Situated on the West Coast in Melkbosstrand in the Western Cape, Atlantic Beach Links is an enigmatic course due to its unique layout and location, writes MARK SAMPSON.
Atlantic Beach golf course, as it was then known, opened to the public in 2000 when construction was completed by Mark Muller and Golf Data. The layout had been carefully constructed to follow the natural contouring of the land and have as little impact as possible on the natural Strandveld fynbos vegetation.
The two nines lie totally apart and loop in an anti-clockwise direction away from the clubhouse and back. The Atlantic Ocean, with Table Mountain ‘floating’ above it, is in full view of many of the holes which also have numerous small mammals, springbok and tortoises in abundance.
The course meanders effortlessly through the estate with the houses situated well away from the course and vegetation creating a natural buffer between course and estate. Over the years, the course – and management – has seen numerous changes which have, in recent years, led to a resurrection of this great layout and a complete lifestyle offering.
Like all coastal courses, Atlantic Beach Links can be pleasantly straightforward when the wind is down. The original layout was a lot tighter, and it had quite the reputation for being a challenging course when the Cape’s wind bared its teeth. In 2004 and 2005 it was a qualifier course for The Open Championship.
The estate itself has become one of the most sought-after in the country with the original layout having 867 properties which sold out in record time in 2002. Since then, numerous additions to the sporting, entertainment, recreational lifestyle and security infrastructure have galvanised it into the ultimate living space.
In 2022, the estate was placed second in the Financial Mail annual ‘South Africa’s Top Suburbs’ review with a 14.3% price growth over three years (ending October 2022) pipping the ‘perennial top-end performers of Fresnaye, Camps Bay and Clifton’.
When the Homeowners Association took over management of the golf course in 2020, it embarked on creating the vision of a unique lifestyle offering for residents, members and guests. One of the first things to be implemented was an entire revamp of the clubhouse. An astounding facelift resulted in creating the Milkwood Deli, Sunbird Restaurant, Atlantic Boutique, Strandveld Boardroom, Concierge Desk and play areas for children.
To accommodate this, the pro shop was moved within the clubhouse. As you enter you are now greeted by a buzz of activity, the aroma of fresh coffee and residents, members, visitors and business people enjoying the lifestyle offerings. The restaurant and deli now position themselves as a meeting space and larger groups can be accommodated in other conference facilities which are also available. The clubhouse is now the ‘Hub of the Community’.
The upstairs Links Bar has been upgraded and has a separate area able to host social engagements. A new Pump Track – skateboard and bicycle track – has also been built adjacent to the Sports & Fitness Centre which includes the gym, studio, biokineticists and the upgraded driving range and practice facilities. The Atlantic Beach Golf Academy was also established, in partnership with EOGA Golf Academy, as well as a very successful junior golf programme.
The course has, over time, undergone numerous changes and seen good and bad times. In 2017-18 the fairways were all but lost due to the severe drought. With the warm, windy conditions experienced in the area and grey water availability compromised by the drought, the fairways could not be watered. Under the HOA management team and watchful eye of CEO Francois Swart, in conjunction with Southern Turf Management (STM), the course, according to long-term members, is in the best condition in decades.
A bunker renovation project is also underway, changing the look and feel of the bunkers, beautifying them as they aim to move away from pot bunkers. The project also includes grassing in some of the sea-shell waste areas.
The front nine starts in the direction showcasing a variety of views of Table Mountain, culminating at the 3rd which has the best view of the Cape’s natural wonder. The downside of this is if the south-easter is up you will be playing into the teeth of the wind, hence the starting strokes of 2, 6 and 8 respectively.
The 1st is a 382m par four with a tee shot that requires your full attention. It generally has more space right, but too far right and you will go into the protected Strandveld vegetation. If you go left, you leave yourself in what can best be described as a quarry with a blind shot to the green. This area used to be a sand mine, hence the name of the hole, ‘Quarry’, and the raw, sandy area that is best avoided. At 382m, if the wind is up you are still left with a long-iron in hand to the green below. Keeping the shot low should be a priority while avoiding the two small bunkers front right and back left.
