Jacques Kallis made a hole-in-one on the par-four 2nd last November and this Cape Town venue makes everyone feel right at home, writes BRENDAN BARRATT.
When Covid-19 came in low and hard like a knifed 4-iron off a sandy lie, it caught the golfing world off guard and altered the financial trajectory of most, if not all, golf clubs. The lucky ones have been able to withstand the hit, while others have had to restructure their club set-up and, sadly, there are those that have had to close their gates for ever.
Thankfully, Durbanville Golf Club, Cape Town’s ‘Jewel of the North’, sits in the former category, although this position does come with a small caveat. Most frustratingly for this popular members club, the paint on its massive refurbishment project had barely dried when the government ordered the lockdown. Hardly the ideal way to fetch a quick return on your investment.
Yet there is little doubt that Durbanville’s loyal and robust membership base will rally to ensure that the club regains its old buzz. This is a club that is known for its good old-fashioned country-club feel and hospitality and although members and guests may not be able to make use of the sparkling new halfway house facilities, trendy downstairs bar, the new pizza oven or the plush locker rooms, the course itself has more than enough to offer the golfer.
From a conditioning point of view, it’s hard to disagree with general manager Sean Verdon’s assertion that the course has never been in better shape. Certainly, this has much to do with two months of ‘lying fallow’, but is also a product of timely pre-lockdown hollow-tining effort, sufficient water – a significant challenge in the Cape in recent years – and a passionate greenkeeping crew from Southern Turf Management.
The course was originally laid out by Ken Elkin in 1957 and has, for the most part, stayed true to its original design. Elkin, a long-time head professional at Mowbray Golf Club, was also responsible for the original layouts at the likes of Stellenbosch, Devonvale, Parow, Swellendam and Shelley Point.
It is difficult to pinpoint an obvious signature hole on the Durbanville layout, yet by the same token one would be hard pressed to identify a weak hole either. The opening par four, which stretches to 365 metres and presents an intimidating tee shot, could be harshly described as somewhat ordinary, but it remains far from an easy par, particularly at the start of a round.
The 2nd hole, despite being under 300m in length, throws up a number of strategic options. The shorter hitter will likely take an iron and aim for the far corner of the dogleg right, but the bigger hitter may well be tempted to cut the corner and have a go at the green.
That was certainly the case last November when former Protea cricketer Jacques Kallis claimed the rarest of achievements – a hole-in-one on a par four.
These two holes offer a fair taste of what is to come on a course that is not particularly long – it measures just under 6 000m – yet contains subtle challenges. Across the 18 holes there is a fine balance between those holes where you will be grateful to escape with a par and some real birdie opportunities. The trick, it seems, is in knowing which one is in front of you and then to play the hole accordingly.
The small, contoured greens at Durbanville present a real shot-making challenge to golfers and, for those who miss the putting surfaces, it becomes a proper short-game test. To add some spice to the mix, there are a couple of holes – the 10th, 11th and the 14th – that have pulpit-style greens, where any approach that comes up short risks running 30 metres back down the steep bank towards you.
Fairly early in the round, golfers face an unusual design quirk in the form of back-to-back par fives. While the better player is likely to be licking their lips at the prospect, for the high-handicapper this the equivalent of running the golfing gauntlet.
The first of the par fives, the 445m 5th, plays uphill but with the prevailing wind at your back. The 6th hole, however, plays back down in the opposite direction and a good drive here will present you with a very real possibility of reaching the green in two. The ideal line for the tee shot comes uncomfortably close to the fence – and out of bounds – down the left side of the fairway, so this is an intimidating tee shot for most.
Another interesting design feature is the strength of the four short holes at Durbanville. While most courses have at least one par three that requires only a short-iron to reach the green, the shortest one-shotter here measures some 154m, while the longest, the 17th, stretches to close on 200m.
The stretch that encompasses the 11th, 12th and 13th is a lovely collection of very different golf holes. Here, golfers will take on the difficult stroke one, followed by arguably the most picturesque hole on the course in the form of the par-three 12th and, finally, the wide-open and driveable par-four 13th.
A strong finish awaits golfers, with the long uphill par-four 16th serving as a potential score wrecker, particularly when played into the prevailing wind. There is little respite from the long par-three 17th but players should be able to enjoy a gentle closing par four of 350 metres in length – provided they avoid the out of bounds stakes adjacent to the driving range on the left.
Some time spent on the Durbanville verandah following the round – when the Covid-19 regulations allow for it – is certainly a requirement for getting a good feel for what makes this club such a special place.
‘Each club has its own unique “gees”, but goes a bit deeper here at Durbanville,’ says Verdon. ‘There is a great camaraderie of members here – a brotherhood that you don’t easily see in other clubs.
‘For a lot of the older members, the club is a haven where they are able to meet with friends a few times a week. We also have one of the strongest junior sections in the Cape and we have watched families grow up over the years at the club.’
Providing a safe place for juniors to spend their days during the school holidays is certainly one of great attractions of a club like Durbanville and, under the guidance of Lana Orgovanyi and her team at Pure Motion Golf Academy, Durbanville juniors have excelled on the national amateur circuit.
The programme boasts the likes of 2018 SA Amateur champion Jordan Rothman, South African No 2-ranked Kaylah Williams, Golf RSA National Squad member Tyran Snyders and rising star Ayden Senger among its ranks.
Coming out of the Covid-19 crisis, we are seeing some significant changes in how golf courses operate in South Africa and across the world. And while many golfers are longing for a return to the good old days, it is clear that the virus has done little to dent the morale and the loyalty of the membership at Durbanville Golf Club.