Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Courses I’ve Played : Pecanwood : 9.5/10

More often than not most people will only play courses that are close to where they live purely because travelling can be a pain, with traffic, insane drivers, our ever courtoues traffic police and the climbing petrol price, but Pecanwood is always worth the 45 minutes it takes to get there from my house.

Upfront, let me say that the only reason this course did not get 10 out of 10 is due to the fact that it is surrounded by enough mock tuscan/balinese monstrosities to make a grown architect cry, but if you are prepared to forgive the home owners assocations obvious lack of taste in their architectural guidelines (no wonder there are still so many empty stands in the estate nearly 10 years after it opened - even Dainfern with its obvious ego pieces was full up over 2 years ago), you will find a golf course that will challenge you, flatter you and have you coming back for more.

Jack Nicklaus certainly knows how to design a golf course - this was his first completed venture in South Africa (and I doubt he needs my seal of approval), obvoiusly he has had a lot of practice but he put a course in place that never fails to give a golfer a massive amount of enjoyment irrespective of their handicap or ability.

Before we tackle the course, I need to bring to your attention the impact that good service has on the overall experience of a golf club - as you will have seen in previous reviews, a club may have a highly rated course, but if their staff treat you like they are doing a favour by serving you, it definately affects your perception of the course itself. Pecanwood, fortunately doesn't have that problem, every time I have played there (amazingly enough their rates are almost reasonable at R450 + R85 for a half share of cart as a weekend visitor, although this is a bit expensive, it is well within reason for a course of this quality) I have had a world class experience right from entering the estate, to having my clubs taken directly to the starter, through the changeroom and into the pro shop. Well done to Ken Payet and his staff (it is however a bitch not being able to organise rounds at Sun City now that he has left)

The design is very subtle in that the course layout doesn't really dictate how you need to play a hole but provides guidance in the way each fairway is shaped and how the (many) bunkers will come into to play given your shot shape. Almost every hole provides a bail-out route for the higher handicapper and a 'tiger line' for the player who fancies himself as a bit of talent. The course is long, even more so if you are straying off the fairway a lot and having to play out of the kikuyu rough, but most of the time you won't mind being there.

My favourite hole is probably the par 5, 536m (of the club tees), stroke 3 7th. The clubs website
described the hole as follows 'After an intimidating tee shot into a narrow landing zone and a long
lay up shot favouring the left hand side of the fairway, you will have a short iron into a narrow green which is well guarded by bunkers', which doesn't really describe quite how difficult this hole is if you aren't hitting the ball well and the wind is blowing (interestingly the pro tees add another almost 50m to the length of this hole). Off the tee box you are faced with out of bounds (and tall trees) down the right with bunkers short and left of the landing zone which is quite some distance off the tee.

There are very few places on this hole (and on most of the course) where the fairway is flat, so your second shot will most probably be played off an awkward lie. Keep left with your second shot to avoid even more bunkers short and right of the green (don't go to big if you are going for the green though because it is surrounded by pot bunkers and the ones behind are above the putting surface, which slopes away from you toward the front of the green and more bunkers!). The green itself is fairly narrow front to back, but quite wide left to right and has some wicked slopes to it and a bit of a false front to gather shots that fall a bit short. The greens were fairly slow (for Pecanwood) as I played them, but I suspect that the greenkeeper can make them almost unplayable if he wants to.

The other nice thing about this hole is that it is smack in the middle of one of the most challenging combinations of holes on the course, being preceded by a 390m stroke 1 par 4 and followed by a par 3 which is a stroke 5 and can stretch anywhere from 155m to 215m - if you come through these 3 holes, level par or better, then you can certainly feel satisfied with your self (although the 9th is a bit of a damp squib after these 3 holes).

I don't have a hole that doesn't appeal to me as every one seems to perfectly in its place, my only gripe would be that once the greens are full of pitch marks and many bunkers seem to be left unraked, but then I can't really blame that on the course or its management.

The course itself is in excellent condition, but then they are right next to a dam. They have a very nice lockerroom and shower facilities, ample parking, a fairly decent halfway house, a small but well stocked pro shop and a really nice driving range, although the practice green does seem to have been situated as something of an after thought.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Courses I’ve Played : Pinnacle Point : 7.5/10

This is one of those courses that you will either love or hate (and I know families within which this is the case), but you should play if you get the chance (and are prepared to raid the piggy bank), just take lots of balls.

I first played the course just after it opened for public play and it was breathtaking. Some of the facilities weren't finished yet but you let it slide because you feel you had just played one of the most spectacular courses anywhere on the planet.

But as time passes, return visits are made and management changes, decisions get made with financial rewards in mind that detract from the overall experience, for instance you can now only play the course if you are staying on the estate, if you are a platinum member or you are invited by one. Whilst I can see the point (excuse the pun) and the advantages of making the experience more exclusive, the problem is though the cost of playing has gone up 50%, the cost of staying there has gone up 100%+, the cost of drinking has skyrocketed and maintenance standards have slipped; you can’t blame that all on the deteriorating economy (at least not without a smirk on your face) - there is cashing in and then there is ripping you off.

When management crows in its newsletter about being awarded a 5 Star Golf Experience Award and the members beg to differ then you know you have problems.

I have heard a number of opinions, but the one that clinches it for me is from a member (who lives on the estate) who says that no one plays on the course and she battles to find a game because she can’t find someone to play with on a weekend (and a drop in green fees of 40% hasn’t fixed the problem) - something is not right and the management probably need a wakeup call (and to fix the hole in roof with something more than a few sheets of cardboard).

