It’s not often that you find a golf course where you get to enjoy the scenery and layout with some of Africa’s most regal beasts, so you can imagine why Zebula Golf Estate and Spa has become one of the more popular weekend getaways for Gauteng locals looking to escape from the big city life every Friday.
Formerly known as Mabalingwe Country Club, the estate was opened in November 2003 by Dale Hayes, American Steve Dunn and two other partners.
It has since changed name and been upgraded to incorporate hotel lodging, rental holiday homes that are also available for fractional ownership, a spa, the Peter Matkovich-designed 18-hole championship course and plenty of wildlife in enclosures to keep even the youngest of family members entertained. If you so fancy, you can even charter a small plane to get you to the estate, landing on the open runway within the fences.
The original owners have since sold their shares, yet the ethos of the reserve has remained intact, with everything centred on family. Even Matkovich’s great design, which blends the surrounding bushveld with a USGA-spec layout, has kept to the idea of being open and fair to players of all skill levels, with its wide fairways and short rough ensuring you won’t spend too much time looking for your golf ball during your round.
The championship course itself is by no means easy, as the 6 829-metre layout twists and turns through the lush African bush, dotted with hazards unique to the region.
A particularly interesting test is the 137-metre par-three 8th, the signature hole at Zebula. It’s not a long hole by any means, but the five different tee-boxes all require a carry across water to a slick green sloping down to water on the front, left and right edges, making par a tough prospect. Then there are always the three bunkers guarding the front, back and right of the putting surface to navigate, while also taking the bushveld breeze into consideration.
Take in the magnificent scenes of the unique yet elegant clubhouse from the middle of the final fairway and get ready to sit on the balcony and watch the golfers coming in behind you – with a cold beverage in hand, of course. Stay late enough and you will get to see greenkeeper Norman Prior and his team set up the fences around the greens to keep the animals off the smooth surfaces, in preparation for the next day.
Zebula offers a complete five-star experience in a way unique to Africa and you will find it hard to fault any of the facilities in the estate. You are bound to enjoy Matkovich’s design without struggling too much, but if you somehow find the course too easy, there is always his more challenging design at Elements Private Reserve just a short drive away. Ultimately it is all about relaxation and for this, Zebula is a great place to visit.
■ The large African-themed clubhouse offers five-star service with a friendly smile wherever you look.
■ The pro shop is well stocked and efficiently run by the two PGA professionals.
■ The course is always in pristine condition and offers a green layout all year around, bar the odd drought.
■ The fact that Zebula is not closer to Gauteng, which would make it more accessible more often.
From Johannesburg, take the N1 north to Bela-Bela. Take the Thabazimbi/Rooiberg road and follow the signposts. The estate is 24km from Bela-Bela.
Par 72, 6 829 metres
Cedric Brummer and
Conrad du Plooy
Wallington Sports Turf
Weekdays & weekends – R330 (affiliated), R440 (non-affiliated). Carts – R260 (visitors).