Sunday, 31 December 2006

Courses I've played : Pebble Rock Golf Club : 6-7/10

If you live in Joburg and don't mind an early start, an hour or so drive and some really warm weather for a round of golf then Pebble Rock should be on your list of courses to visit - if you are worried about the rating I gave, don't be (I'll get to that).

Pebble Rock is already a good course and it will probably get even better over the next few years once they get the fairways sorted out and put up some additional signage to make it easier to find.

The greens are stunning for such a young course (although the breaks are sometimes a little exaggerated), they are grainy but true, slow uphill and like lightning the other way (note to greenskeeper - move the cups around a little more often, its no fun lipping out because the edges of the cups are bevelled). My measure of a good course is if both low and high handicappers enjoy playing it - we had a 7, a 10 and a 15 in our group and everyone walked off without a bad thing to say about the course.

The only faults that really come to mind are the state of the fairways (they are quite patchy and need to grow a full covering of grass), the hole layouts that can be somewhat confusing (in some cases there are long distances to travel between a green and the next tee and then greens and tee's are right on top of each other elsewhere and the holes criss-cross each other in several places), the fact that property size constraints have given rise to some interesting and compromised hole layouts with ill-defined lines and directions off the tee (there are no caddies on the course, so we took carts and each cart had a map of the layout of the course, the map was well used and somewhat beaten up and didn't really help other than to give general direction), that there are no distance markers other than 100m and 150m poles (which didn't look and feel right in some case) and the club could do well to put distances on sprinkler heads, etc and publish a course guide and finally there a places where the houses are far to close to the course, in some places to the degree that I almost felt like I was teeing off in someones back-yard (coupled that with the fact that a particular home owner seems to enjoy watching his dog attacking golfers as they legitimately use the cart path that travels past his house).

I have to admit that once I got going I really enjoyed this course, it rewards accurate play and there is a good risk/reward return when you go for the pins on nearly all of the holes, but you do need to know the green layouts - I'd very much like to play the course again when the wind is not blowing quite so hard to get a feel for how it plays in normal highveld conditions (also knowing where to hit the ball off the tee will make playing that much more enjoyable, especially with the one or two blind shots that are required).

The course has a par of 70 (there are three par 3's on each 9, probably indicative of the space constraints) and even if the low stroking holes are interesting, they did not feel that difficult or particularly memorable - the signature hole for me on this course is the 461m par 5 16th (stroke 15) - you drive from an elevated tee, with a restricted view of the left hand side of the fairway (and water) with a large bunker and out of bounds down the right (a low draw off the bunkers down the right hand side of the fairway worked a treat), once you get down to play your next shot you have to avoid a lot of water in front and to your right and climb up quite a bit to get to the green. If you are a big hitter you will find you have a long carry to get it on without much area to bail out left or right but there is not much to worry about short of the green. The green itself is surrounded by banks covered in deep kikuyu grass and it slopes quite a bit downhill from back to front - you'll be wanting to keep the ball below the hole (I suppose the same could be said for every green on this course, but then again you can afford to give your putts a good thump if you are below the hole).

From an aesthetics perspective, the location of the club itself (it looks like the entire estate is contained within a game reserve) and the interior and design of the clubhouse and facilities will take some beating (one of my playing partners remarked that it looked very similiar to Pezula). To my mind the change rooms are a little spartan, but maybe I have been spoilt by all the locations I have played at recently. The staff where friendly and helpful (if a bit shy) and our breakfast was reasonably priced and generous (the bar did however seem to charge like wounded buffalo), but I suppose the best praise I can give the estate is that driving away I was figuring out how I was going to persuade the wife to move there!

The cost for 18 holes (excluding competition fees, levies, etc) on a Sunday was R150.

For more details you can visit the Pebble Rock website.

Friday, 29 December 2006

Courses I've Played : a definative list

Look out for reviews of some of the following courses over the next few months:

If you would like me to play your course - leave a comment and lets see what we can organise.

Northern Cape, Eastern Cape & Free State : nothing, but I plan to fix that this year


Benoni Lake
Blue Valley
Country Club, Johannesburg (both courses)
Crown Mines
Eagle Canyon
Kempton Park
Kensington (no longer open)
Pebble Rock (added 2006.12.31)
Randfontein Estates
Randpark (both courses)
Royal Jhb & Kensington (both courses)
Silver Lakes
The River Club


Durban Country Club
Mount Edgecombe (both courses)
Wild Coast Sun




Leopard Creek
Sabie River Bungalows

North West

Gary Player
Goldfields West
Lost City

Western Cape

Pinnacle Point

Courses I've played : Dainfern Country Club : 8/10


With that out of the way, the one thing that regularly irritates me about Dainfern is that it never rates as highly as it should in the annual Golf Digest and Compleat Golfer rankings and for the life of me (and those of many, both members and non-members who have played the course) I cannot figure out why.