The 2nd hole is another par four and while it is 50m shorter than the 1st it is still a stroke 6. The primary reason is it generally plays with a cross-wind of sorts. A good drive will leave an approach to an elevated green over an outcrop of vegetation, making it quite intimidating. Greenside, only one bunker front right protects the surface. It is the sheer size of the green which needs to be noted as it slides quite steeply from back to front. If the flag is on the front edge be very sure not to get caught up pin hunting and keep the hands soft to reduce as much spin as possible. A glorious hole to play at sunrise.
The 3rd is a delightful par three of only 141m and with the view of Table Mountain, it owns the signature hole status of the course (see below).
The first hole of this nine most likely to be with playing with the wind is the par-five 6th. At 451m it is not long and with the wind helping, the ample fairway should be an easy find for any level of golfer. The primary protection of this hole is the massively undulating green and bunkers at the back, so be sure not to overshoot the surface.
The shortest hole on the course comes at the 8th and weighs in at a mere 129m. With a two-tiered, undulating green, if the pin is bottom right it presents an exciting opportunity for a hole-in-one.
The back nine has a friendly start with a downwind par five and two short par fours of 356m and 336m. This changes dramatically at the 13th as you turn into the prevailing wind. This was originally the signature hole of the course and for good reason with its stroke-one rating. From the tee the hole doglegs from right to left and the further up you land, the tighter the fairway gets with the indigenous vegetation on either side. Further up the fairway one fairway bunker on the right keeps the layup interesting. The approach is somewhat obscured as the green lies slightly offset to the right of the fairway. Simply put, distance is the biggest concern on this hole.
Instant respite can be expected in the next three holes, all of which offer fantastic views of Table Mountain and Robben Island as the nine starts descending and looking back towards the clubhouse. The final hole is also a welcoming short par four of only 269m. Four bunkers need to be avoided, the first of which is approximately 90m from the green.
If the wind is from behind and the fairways running, it is always fun trying to thread the needle. The warmth of the closing hole continues as you enter the clubhouse and the upstairs bar area. In terms of sunset and Table Mountain views, this area holds the trump card.
The HOA and management team have created a comprehensive, unique and secure lifestyle experience both on and off the course which resonates not only with golfers but with residents.
Atlantic Beach Links is now almost complete in its three-year metamorphosis and the number of awards the estate and Links Club have received is confirmation of this. With a number of exciting new developments in the pipeline, visitors and residents have a lot to look forward to and will complete the rising of the phoenix.
3rd hole, par three, 141m
At 141m from tee to green, the 3rd is not a long par three and neither is it the shortest on the course with the 8th playing a mere 129m. The tee sits way above the green area and plays directly into the south-easter. If the south-wester is up then a cross-wind can cause havoc with ball flight and picking the correct target line.
The hole plays directly towards Table Mountain and gives the best views on the entire course, so be sure to enjoy the view before tackling the hole. The drop in elevation from tee to green, windy conditions and the narrowness of the green make for what can be a challenging club selection and hole. Anywhere long and you will find yourself in one of the two bunkers if you are lucky, as thick coastal bush awaits beyond. Thick bush also leads from the tee to the green and adds to the intimidation factor.
The thin green, which also has a small pot bunker front right, lies at an oblique angle from the tee shot and if anything, a draw for the right-hander is ideal. What can’t be seen from the tee is a small bail-out area short left, and front, of the green which offers a genuine up-and-down opportunity. Although narrow from front to back, the green is very long from left to right, offering several sucker pin positions.
As is the norm when playing to sucker pins, aiming to the ‘safe’ side of the flag is the game plan, meaning if the flag is on the right edge, aim on the left side and vice versa. The lengthy green has two swales towards the front and can make a two-putt par difficult.
R175/9 holes, R295/18 holes
Taking the N1 out of Cape Town’s city centre, stay left as the highway splits to continue along the N1. Then take Exit 4 for the R27 towards Milnerton. After approximately 13km, turn left onto Marine Drive which becomes Otto du Plessis Drive. After another 10.5km, turn right onto Atlantic Beach Drive. Continue for 1km and turn right onto Dune Weed Way. The entrance is another 300m up the road, after one more right turn.
Cape Town: 25km
Bloemfontein: 1 022km
Johannesburg: 1 415km
Durban: 1 652km
2 Fairway Drive, Atlantic Beach Estate
– This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photos: Mark Sampson