Fancy a good walk and playing golf? BRENDAN BARRATT suggests you try this Cape Town northern suburbs venue which is a test of stamina, but forgiving.
The first surprise that greets visitors to Bellville Golf Club is that the course is not located in Bellville. Instead, the 5 836m, par-72 layout is located in the leafy – and rather upmarket – suburb of Welgemoed, about a 25-minute drive from Cape Town’s city centre.
The club traces its origins back to 1958, when it began its life as a nine-hole Bob Grimsdell course known as Welgemoed Golf Club. It added the second nine in 1981, along with a new clubhouse across the road and saw further changes by Mark Muller in 1995. Today’s Bellville Golf Club is certainly one of the more popular Cape courses, and has a lively membership of over 1 100.
While short by modern standards, it remains an excellent test not only of your golfing ability, but also your stamina, as the course follows the contours of the valley running through Welgemoed, resulting in steady changes in elevation and one of the harder walks in the city. Despite the large number of opulent residences that have sprung up on its borders, the course has retained its working-class charm and consistently delivers on conditioning.
‘Over the past 18 months we have worked hard on the in-play areas of the course,’ says general manager Werner Theart, who was a top amateur golfer, representing Western Province for nine years.
‘We have always been proud of our greens, which we like to keep firm and fast, but it’s pleasing that, over the past year, we have been able to present the whole course at a consistently high level.’
While it is hard to single out signature holes at Bellville, one gets the feeling that this is a layout where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Certainly it provides many chances for golfers to score well. Averaging 454m from the club tees, the par fives here offer most players the opportunity of reaching the green in two. Eight of the par fours measure under 350m, so a good tee shot on these holes should leave the player with a short-iron into the green.
Contrasted to this, the par threes have the potential to do some serious damage to your scorecard. Averaging 160m in length, the short holes may be easy on the eye, but should not be taken for granted, particularly as they are high-stroking holes.
An interesting, if somewhat dated, statistic helps to highlight this point. When the South African Open was held at Erinvale in 2004, Bellville hosted the pre-qualifying event and the professionals understandably made merry at the par fives, shooting a combined total of 85 under par. On the par threes, however, they finished a collective 82 over par.
With very few straight fairways, Bellville seems to encourage you to shape your shots off the tee in order to get the most out of your drives.
A fine example is presented on the opening hole, which measures 324m. Faced with a fairway that slopes hard from right to left, a gentle fade is called for but players will probably need to do this with a fairway wood or long-iron or risk running out of fairway.
The 2nd hole curves to the right, the 3rd turns hard left and the 5th hole is a sharp dogleg to the left, so that by the time one is confronted with a straight fairway it is already the 6th hole.
This also happens to be the course’s stroke two and justifiably so. This par four measures 375m and is bordered all the way along the right by the course perimeter, with its tall bluegum trees and white out-of-bounds stakes. This hole is one of few at Bellville where there is little margin for error off the tee, as most other holes provide a generous bailout area for those who are feeling a little short of confidence.
The 9th is a lovely, tempting par four of just 304m. With an island-style tee box that juts out into a large dam, the tee shot must carry the water before threading a pair of bunkers on the right and a water hazard that runs down the left.
Although the green is well protected by bunkers, the approach shot tends to be with a short-iron, meaning this is an excellent scoring opportunity for those who successfully find the fairway off the tee.
The back nine is certainly the more physically strenuous of the two loops, with a fair amount of altitude change, and some locals admit to a preference of starting off the 10th in order to get the ‘hilly nine’ out of the way first. With its ups and downs, and depending on the wind direction, some of the holes can play either heartbreakingly long or disarmingly short.
Somewhat unusually, Bellville’s stroke one is a short par four of 332m. While it may appear benign on the scorecard, there is little doubt this hole has earned its rating. The steep uphill drive adds a little more length to the hole, and any tee shot that leaks to the right is likely to find tree trouble.
The approach shot requires one to thread the needle, as this long, narrow green is flanked by a bunker to the left and a steep bank that falls away to the right. Two solid shots are required to find the putting surface and secure a regulation par.
The 12th hole is a testing par three that requires a longish carry over water to a green protected by two front bunkers. Many a player has mis-hit or underclubbed on this hole, with the water proving to be something of a magnet for golf balls.
The par-five 15th is another excellent golf hole. The player must again carry the water with his drive, with the hazard extending all the way up the left side of the generous fairway. For those nervous of the water on the left, some nasty rough, a well-placed bunker and the boundary fence lie in wait on the right-hand side of the fairway. The 15th green must surely be one of the smallest in the Cape, so even a short approach shot should be made with the utmost of care.
The par-five 17th hole remains arguably the one significant design flaw at Bellville. With the firm fairway sloping heavily from right to left, it seems impossible to keep your ball from rolling through the fairway and off the left side. Theart and his team have been steadily making adjustments to reduce the slope of the fairway, which will make this a great score-spreading hole within Bellville’s finishing stretch.
The last hole is played down a sizeable drop in elevation and presents a tricky approach to a firm, back-to-front sloping green that is protected by water on the front and right. Although it is relatively short, it makes for an excellent finishing hole, with any number of results possible.
Once you’ve finished your round, it is time to make the great trek back up the steep hill to the clubhouse, which towers above the 9th and 18th greens and offers wonderful views of the 1st, 9th, 10th and 18th holes. It is an enjoyable spot for a post-round refreshment and provides a welcoming space to reflect on one’s round, whether good or bad.
Hole No 8, 472m, par five
General manager Werner Theart talks us through the 8th hole.
This is a great par five that offers players the chance to make some points. As the course’s stroke four, most players will get a shot here and should be happy to walk away with a par.
The tee shot is wide open and encourages you to rip a driver. The better line is up the right-hand side, but for those who pull the ball a little left, there is often a healthy kick back down the bank towards the fairway. Even if you finish in the rough on the left, you would be rather unlucky to find your next shot blocked out by the trees.
A good tee shot, with the prevailing wind at your back, will give the bigger hitters a chance at getting to the green in two shots, and there is no real reason not to.
We used to have out-of-bounds stakes running up the right-hand side of the hole, but these have been replaced by a red penalty area, and I think this has encouraged players to be bolder.
If you do have a crack at the green, you will need to squeeze the ball between two front bunkers that protect either side of the green. For those who lay up, the fairway remains wide and, provided you don’t leave yourself too far back, it is a relatively easy approach shot to a large, but sloping green.
It’s important to leave your ball below the hole on your approach shot as the green slopes from back to front and left to right. Any putt that is above the hole can be frighteningly quick.
For most, a solid par on this lovely hole will be a great result.
Members: 18 holes R215; 9 holes R145
Student members: 18 holes R215; 9 holes R145
Junior members: 18 holes R100; 9 holes R75
Off-peak times (weekdays)
Student members: R100
Junior members: R20
Golf carts (full members): 18 holes R250; 9 holes R175
East London: 1,022km
S33° 87’08.50″ E18° 61’81.53″
Jip de Jager Drive, Welgemoed, Bellville, Cape Town
General: (021) 913-3100
– This article first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!