’s No 1 parkland layout.
For the grand old dame of Cape Town, having come through financial challenges, a merger and now the Covid-19 pandemic, the only way is up.