A recent outing to St Francis Links was extended by nine holes in order to find a winner.
Few plans come together better than a trip to St Francis Bay for a round at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course with three friends and extensive scoping out of golfweather.com for the perfect conditions.
Perched on the hill of the holiday town St Francis, an hour or so from Port Elizabeth, the course plays better in winter than summer (I hope the greens superintendent will allow me that opinion, it is a column after all) – with less wind, great roll out and then with some rain about, the layout is a lush green and the greens more receptive.
It is a wonderful course to play. Even better to experience with the golf staff arguably the best in the business. The first time I played St Francis Links was as a student and I think around the opening… it was R50 to play. I could not understand why everyone was so friendly and welcoming. As a younger golfer with long hair, I was used to a more curt response when arriving at a course. Under the guidance of Jeff Clause, St Francis Links ripped out that playbook and it slowly started to change clubs around the country into what it becoming a more normal experience. The game is better for it.
The course can be intimidating … at least it is for a player without complete control of his long game. But it’s wider than you think. And it’s fun to play.
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The design is varied – there isn’t a hole that doesn’t challenge or offer up a unique test – and presents an aesthetic masterpiece with stunning views of the bay on constant display. It ticks the boxes; it’s a beast in the wind and off the championship tees regardless of what level the fans have been set to. It has after all hosted a number of top professional and amateur events. But golf has evolved and the different tee options allow for anyone to pack their clubs and head out onto the course.
Our day featured a mixed bag of handicaps but in the breathless winter’s morning, we all headed to the tee with the confidence of low single-digit players. Our scoring quickly didn’t match those lofty expectations but the day was about our internal competition and what a mighty fine battle it developed into. The front nine was memorable if only for some shocking golf and our 2UP lead. As our opposition acclimatised that once impressive lead was diminished. When our opposition nearly aced the 17th, we played the last down by one. My partner held his nerve with a short three-footer to win the hole. He happens to be my father-in-law, so I’m glad that putt dropped to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness in the car ride home.
The carts at SFL offer tips like checking-in for an on-site lesson if your swing isn’t working, slowing down to smell the fynbos and a reminder to phone in your halfway house meal at the ninth tee box.
Another notification is to head back out for more action as you head to the clubhouse after 18.
So guess what? That’s exactly what we did. 9 more holes to determine the winner and seal the bragging rights until our next visit. The lure of righting the wrongs of the front nine were too good to resist. And the scoring was a lot better.
The match swung against us and we were once more dormie although this time with two to play. Yours truly strokes on the ‘Eye of the Needle’ and duly made a four for three points. The ninth at SFL is as demanding as you will find … a long par four, an unsighted green if you find the right flank and bunkers guarding the left all the while it plays slightly uphill and now into a gentle one-club wind.
We held our nerve again. After 27 holes of blood, sweat and banter there would be no winner. A fitting way to sign off the challenge.
Oh, and if you plan on visiting St Francis Links in the near future, then please make sure you allow for a few days extra and do listen to ‘Head of Fun’ Clause when he says ‘Pards, you have to try the Santa Burger after the round’. You’ll need the added time on the coast if the famous wind is in play but it remains a golf course that’ll make you believe you can score well if given another nine or 18. Just like my group did a few days ago. Results, though, may vary.