So – the theory was that after a gap of 20-odd years I would take a drive down to KZN from Joburg through the Natal Midlands and play some golf on the way.
The Midlands has always been a favourite region of mine, but of late one which I, along with many South Africans, miss by flying from Joburg to Durban. The drive itself was relatively unchanged, except for the very noticeable increase in the traffic volumes, in particular the number of trucks.
As I was compiling notes for a golf travel feature, it might be argued that I did not get the ‘average’ view that a visitor might experience, but the counter argument would be that having travelled very extensively for over 30 years I know which buttons to push to see if things work or not, and I do push them all.
My first stop was at Gowrie Farm, and the overall impression was terrific, from a super golf course to very comfy rooms and a great breakfast.
The overall experience was terrific, from the prepared fire in the lounge on arrival to the heaters in the room, and the hot-water bottle, which was requested and put in the bed in the blink of an eye.
The golf course is very traditional in layout and design (no blue-dyed water here!) but very challenging and fair to play, with the only weak spot perhaps being the 18th hole, which I felt is a little contrived in its design. The premium is on accuracy, but not overly so, i.e. there are no single-file fairways (!) and lots of safe options to play if the risk element, in the risk and reward challenges, looks too daunting.
Like many traditional layouts, it does need to be played at least once to get the feel of the course and the best lines to take from the tee and to know where to ‘miss’ with the least collateral damage to your scorecard. However, even with only time for one game, I thoroughly enjoyed the way the course played – even if, with an icy wind sweeping across the course, my score didn’t reflect it!
Otherwise top marks, from reception to housekeeping, especially the latter who even managed to launder and dry two pillows which had had coffee spilled on them while I was en route.
Whether you are a golfer or not, this lodge, with its glassed veranda, its splendid views over the whole course and its honesty bar (so it’s not only the golf course that reflects another era!), could be just about the best base in the area for a weekend trip, or as a stopover down to, or up from Durban, and it is ideally located for exploring the region.
The region of course includes another golfing favourite of mine at Bosch Hoek and, with the nine-hole layout in Sakabula Estate, offers the golfer a good choice of courses for a golfing trip.
The next stop was Selborne Golf Estate, Hotel & Spa at the northern end of KZN’s South Coast. I watched this course literally come out of the ground and so it was something of a nostalgic retrospective for me to be back and playing golf there.
After clearing the ubiquitous security check, the first impression of the estate was how neat it was, with hardly a leaf out of place, which initial impression was then very much reinforced during the time spent on the golf course.
The main hotel building looked exactly the same, both inside and out, but it turned out that this had been achieved at no little expense to First Group, the new owners – R 28 million’s worth of refurbishment to all the facilities to date, as the complex had been allowed to sink into a state of serious disrepair by the previous owners and operators.
It is still a work in progress, with items like the chimneys having been allowed to have plant roots grow into them and block the flues, but the bulk of the work is now complete and the ‘old lady’ looks pretty much back to her very best.
The course was very much as I had remembered, but with some rerouting of several holes, which I eventually worked out!
From a player’s perspective this course is all about strategy with, as the layout is not long, the primary need to keep the tee shot above ground and in play on the short stuff.
Even allowing for winter conditions, the course was in excellent shape, and housekeeping in the areas adjacent to play and round the houses was simply outstanding, with everything in the sort of shape that would allow a televised event to be held there the very next day.
Selborne Golf Estate, Hotel & Spa offers the golfer a great base from which to explore the Durban golf courses as well as those along the South Coast, and the N2 toll road offers great access in both directions.
The non-golfer is also well catered for as there is a world-class spa in the main hotel and a super pool area in the immaculate gardens.
Selborne Golf Estate also has its own private beach club for the exclusive use of homeowners and hotel guests, with secure access onto the splendid Pennington Beach.
The Pennington Beach conservancy is a laudable local initiative designed to protect and enhance the local forests, dunes, beach areas and wetlands, and the beach café is a must-visit for the simple wholesome menu and a possible glimpse of a whale or two!
In about the centre of the Pennington conservancy is Umdoni Park golf club. It was another course that I have not played in years (30 of them, to be exact), so it was very good to see that one of the coast’s more picturesque and interesting layouts is still alive and well. The course looked a little dry and dusty as it was midwinter, but the greens held a well-struck shot and although they looked a little brown and dry (rather like a links course in the UK) they were beautifully true to putt on.
Botha House offers an excellent value B&B option for visiting golfers, and the clubhouse was freshly painted and full of people, while the food was good and inexpensive. The now covered terrace on the sea side of the clubhouse must still provide just about the best 19th-hole views in South Africa, with its sweeping 180° panorama of the Indian Ocean.