Mother Nature has been allowed to play her part at De Zalze Golf Club, a visually stunning, yet challenging, Winelands course, writes GARY LEMKE.
With the holiday season approaching, bringing an influx of local and foreign visitors to the Western Cape, there’s money and bragging rights to be made by those who identify with a Peter Matkovich-designed course.
Head for the Winelands and stop off at Stellenbosch where you’ll find De Zalze, situated in the shadows of the Helderberg Mountains on the 750-acre Spier Estate. It is another of those courses in the region which is golfing eye candy.
Don’t be deceived by looks, though, for there is plenty of trouble to be found as the tree-lined Blaauwklippen River meanders through the course, while vineyards and dams and the out-of-bounds residential areas will punish you. Typical of a Matkovich design, brain is rewarded over brawn. If your holidaymaker golfing partner wants to adopt a moer en soek approach, let them – and take their cash.
On some holes you might want to take a 3-wood instead of driver, but that depends entirely on the DNA of the golfer. This course has been
around for ‘only’ 18 years, so it’s still a mystery to many, although with the white tees most used, the layout isn’t overly long at 5 939m.
Depending on your fancy, driver or 3-wood is in play on the opening hole tee, a 320m par four. Either should leave you with a comfortable short- to mid-iron approach to the green. Your line is over the left side of the collection of trees you will see from the tee box and you should land either in the middle or left of the fairway. The green is slightly uphill for your approach and it’s two-tiered, with a ridge running down the middle. Leave yourself an uphill putt because you don’t want to be coming downhill with the green sloping towards the river.
Heading towards the stroke-one 2nd hole, the longest of the par fours at 379m, you’ll go past the Kleine Zalze winery and if the breeze is in the right direction you’ll get a whiff of its stocks. Just 17 holes to negotiate before you can sample the fruits. Make sure you don’t go right off the tee or you’ll be in the drink sooner than you imagined. There are residences on the left of a fairway that is a slight dogleg right, but the fairway is wide. The green is tricky with several contours, and guarded by a pot bunker front left and a larger bunker, also on the left. Come in from the middle with your approach but if you do err, make sure it’s from the left.
Next up is the first of the par threes, at 145m a fairly straightforward hole where choosing the right club and making the right contact is key. Rather take one club extra and take a comfortable swing than trying to force one club less. There’s a rocky river bed in the front of the green and a bunker on the right and behind it. Aim for the heart and you should score well.
Next is another par four, the 374m 4th, with a fairway that slopes right. Aim for the left of the fairway and a fade would be a bonus. From there
the green is slightly uphill and be careful to not run off to the right; going long or to the right of the green will require a delicate chip back up and then
the roll downhill.
Now you will do a U-turn for the 326m par-four 5th. Contrary to the previous hole, the fairway, albeit wide, slopes slightly to the left, but go that route rather than right where there’s out-of-bounds. Stop to take in the view, though: mountains straight ahead, and houses and vineyards to the right. The green is large but it’s slightly uphill on your approach which you’ll need to give air to reach, as a mis-hit second will frustrate you by staying short. The contours of the green will give you a buzz if you box the putt.
Now for the 6th, the second-longest hole at 509m, and you’ll see water, lots of it, in front of you – and bunkers. Stay left and don’t attempt to get too cute on this hole. Take a breath and fly the bunkers, and if you’ve hit a draw, it’s even better. The green is small and feels elevated and is protected by three bunkers.
Yet another ‘left-hand drive’ awaits you on the 7th, although you might be in danger of being snared by the fairway bunkers. You’ll need two good hits to reach the green, which is large and again protected by three bunkers, but try to come in from the left and you’ll again be left with an uphill putt.
One of my favourite holes is the par-five 8th. Your line is the bunkers on the mound on the left of the fairway but it’s a blind drive. After that the hole drops sharply downhill and to the left. If you’ve struck the tee shot out the screws, by all means have a go at the green with your second. But if you drag it left you’re going to pay for the bravado. Most will parachute in from the right and allow the ball to work its way down to the green, while being wary of the bunkers on the right.
Yardage is everything for No 9, a 127m par three. From a slightly elevated tee and a beautiful landscape in front of you, there’s water on the right and a rocky ravine guarding the front of the green. As with the 3rd, make sure you get elevation with your tee shot. Try to hit the heart of the green and you should walk to halfway house with a spring in your step.
No 10 is a dogleg left, but the left fairway bunker is your line, with the fairway sloping slightly to the right.
Your approach will be to an uphill green and take enough club to be able to get it airborne and settled on the dance floor.
If you’ve got a 24-handicapper in your group, the 11th is where they double stroke, but don’t let them take driver off the tee. Rather play safe with a 3-wood and make sure the shot is straight; the fairway is long and narrow with out-of-bounds on the left. The green is undulating and tricky and it’s a tough hole, but be patient and reap the reward.
Block out the water on the right on No 12 and you’ll be fine for this 153m par three. There’s plenty of landing area if you’re short and left. Bunkers on the left will snare a tee shot hit too strong.
Then it’s No 13, the signature hole on
the course, lucky for some, unlucky for others. Golf director Pierre van Vuuren
talks you through it on page 61.
What’s next after the Lord Mayor’s show? In this case a meaty 472m par five. From an elevated tee you can give it a good thump and find the fairway. All the danger comes before the green, especially towards the right-hand side where bunkers and wetlands lie in wait. Keep left and come in between the two bunkers guarding the green.
No 15 sees you turn back and run parallel to 14, but before you load up, suck in the air and enjoy the view of the mountains ahead of you. Then make sure you hit it straight and true – again the 3-wood on this 355m par four is a solid option – but rather go right than left if the radar isn’t working. The green is small so accuracy is everything.
By now you’ll be wishing you’d booked to play the course again the following week, which is another trait of a Matkovich design. He leaves you wanting more, not feeling battered and determined to put your clubs on Gumtree the minute you get home. But you’ve still got three closing holes. Enjoy them.
As with the other par threes, the 3rd and 9th specifically, yardage for No 16 is paramount. You need elevation and you want to be straight. At 168m it’s not easy, but a good connection should leave you feeling confident of a par.
The 17th is tough, really tough, and you can hear Tiger Woods’ voice in your head saying just that. It could easily be the stroke-one and it’s also the longest hole (522m) on the course. Not that the distance is the issue; yardage and club selection is. It’s a hole you will talk about long after you’ve signed your card.
Against another stunning backdrop, your line is carrying the fairway bunkers, keeping more to the right of them. Stray anywhere left and you’re in trouble. No one will dare go for the green in two; it is protected by a river and you have to come in gently to this elevated green, getting your yardage spot on. Too light and you’ll roll all the way down into the stream; overshoot the landing pad and you’re also in no man’s land. If you somehow birdie this hole you’ll have bragging rights deep into the night.
The last hole is from the highest tee box on the course (from the yellow markers), but playing off white it’s less elevated yet still kind: a 275m par four. The trouble is on the right, so stay slightly left and then hit your approach over the stream – unless you have the ‘big dog’ out and drive the green.
Shake hands, do a 360-degree turn and see what you’ve conquered. Remember that even if you didn’t shoot the lights out, a bad day on the course still beats a good day at the office.
Phone: (021) 880 7300
Pro shop: (021) 880 7300 (ext 7309)
Email: [email protected]