Monday, 25 June 2007

Courses I've Played : Oubaai : 9/10

Oubaai is an Ernie Els signature course and the benchmark (according to their advertising) so I will separate the review into a discussion about the golf course and the overall experience

First to the course itself - its brilliant, Ernie has gone for a links layout here and he succeeds brilliantly, the course almost looks like it was meant to be built into the landscape provided by mother nature. It flows with the landscape and is sympathetic to the existing terrain.

Best of all though is that it is not contrived i.e. it doesn't force you to play tough shots and dictate how you should approach the layout, the designer realised that a wide variety of players need to enjoy the course without being punished for playing it, notwithstanding the weather. Nearly all of the holes, including the low strokes have a bail out area or a safety line and a high risk/reward line for the
better player - how you then choose to play it is up to you - bravo Ernie it makes the game that much more enjoyable and I can wait to play more of your designs.

The course also reacts to the weather as you would expect a links to - it is seemingly benign when the wind is not really there, relying on the uneven lies and the slopes of the greens to keep the golfer in check, but when the wind blows it is an entirely different creature with the valleys and elevation changes creating all new challenges for the golfer as they move their way around the course.

Having played only 4 days after the greens where hollow-tined I didn't really get a good feel for them, but that being said they where better than most courses normal greens with the attention to detail of the ground staff getting them playable so soon afterwards

My favourite hole interestingly enough is not the par 3 17th toward the sea that you see in all the promotional gear, but the par 5 4th, a 490m monster (stroke 4) that looks fairly innocuous and doesn't hide anything from you off the tee, but tempts you take on a set of bunkers on both sides of the landing area for you drive and another set short of the green for those that want to go for the green in two, add that to a green that you can bump and run the ball into in true links fashion with some great big slopes from back to front and left to right with enough slope to let the ball run right back off the green on a downhill putt and you have a great links par 5, requiring you to think your way down the course of the hole, but not overly punishing you if you just want to enjoy the course and take in the spectacle of the feature holes.

Another nice feature is the fact that the course has 9's of 35 & 37, something you don't often see in newer courses

There is a bit of a downside to Oubaai though, the course may be finished and in excellent condition but the rest of the playing facilities are very much a work in progress when I played (I had to take a detour through the driving range just to get to and from the 10th tee/9th green) and the multitude of building sites (and the accompanying shouting, screaming, drilling, grinding, etc) certainly detract from the round - for the moment it is probably better to play this course over the weekend.

Even more curious is the fact that the members have their own club house that visitors can't get to but end up having their half-way at anyway, in addition it doesn't seem like there are any extra facilities that guests don't have access to
in fact it seems like there are less - maintaining two separate pro-shops must be costing someone a fortune, although the restaurant in the visitors club house makes a damn fine breakfast.

My final verdict - if I had the money for a house or just plain old corporate membership (a bit dear at R200k entry & R20k per year) I would probably spend it - this is one course I doubt I would get tired of playing, and if I was invited back I would accept at the drop of a hat.

Also, due to time of year I visited, the course was empty and I got to play entire round by myself - one of life's little pleasures.

The phantom golfer is back in the swing of things

It seems like an eternity since my last post (it was about 13 or so weeks), but now I am back and back in style playing some of the best courses in the country - expect reviews on Pinnacle Point, Simola, Pezula, Kyalami, Centurion, Woodhill and Pearl Valley over the next several days - and to kick it all off a review of Oubaai, my new favourite golf course in South Africa.