Location! Location! Location! The old property adage enhances this golf club in the heart of Port Elizabeth, writes WADE PRETORIUS in Compleat Golfer.
Everyone knows real estate is much more than just the land on which it is situated. Founded in 1890, Port Elizabeth Golf Club has a special place in history in South African golf as the country’s second-oldest registered club.
A typical, grand design that embodies what a parkland layout should include: risk-and-reward par fives, a long but tameable par four on the front side and a drivable par four on the inward run. ‘The Hill’, as it is commonly known, is a regular stop on the competitive amateur circuit; just one of a number of activities and events that are squeezed into the bustling calendar.
Corporate golf days also fill many of the gaps, while another strong selling point is that the club provides a good, playable test, even when the notorious coastal wind is blowing through. That ‘playability’, along with great facilities and an established clubhouse make for an attractive venue.
There’s no getting away from the topic of wind when it comes to golf in the Friendly City. Some will say that if they can play well in the wind, their game will be ready for an exceptional score when they play in calmer situations. If you’ve been to The Hill before, you will probably have felt the breeze pick up sometime during your putting practice, turning into a strong wind well before you’ve made the turn.
The prevailing westerly wind certainly makes the course more challenging but when it comes to strength, there’s no real difference to that of any other coastal town.
Truth is, many morning rounds are played in breathless conditions and, conversely, late-afternoon starters often get treated to kinder conditions than the early risers. Members, though, get on with it regardless of the strength and direction of the wind.
The winds of change are indeed blowing through the club with the return to Port Elizabeth of Nic Grundtvig, the former Walmer Golf Club director of golf who is coming off a stint at highly-rated Pinnacle Point Estate.
He is well aware that his new job is quite different to what was required of him in Mossel Bay as he shifts from a course that attracts foreign visitors by their dozens to one that relies on members to provide the bedrock of the club’s long-term future. But exciting developments are on the way.
Like Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and its surrounds has been ravaged by drought. Recent sporadic rains have added some much-needed greenery to the course and given a hint of just how great things can be should Mother Nature come to
The greenkeeper and staff must be commended on keeping the course playable all year round with the bent-grass greens never losing any of their sparkle.
And just in the same manner as rain brings a little extra revival, the change in leadership is starting to filter through. The clubhouse is expected to undergo modernisation, with a pricing structure to encourage pitch-and-play golfers as well as membership packages due in the next few months. Another key aspect to moving effectively into the modern era will be a membership drive that highlights a well-rounded experience.
The trail path around the course continues to be a bonus attraction and the idea is to expand the family environment theme.
Close to a number of schools, the parking lot is sometimes a busy experience, with schoolchildren being dropped off or picked up. The putting green is often a hive of excitement with youngsters being introduced to the fine arts, albeit with colourful aids and friendly competition. Lunch hour on a work day usually also has a couple of more experienced players working on their short game.
If typical golf membership is under threat, then taking in all the other activities might entice you to drop anchor.
There are, of course, many benefits to joining a club, but one that is often overlooked is course knowledge and how much your game can improve by playing your home course regularly. Lines on the greens become pronounced, danger areas off the tee and on the approach become clearer and the knowledge that your score can be shaved on your favourite stretch are just a few of the reasons to commit.
A gentle par five begins your round and is attainable provided your drive doesn’t fade off to the deep grass on the right. An old tree down the right fairway is your target line as you hit left off it down a hill. The undulation helps add even more distance, setting you up for a crack at the green even though the powers that be have extended the rough from the right. The entrance to the green is narrow and expands towards the back. Playing smart to your landing area on the putting surface is important because you don’t want to leave yourself a downhill putt.
Fast greens with plenty of bend are a hallmark of the course and a great defence against a first-time player. The par-three 2nd – which can play from between 105m and 155m – features a very narrow, long green that has bogey written all over it if you miss left or right. And it’s made all the more difficult by the fact you’re usually straight into a two-club wind.
Scurry off to the 3rd, which plays easy if you navigate the treelined corridor that runs down the first few metres.
The alternate tee box down the left is a dream for a right-hander who likes to draw the ball. The 4th is the stroke one and a test from the back-left tee box. Trees protect the left half from any brave player seeking to take the Tiger-line and a bailout right means you have two or three clubs longer downhill to the green. Again, this is into the prevailing wind, so club selection is important.
The 5th is one of the club’s standout holes, mostly for just how difficult it can play. It normally plays 172m downhill into the wind with a large green that has some devilish pin options.
The 7th is an outstanding test of your long game as it plays long even with the wind at your back. The green is relatively straightforward but trees left and right of the fairway and a well-placed bunker down the left are ready to force you into survival mode. A long-iron into the green is the play for most with a grass bunker left and a bunker down the right.
One of the best holes on the course follows, and it is a welcome reprieve from a difficult stretch. This par five is ‘simple’ off the tee and a good drive leaves you wondering if you should take on the water with a large horizontal green ready to welcome your eagle chance. It’s a perfect matchplay hole as the wind makes club selection tricky if you want to test your nerves going for the green in two.
A hearty meal in the clubhouse is your reward for finishing the more difficult of the nines before you head back to the home stretch. The 10th is a demanding par four with a narrow landing area off the tee. If you avoid danger and are not missing to the right off the tee, the next three holes offer good chances at scoring. The back-to-back par fours are short by modern standards with large greens that slope from back to front. The par-five 13th is another where you need to keep the ball down the left and it presents a realistic birdie chance, the water short left of the green being the only real danger.
The breeze on 14 will make you think twice about your club selection as bunkers are scattered around the raised green but at 141m, it should be one with which to improve your card.
The 15th is the most difficult hole for many on the course as the dogleg right places a premium on an accurate tee shot. The approach is long to a steeply tiered green which has seen its fair share of three-putts. The home stretch is a matchplay dream as 16 is a drivable par four and 17 a tough par three before you arrive on the final tee box.
With the wind behind you, a booming draw over the corner of the left bunker will leave a mid-iron into a green that is deceptively difficult. But with adrenaline pumping, your eagle chance turns into a scramble for bogey with danger long right off the tee and trouble waiting left for any ball having too much of a draw.
All that awaits is a short walk to the 19th to let the laughter, war stories and banter begin. It’s a place to settle into and enjoy what having a home away from home is all about.
Clubhouse: (041) 374 3140
Email: [email protected]