The course itself is pretty much always in magnificent condition, all of the staff are courteous and helpful, the facilities are in top condition, the atmosphere about the club is generally really relaxed (it is a country club and estate after all) and the layout is one of the more sensible Gary Player designs of late (no cuteness or architectural masturbation like Blue Valley, etc).

I play there at least 3 times a month (12-15 in a holiday season month like December) and always find it to be a challenge to get round with a decent score (I think my best is a 74). I think that the only weakness that course has it that it is a little to manicured and that the rough is not always that punitive - but I suspect that this is to cater for the on-estate members and corporate visitors. That being said though it can be really nasty when setup for club champs, the sunshine tour and various other club competitions throughout the year, but it should be remembered that golf is a game to be enjoyed and if the course is to punitive all the time (are you listening Eagle Canyon) then it is no fun at all.

If you want a signature hole, then you should look no further than the 410m Par 4 16th, voted one of the top 18 holes in the country by Compleat Golfer in 2005 - this monster requires a huge drive from a tee elevated about 100m about the fairway with a carry over the Jukskei river avoiding the same river running down the right hand side of the hole, out of bounds on the left and bunker covering about 40% of the driving line - then you still need to hit a medium iron uphill, round a corner to a green guarded by trees, bunkers, punitive rough and the river (again!). And once you are on then you have to content with the putting surface itself and all the subtle breaks that it contains. Any time I walk off the green on this hole with a par, I know I am playing well.

The last 3 holes on the course (16, 17 & 18) are in my opinion also one of the best set of finishing holes you can play (you have to carry the river twice on the par 5 17th and avoid it and 6 bunkers going up the 18th) and I look forward to playing them every time I tee it up.

Visitors will pay R180 during the week and R250 on weekends for 18 holes excluding competition fees, levies, etc (members only pay R10 to play anytime, which is nice).

Have a look at a Dainfern Golf Map, for more detail on the course itself.

I'll be playing a few new courses and revisiting an old favourite over the next few weeks, so look out for reviews of those as well as a look back at my rounds at Pinnacle Point, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous course near Mossel Bay/George that should be on everyone's to play list.

UPDATE (2007/01/02) I have just played the course again (hey, its a slow week) and I feel I need to take off the rose-tinted glasses (to a certain degree).

Upon closer inspection and taking advantage of being in a two-ball and having the time to play slowly and observe the course closely, there are plenty of clues as to why Dainfern is ranked as it is by the various magazines - cart paths have been installed over the last few months, but prior to that there would be cart tracks everywhere (there still are, so much for that then), the pathways that where in place before the new tracks are in need of repair in quite a few places, there are quite a few tee boxes that need to be leveled, the bunkers are generally crap - the sand is overly hard and rough, not deep enough (to get a club under) and they don't handle rain at all well and the clubhouse is not as grandiose as you might expect it to be (I suppose being an estate course, you don't really need large locker rooms, cart and bag storage, etc). As a member. the one criticism I would level at the club is that we loose to many playing days per year to closed competitions other than the club champs.

In the courses defense, you can't really blame it for some of the design 'masterpieces' that it winds it way through, although many do find the massive sewerage pipe bordering the course to be somewhat of an eyesore and distraction.

That being said, from an architectural perspective the course just feels right, no hole feels out of place, the hole ratings are almost spot on, the course is challenging for the low handicapper and enjoyable to play if you have a high handicap (I have asked) and the it is generally always in immaculate condition and after all Dainfern is a country club in the true sense of the word. I enjoy seeing people taking walks, hearing children play and making use of the rest of the facilities myself, if you don't then maybe joining a golf club is a good idea.

Hell if the course is good enough to host a sunshine tour event then it is good enough for me.

Courses I've played : Potchefstroom Golf Club : 3/10

So after driving for over an hour and dodging various trucks, idiot drivers and speeding cameras I come across Potchefstroom Golf Club and I have to admit it was not love at first sight.

