• A view with few competitors

    On the 17th tee at St Francis Links
    On the 17th tee at St Francis Links

    South African golfers are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic golf holes but one stands out for me.

    I tend to rate golf courses on a few key elements: variety in design, condition and the course experience.

    It’s my standard formula and has served me well. Part of the design variety aspect is whether the course – played from 1 to 18 (I really do not like starting on the 10th but that’s just me) offers up a good matchplay venue. Conditioning speaks for itself although I will always make concessions for courses played out of season and if the club is working on solving a problem. The last variable is experience – it starts on arrival, meanders through the clubhouse onto the starter’s instructions and ends at the 19th. Okay, we all miss the 19th right now and I haven’t tweaked my mechanism for these strange Covid-19 protocol days.

    Where am I going with this?

    To talk about a golf hole with few competitors  … it combines everything I’ve described above and then lays out a view to make words meaningless. The 17th at St Francis Links captures my imagination every time.

    For those who have not played it, you have just completed the par 5 16th. A long hole with a split fairway and a hazard, rather penalty area in this modern age, running down the middle and towards the right of the green. It forms part of a dream matchplay finish that next is contested on the 17th.

    Your cart is parked and you walk up a quite a few steps to the tee. Now you must decide on your club … it plays rough 170 metres all the way downhill with the town’s bay in the background. A perfect backdrop. Usually at this point, the breeze has one or two members of your party second guessing their clubs and running down the hill and back up to fetch another club.

    A bunker guards short left where the pin is often tucked. The green is large and slopes from back to front. I’ll give away the secret here … don’t aim at the flag. A draw down the right over the bunker will hit the bank and funnel sharply (dramatically is another word I could’ve used here) from right to left where pin finds its home.

    It’s a hole that has seen it’s fair share of aces. And one that if you’ve played before, and learnt the secret I gave away above, has you thinking of an ace off the tee. Golfers fascination with the ‘perfect fluke’ is as old as the game itself.

    Now you’ve travelled all the way to St Francis Bay, enjoyed the welcome and hospitality and battled through 16 holes to get to this point. Have you picked the right club? Will your ball trickle down the slope and gather pace or will it be too soft and leave you needing to scramble for par? Is today your day? Do you have enough facilities to buy a round for the clubhouse?

    What’s next? Select your club and hope to put a good swing on it. The bounce of the ball and the slopes of the green will then determine your fate. All of that one on just one hole. I’d be lying if I didn’t think about the ace every time I step onto the tee box. Push the match situation aside, the stunning view and my own round blocked out for a moment.

    It hasn’t happened yet but that’s why we return again and again. Oh and you still have the drive to the 18th tee where a beautiful par four awaits; it curves to the left with water waiting to spoil your day. A bunker to the right of the fairway for those bailing out. And yet another panoramic view of the holiday town that will be ready to take your reservation for another visit.

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