But less of that and more about the golf course. Pinnacle Point is spectacular, breathtaking, stunning and all the other superlatives that come to mind, you can see the sea on every hole, the designer has gone to town with the layout, the service is great (but middling in pockets), the location is spot on, but once you've played once or twice you probably won't feel the pull to play again - let me explain why. I have been lucky enough to play most of the 'big' courses in and around the Knysna/George/Mossel Bay area and the thing is that none of them could hope to hold a professional tournament other than Oubaai (that being said I haven't played any of the courses in Fancourt or George CC but I am working on that), they are a test of your golfing ability but there is something odd about them, like someone was trying to make a non to subtle point. Of all the courses in the area, the one only that looks like it was meant to be there is Ernie Els's Oubaai (much like Gardener Ross, but I'll keep that for another review), the rest just look like someone said 'I have this piece of ground, make a golf course fit onto it'.

The funny thing is though that for all the moaning, I don't just have a favourite hole at Pinnacle Point, I have several, namely the 7th, 8th and 9th combination where you play out over the sea to greens that are tucked up against the edge of a cliff (the effect that the 7th has on you when you first play it, is almost akin to a religious experience - you come over a rise on the cart path from the previous green and are faced with what seems like a 50m plunge from the tee box to the green over the water of an a sea hewn inlet with nothing but the sea and sheer cliffs on three sides of the green).

The 7th looks to be on a par with anything I have seen (on TV) at Pebble Beach, etc. The 8th is a driveable par 4, if you can belt it 280m+ over nothing but water, it’s a brilliant hole and if you are, like me, something of a gorilla on the course, then you will relish the challenge. The 9th is yet another par 3, played over an inlet to a green surrounded on almost all sides by the sea, the trick with this one however is to figure out which way the wind is blowing and figure in how much affect the club house is going to have once the ball gets above it and then pray you have the right club and the right line (the first time we played, my partner was aiming 45 degrees away from the green straight out to sea).

The next combination I enjoy is 12, 13 and the 14th tee box - 12 is a cracker of a hole, off the back tees you probably start about 200m above the fairway (which looks tiny) with a view over almost the entire course and you are playing straight out towards the sea. If you don't trust your golf cart's brakes however, I would proceed down the hill with caution. The 13th is another par 3 where you play over the sea to a green surrounded by water and cliffs, the thing is here is that the green is the size of a postage stamp and surrounded by long grass, bunkers and rocks, not for the faint hearted when the pin is placed up against the right edge of the green!. The 14th hole is Pinnacle Points stroke 2 and as is the case with any stroke 2 par 4, is long, uphill and bloody tough buts it’s not the hole that does it for me, it’s the tee box - it is on the cliffs edge with the sea thundering 50m below you. Trust me, when you play Pinnacle Point take a half a dozen or so water balls with for nothing more than turning sideways and banging them out to sea!

This course also has some really daft holes, like the 6th for instance - it’s a short par 4, with a tee shot over a ravine that is a forerunner of things to come but the fairway is narrow to the point of nonexistent around the landing zone and the green is about 40m long and feels as narrow as 3 to 4m wide in places – the whole hole feels horribly out of place and gives you the feeling that it was an afterthought that was shoe horned in at the last minute or as a compromise.

The par 4 stroke 1 4th is really bland, to the point that it really just looks like a landing strip. I can only guess that it gets its rating because I can see it being unplayable in the wind with it being one of the highest points on the course (then again maybe it just suffers from being between 2 brilliant par 5's that look and feel really intimidating off the tee box, even for a big hitter).

The 15th suffers not from being a terrible golf hole, but by just being a little too bland after all the sights and sounds you have just played through, but my vote for the worst hole goes to the 18th, a par 5 with a hard dogleg left with 175m to go, after you have had to hit it 275m+ (at the coast) to an area of probably no more than 10 square metres, which would be challenge on pretty much any other golf course, except here there isn't a flat or even sloping lie to be had anywhere on the fairway, everything feels like you are about to fall over and the only place you can hope to hit the ball from a reasonably flat lie is covered in deep, clawing grass. Make no mistake, it is a spectacular looking hole to finish on, but to my mind it’s a little over done (and it’s certainly not a stroke 8).

There are a lot of bunkers at Pinnacle Point, but they didn't really seem to come into play (I think I only played from a bunker twice over two rounds, both fairway and greenside), more for decoration than challenge I think, and therein lies the problem with the course, it looks good, it is fun to play (especially when the wind is blowing) but you do feel a little let down after walking off, like something important was missing.

My final verdict - the views where great, the greens were amongst the best I've played and the wow factor you witness when you tell people you have played there is almost worth it - I'd play there again, but I doubt I'd pay, there are just better, more challenging and less contrived courses in that part of the world.

For more details, take a look at www.pinnaclepoint.co.za

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Its all coming back to me now

I am not dead, I haven't stopped playing and I haven't moved to another site, I've just been lazy (and injured and trying to start a new business).

But thats all about to change, I have a raft of course reviews stacked up and some juicy news about one of South Africa's premier courses to share (just as soon as I can get it from the source).

I am going to try and do at least one review a week and the first one is going to be a goodie!

[Thanks to Speedcat Hollydale, HP and TonyM for giving me a kick all in the same week]