Before I start, there is one thing you must realise about me and that is that I love to play golf (I average at least one round of golf per week, even in the middle of winter) and love to play new courses even more. The problem comes when I never want to return to a course.

Upon entering the club grounds the first thing you notice is that they have seen better days, the place is fairly badly run down and it does not look like anyone has paid any attention to the facilities (other than the course itself) for quite some time. And it goes downhill from there.

Upon entering the "golf shop" (no pro on this course by the look of it) you are hit with a wave of 70's nostalgia: faded posters, a funny, smoky smell, nasty & overpriced used balls and staff who would rather you where not there.

We had booked two carts, but on asking for them where told that only one was left (after someone was allowed to cut in front of us and take one he had not booked), no apology, no we'll make a plan, just a blank stare and a limp, open hand demanding payment. And once we had paid, there was no 'enjoy your round, do you need some balls, etc' just a vacant, slightly aggressive stare. So we took the hint and left.

The course itself is a fairly old, parkland layout that could do with some toughening up, either the rough needs to be grown up substantially, bunkers need to be moved to cope with the advances in new equipment or the generous fairways need to be narrowed - I believe that it has hosted the South African Open on more than one occasion and I can see why - you really need to think your way round the course, with a number of holes having doglegs to deny the use of the driver and bringing trees and water into play on most shots into the green.

There where a number of extra things that didn't count in the courses favour though: firstly, it has been raining like hell here lately and the course was soggy meaning most of the fairways lost the run that would take badly placed shots into the rough and you could go straight for the pin on most greens as the ball was sticking. What's worse though is that the course is mown using agricultural equipment and it shows - the fairways have a ripple effect in the grass, there is little or no first cut and the whole thing looks like the ground staff have just done enough to get by.

The greens however are a different story with the vast majority being in excellent condition, holding almost all short iron shots and reading absolutely true (if a bit slow, but I guess that's the weathers fault) - whoever looks after them should be in charge of the rest of the course!

For me their signature hole is the 16th: a par 4 playing 372m off the club tees that requires a extremely accurate drive if you want to be able to see the green for your second shot. The hole is played straight down a fairway that goes out of bounds at about the 300m mark, whereupon you have to play your second 90 degrees left over a stream, with both sides of the green guarded by some rather large willow trees and an out of bounds area to the right. The green itself is a large tabletop with a premium placed on the accuracy of your second shot to ensure you don't have a monster putt to finish the hole off. This hole is very similiar to the 1st, but has that little something extra that makes it memorable. The 357m par 4 9th would run the 16th a close second as it forces you to think about your distance off the tee and shot placement to give you a line in for your second to a green which uses trees on either side of the 100m marker to give a very narrow gap to thread your shot through.

The halfway house left a lot to be desired; a total a six items on the menu (two of which where a plate of chips) and the orders (and drinks) took ages to arrive. The bar attendant looked like she should would rather have be somewhere else. The halfway house and bar look just as run down as the rest of the club and the members should seriously consider doing something about this - I have seen better plastic patio furniture at second hand sales (in fact the plastic chairs looked like they had been donated/stolen from one of the local schools)

Now back to the "Golf Shop" - on completing the round I returned there to claim my cart deposit. The delightful individual manning the counter didn't say a single word to me as he begrudgingly threw (literally) the R50 note in my general direction before returning to his seat to watch the cricket. I asked where I should enter my score for the day and he uttered that I should go to the club house (not where in the club house, just to the club house). When I got there I found that their NGN computer was out of order and that they didn't have another one but that they should be able to enter my score in at the "Golf Shop", so back I went. When I got there I asked if I could enter my score - the answer was obviously no, delivered with a wonderful 'don't be a stupid idiot' air and a denial of any knowledge of the fact that the other terminal was broken. My question to the 'Golf Shop' is: if your terminal is good enough to swipe my card to take my money, but I need drive 140km to enter the score at my home club because you are to stupid or to lazy to do the job properly?

Lest I forget one highlight of the day, the two caddies we had (as a fourball) where great - they ran left and right all day, not loosing a single ball (not bad when you have 3 24's playing) and giving great advice!

In summary, I think the nicest thing about this club is the new tar they have in their parking lot - at least it treated me with some respect! I doubt I will be playing this venue again (and I hope the 'Golf Shop' enjoys the letter I am going to send to the club chairman and captain).

If you are still interested in playing, it costs R105 (excluding competition fees, levies, etc) to play as an affiliated visitor during the week.