Monday, 16 July 2007

Courses I've Played : South Downs : 6/10

After playing Glenvista and writing the review, I thought that I sounded like a little bit of a snob having a slight dig at the courses in the south the way I did, so I arranged a game at South Downs Country Club with the brother and a few mates who barely get to play golf and are by no means picky about the courses they tackle, and I have to say that pleasantly surprised is probably the best way to describe the experience we had - I arrived with very low expectations as the course has previously been known as bit of a dirt track and I wasn't initially surprised to find it that way; the pro shop wasn't open yet when we got there, there are no directions to the
tee boxes and the 10th hole (a par 3) looks horrible (although it will probably look much better once the earth works are finished), although they do have nice new parking lot, new carts and their security is well organised.

The course is a classic parkland layout, with wide fairways, lots of run in winter (I will be returning in summer to compare), it has plenty of water and ditches, etc to catch you out but most holes are wide open and have plenty of room (and trees) for you to get yourself into trouble - for the most part the additional hazards are only found on the harder holes. The course will probably play a lot harder and look a lot better in summer

The greens are really good, for the most part they are consistent on the speed front and easy enough to read - expect the 18th which is all over the place and has slopes and lines I wouldn't even expect to find at Augusta it is so tricky; but thats probably my ego talking given how shocking my golf was

For me the feature hole is the par 4, stroke 5, 7th - its relatively short at only 313m but it deserves its rating - you play over a stream, between two wooded areas to a fairway that turns to the right; the stream and trees run down the entire right side of the whole and there is a strategically placed bunker on the left to catch those that don't get the line just right. Getting your drive in the fairway is only
half the fun, if you don't get it in the right place, you limit your opens going in for your second as the approach to the green is guarded by trees (again) on either side of the green, a stream across the front, a bunker down the right and a raised green that pretty much runs everything off it that is not perfectly place. If you add a nasty pin position on the crest of green, you have a nasty little hole that leaves you satisfied if you walk off with a par (and not to unhappy with a bogey if you have
bounced off the back of the green and faced a somewhat tricky recovery shot).

The halfway house is somewhat rustic but the food and service where great and the meal was reasonably priced - a trend carried through the club as a round is cheap and the bar is not at all overpriced, even if a cart cost same as clubs in the north.

Overall then the course is tough but fair, probably very enjoyable if you are a beginner - you can get a big score on a hole, but you won't loose many balls and you won't hold the experience against the course; go and play South Downs Country Club you will be pleasantly surprised; given how the parking lot was packed when we left (AND the number of very expensive vehicles) it contained, I was surprised we got a round at all!

Courses I've Played : Glenvista : 7/10

Glenvista is not one of the courses I normally rush to play, but I am generally impressed every time I do, and with the changes that have already taken place (impressive new pro-shop and half-way house, additions to the bar) and the those that are in progress (new tees) I'll probably make more effort to squeeze in a round down south.

It has always been my feeling that this course has been constrained by its location,
both because it has to make do with the space it has being in a valley and the fact that it is in the south of Johannesburg, it has suffered by the compromises required to shoe horn the course in i.e. a couple of quirky, short par fours (10 & 14) and the fact that it is not located in a glamorous part of town, although by the look of some of the monster houses that surround the course that is probably changing. Growing up in the south (Alberton), you aspired to play in the north, at Wanderers, Parkview, River Club, etc but you ended playing Reading, South Downs and Glenvista.

I have to admit though that my favourite thing about this course are its greens, they are fast but not slick, hold an approach well, are easy enough to read and true once you have a feel for them - they just feel fair. Not so good however are bunkers and tee boxes - the bunkers could do with more sand in them (and golfers with better manners) and the tee grounds need leveling, a bit more attention to detail and not quite so much water.

For me the feature hole is the par 4, stroke 1, 12th - it starts up high, almost in one of the boundary residents back gardens and played off the back tees is a mighty long way. A good drive will get you within mid iron range and if you shape your shot from left to right and start it on the right line then you will have no more than a wedge into an elevated green, that slopes from back to front and right to left, but put your shot too far right and you're out of bounds and on the left you are in the trees or the river and you are probably going to walk away frustrated.

The green has two almost pot bunkers in front of it, but its greater defense is its putting surface - its not wickedly sloped, but has a subtle shape that has you looking for (and finding) lines that are not there and if the greenkeeper is feeling nasty and puts the pin on the harshest part of the slope about two thirds of the way up the green then you will probably walk off without a smile on your face.

The front nine at Glenvista is fairly open even and doesn't present to many hidden challenges even if the holes run right next to each other and the course designer has made great use of the elevation changes on one or two of the holes such the 3rd and the 4th, but the entire feel of the course changes once you walk off the 10th green (which has never been one of my favourite holes, with its quirky long iron off the tee on a par 4 requirement, followed by another long iron) and onto the 11th tee box - the entire course closes in around you and feels almost claustrophobic as you wrestle with the out of bounds and river on either side of most holes with the valley walls and mansions towering above you.

On the bright side, it is nice to see that the Pro is now operating out of decently sized and well appointed shop after being stuck in a poky broom closet for many years, but he still does not have enough golf carts and if you take a caddie be prepared to be irritated, in fact on the day I was there they had to bring caddies in from another course and one of my fellow players caddie pitched up with a hangover to sink a battleship.

If you are looking for a challenge, don't mind navigating around the south of Johannesburg (and a lack of signposts to the club) and are looking for a nice relaxed atmosphere (the new bar is great) then I would heartily recommend Glenvista.