De Zalze Golf Club last frequented the Course of the Month pages in March 2006, when Brandon de Kock dished up a mouth-watering prospect of golf, wine and gourmet food on this winelands estate. These attributes, along with the idyllic houses on the estate are still very much the drawcard for De Zalze, however, with new ownership, some environmental upgrades to the course, and a strong business model, the golf course has improved tremendously and is still getting better.
With certain historic buildings dating back to 1838 still on the grounds, the estate dates back to 1995 when the three farmers originally owning the land decided to build a golf course. With well-known course architect Peter Matkovich contracted for the design, soil was first turned in 1996 and in November 2000, Spier Country Club opened to play. The name was taken from the fact that the Spier Group, which owned the neighbouring wine farm, purchased interest in the property that included the golf course.
However, in 2003 when the newly completed clubhouse opened, the name was changed to De Zalze Golf Club in line with the newly launched De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate development, which saw housing surround the layout, adding to the already high value of the estate. The name De Zalze was derived from a combination of the names of the original three farms: Kleine Zalze, Groote Zalze and De Vleie. These days, Kleine Zalze still exists as the wine label on the estate with its cellars setting the backdrop to the green on the first hole and 100 of the 300 hectares of land on the estate being used as vineyards.
What has set De Zalze apart from most of the high-profile golf estates throughout South Africa is the independence of the golf club from the housing estate, with homeowners being given the choice to either join the club or not, and due to such a decision, only 50 percent of the homeowners are members. This business model has worked to the club’s advantage, and to this day there are only 250 full members at De Zalze, with the course open seven days a week to visitors, allowing those homeowners who are members the opportunity to still play the course whenever they are able to.
Under the leadership of CEO Dave Hansen, who has been part of De Zalze Golf Club since its launch, the course and facilities excelled, and in 2006 played host to the World Amateur Team Championships (Eisenhower and Espirito Santo Trophies), along with neighbouring layout Stellenbosch Golf Club. In fine fashion the South African ladies took the title, while the men’s team finished tied for 22nd. A year later De Zalze proudly became the first golf course in the world to be Fair Trade certified in recognition of its adherence to the Fair Trade principles and criteria set out by Fair Trade Tourism.
Another agreement that came into effect in 2003 was that the members would have the option every five years to buy the course from the holding company, a right they exercised in 2008. The deal finally went through on 1 August 2009 and Hansen remained as CEO of the club.
Over the next three years R3 million was invested into the club per annum, and running as a non-profit business, all revenue made has been re-invested into the establishment. Such investments have led to many improvements to the course and facilities, including new cart paths being laid along the entire course. Hansen felt the need for the paths due to the high volume of golfers who would only play the course using carts. With the layout becoming very waterlogged during the rainy winter season, it was becoming increasingly difficult to allow carts on the course during the time, and therefore this led to the loss of these golfers. By adding the cart paths, this problem has been solved.
Other advancements in the course include the on going improvements in the environmental friendliness of the club as well as making the course more maintenance and user friendly for all levels of golfer. For this, original architect Matkovich has been brought back in and enjoys the freedom to make all of the decisions on changes to the course, a part of the agreement in the members’ buyout clause.
In this Matkovich ‘blueprint’ he has begun by making significant changes to the par-five 6th and par-four 10th holes. The sixth sees new bunkers created along the dam that runs up the right of the hole, as well as the two existing bunkers to the right of the landing area off the tee being moved slightly to guard from the water hazard. On the left side, a mound that used to block the golfers view of the green from the tee has been softened and the bunkers moved slightly, while new trees have been planted that will turn the hole into a more defined dogleg once grown and will provide a guard against stray tee shots heading into the houses on the edge of the course.
On the 10th, again more bunkers have been added to the right side of the hole where it begins to dogleg up toward the left. The fairway bunkers on the left have too been moved back and some of the tall trees up on the left side just short of the green, which also guarded the putting surface from shots played up the left off the tee, have also been removed to open the hole up slightly.
The latest big project across the entire course has been the softening of the edges around each and every bunker. This has a twofold effect. Firstly it makes it easier from a maintenance point whereby the sand will sit better up towards the edge of each bunkers and wont wash down to the middle each winter, and secondly, it makes it slightly easier for golfers who struggle to get out of bunkers find the green stuff more consistently when finding themselves playing out of the sand.
Projects to follow include the reshaping and levelling of the tee boxes, which tend to lose shape and flatness over time, especially in an area that experiences such a wet winter. Of course, it doesn’t help having the Blaauwklippen River running through the estate with the course crossing it numerous times during a round. However, the course is all the better for having such a beautiful expanse of water meandering through and it certainly add a challenge to quite a few holes on both nines.
When it comes to playing the course, you will find a different challenge on every hole, and every club in the bag will be needed to plot your way around. The parklands layout, fully equipped with vineyards on certain holes and large expanses of water offers views of the Stellenbosch mountains, while Table Mountain can be seen on a very clear day from some of the tee boxes. The Cape Dutch-styled houses complete the scenery on what has to be one of the most beautiful courses in the country.
When it comes to the signature hole, it is difficult to single out from the 18 unnecessarily well made challenges. However, the 13th has been officially chosen as the hole representing the estate. At 299 metres from the back tee, the par four presents a risk-and-reward challenge for the longer hitters, especially since the hole actually curves from right to left making the carry slightly shorter to the green than the distance marker on the tee states. However, the risk is that you need to carry your tee shot across water the entire way should you attempt driving the green, with absolutely no bail out for drives heading left or short of the putting surface. Players who over-shoot the green will more than likely find the large greenside bunker and from here face the scary challenge of blasting out while avoiding the dreaded thinned shot that will see your ball finding a watery grave. Those who choose not to have a pop at the green can still take driver or any other club they choose depending on what distance they want for their approach, but will still need to avoid the few fairway bunkers running up the right edge of the hole.
De Zalze is certainly a memorable course, especially when you attempt to tee off from the championship tee on the 18th hole. The view from so high above looking down onto the course and clubhouse makes for a thrilling end, and should your ball find the Blaauwklippen River below, there is always the solace of the 19th hole, fully equipped with some of the winelands’ finest bottles, and a great selection of single malts to boot. It’s more than enough reason for the estate to have hosted the presidential golf day for the past eight years.
- The clubhouse and its facilities are of highest quality with some of the friendliest staff running everything.
- The houses around the course are unobtrusive
- The course is available to visitors seven days a week.
- There are some very waterlogged areas on the course during winter that can lead to some rather dirty trousers. However, this can be excused due to the fact that it is difficult for water to drain through the clay beneath the layout.
Getting there: From the N2 towards Somerset West, take the off-ramp to Baden Powell Road and turn left. At the first set of traffic lights turn right onto Annandale road and follow this route up until the traffic lights on the R44. Turn left and again continue to the next set of traffic lights. The entrance to De Zalze is on your left.
Course: Par 72, 6 369 metres (championship tees)
Designer: Peter Matkovich
Chief Executive Office: Dave Hansen
Golf Manager: Alfie Payne