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.

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