Paarl Golf Club has it all, maybe not in huge dollops but just the right amount in the right areas to leave the golfer wanting to return. The substantial increase in rounds of golf year on year is a testimony to their progressive style of positioning themselves in an increasingly competitive market and the growing popularity of the course.
The layout is situated in the heart of the Western Cape winelands a short 40-minute drive from Cape Town. One of the oldest courses in South Africa, it opened its doors in 1908 as a nine-hole course on the banks of the Berg River in an area known as Sanddrift. In 1910 when it became associated to the Western Province Golf Union it boasted a membership of 28 men and 16 women. Records show that even in those days competition was stiff between Paarl, Metropolitan and Royal Cape golf courses. In 1955 with the growth of the game, subsequent to World War II, it was decided to relocate the course. A location was identified, once again on the Berg River and a farm know as Wateruinjtiesvlei, which is where the course still remains.
One of its most well-known progeny is David Frost who grew up in the area and learned his golf at the course. He went on to win numerous Sunshine, US PGA Tour and European Tour events and continues to make a name for himself on the European Seniors Tour. Besides golf he also follows a family tradition of winemaking something that dates back to 1693. He has also dabbled in golf course design and in the 1997 when the course became part of the Boschenmeer Estate, he partnered with golf course architect Danie Obermeyer to give the course a facelift. With the changes came the addition of a third nine holes, resulting in three different offerings. The original ‘River nine’ meanders along the Berg River, the ‘Paarl nine’ takes players further into the estate among the houses, and the final nine placed at the top of the property with somewhat of a links feel aptly named the ‘Boschenmeer nine’. At the time of completion it was the first course in the Western Cape to have a 27-hole offering.
The creation of Boschenmeer Estate also proved to have a stabilising financial outcome for the golf course. From creating lifetime memberships in the 1960s to having trendsetting sponsored tournaments – like the annual Winelands Classic – the course created a number of initiatives in order to overcome some financially trying periods in its long history. With the housing estate came a secure lifestyle option with a number of attractive amenities including a hairdresser, car wash, lodge, restaurant and bar. It made for an attractive secure package that local families bought into and in turn created financial stability for the course.
Surrounded by distant mountains and Paarl rock, and hugging the Berg River with its neighbouring wine farms, it makes for an incredibly attractive course to play. The front, or River nine, follows the course of the Berg River although its waters are seldom genuinely in play. An errant shot may find the bushes beside the river but it would have to be a generous shank to actually find water. A new golfer can expect a premium on accuracy off the tees and the ability to make some good two-putts on massive greens.
Although many of the greens are bunkered, it is more the sheer size and orientation of them that proves to be the undoing of a good score. Some very narrow fairways lined by mature trees and a number of well-placed fairway bunkers can be expected on almost every hole besides the shorts. From the very first hole, a par-four dogleg right, two fairway bunkers await an overly ambitious drive. The second hole, a seemingly straightforward short par four suddenly tightens the grip as you notice the fairway bunker left and encroaching river on the right. And so it continues two almost culminate on the par-four eighth where slow play is the order of the day. This is simply because anything from a driver to a six-iron can be used off the tee. The signature hole of the course will keep you guessing along its entire 317 metres. A massive green running almost perpendicular to the incoming approach is the hole’s kryptonite. If the flag is far left, a massive pine tree needs to be negotiated and with a raised narrow green from front to back an overly aggressive approach will leave a delicate chip. If the approach is short or it hits the pine the ball will find its way into what must be one of the largest bunkers on the course. Scribing a four on the card for this hole is a proud moment.
The second nine, or Paarl nine, has its own idiosyncrasies mainly in the form of a number of man-made water hazards. Six of the nine holes have water, which is very much in play most of the time. The par-five 10th will quickly snap you out of the well-priced tasty food at the halfway house. A gradual dogleg to the left with water left and numerous large trees right make the narrow landing area a must find. A number of bunkers left and right and a few leading up to the green, as well as an additional two greenside, make for a difficult target and a tough start to the nine. Water left on the next two par fours need to be avoided off the tee.
The short par-four 13th is mischievously clever hole, and a close competitor for signature hole of the course. A strong dogleg right with a fairway that runs out at 220 odd metres, lined on both sides by massive pines, dictates a well-struck long iron. A drive not far enough up the fairway will leave one of those massive pines between you and a bunkered green, which also has a small water hazard 50 metres short if it. Even if the green is found in two it size and slope still needs attention to secure par. The route back to the clubhouse is a final showcase of the variations to be expected in feel and playability the course has to offer. From the short par-three 14th, to the open less intimidating par four 15th and 16th and then back to the tight tree-lined 17th with its must-hit green. The final hole is a par five bringing you full circle back to the massive clubhouse, which was renovated in 2004. The dogleg from left to right requires a solid drive to clear the bend and allow a direct shot to the large semi-island green. Another large putting surface protected by water left awaits the approach, a bunker front right, and over the back makes the decision of going for it in two more difficult. A classic risk and reward hole to end of a very playable course.
Over the years this municipal course had grown in status and is now considered one of the best in the area. Courses the world over gain popularity for a number of reasons whether it be location, historical tournaments it has hosted, grooming well known players or simply offering a memorable experience on and off the course.