Winter’s golf coast
with the most
with the most
Umhlanga really is a swinging little place. And if you love golf then around about now is the sweetest of times to be in the unofficial capital of KwaZulu-Natal’s FunShine Coast. Just ask the organisers of the IGT Pro Tour, which was scheduled to return to these shores from mid May through to July next year (2021).
South African professional golf’s second tier will be basing itself in Durban over mid winter to take advantage of the region’s fine courses and balmy climate.
Smart tourists and visitors would do well to take a leaf from the pros’ log book.
Simon Osler, a seasoned sports journalist who plays off a 7 handicap, reckons the weather here in winter was perfect for golf and better than what all but the luckiest of Europeans could expect of their summers.
Certainly, there was no comparing the mild temperatures and clear skies on a Durban course of a May morning with teeing up on the Highveld at the crack of dawn. Not quite what Captain Oates felt when he left the tent perhaps, but it’s fair to say that Gauteng makes for a chilly round at this time of year.
Micky Hough, the affable golf director of Mt Edgecombe, said their motto was: “You are Welcome”.
They recorded the third highest number of registered rounds of any club in the country last year, he said.
Including unregistered rounds, Hough puts the total at more than 75 000. He conceded they do have two courses, which lifted things somewhat, but it was hard to argue with his conclusion: “We certainly have a lot of happy customers.”
The Woods, formerly, Course 1, was the older of the two and was a traditional parkland course.
Hough said it had some beautiful trees, but was pretty open. And although there was water here and there, it was quite forgiving.
The Lakes, aka Course 2, was very much an estate course, with more homes bordering it.
It tended to be more challenging, he said.
Osler, who previously worked in the Pro Shop at Mount Edgecombe and has played its courses many times, said the 15th, a par-3 medium-length to an island green, was the signature hole.
“There is water from the T-box pretty much to the green and water behind it. And on the right is bush. A very challenging hole,” said Osler, “I am going to guess 5000 to 6000 balls a month in the dam.”
Osler reckoned it was a good course where mid-to-high handicapped players could score well if they kept the ball in play. He mentioned Golf Digest SA ranking which placed Mount Edgecombe in the mid 40s judged against the country’s about 500 courses.
Mount Edgecombe was a 10-minute drive, depending on traffic from Umhlanga Rocks Main Beach, a little beyond the Gateway shopping precinct really.
Beachwood Country Club was a similar distance away, but down the coast in the direction of central Durban.
The Gary Player designed links course was narrower than most and here the premium was on accuracy.
Osler said the 4-par sixth was its toughest hole.
“It requires an accurate shot and a very long second shot,” he said, “It’s generally quite windy there. And even in winter there is some breeze; you’ve got to think about where you will hit your shot.”
The course was rated 29 in the Golf Digest SA‘s top 100 courses in the country.
Beachwood was putting together some good specials to get players back on the green just as soon as the lockdown was lifted, said Osler, adding that Global Golf, his employer, was offering some natty face masks at its Pro Shops at both Beachwood and Mt Edgecombe.
Just the thing to psyche out your playing partners.
Your columnist’s brief is to shamelessly sing the praises of Umhlanga and the FunShine Coast, but it would be remiss not to mention a few other Durban and greater-Durban courses that visitors would do well to visit.
Hough, who has played on the Sunshine Circuit himself and has done a lot of living on the European and PGA tours while caddying for the cigar-smoking, Ferrari-driving Spaniard, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, reckons you don’t come to Durban to play one round of golf.
And after an obligatory few rounds at Mt Edgecombe and Beachwood, there was plenty to savour a little further afield.
“I do think Durban is a really attractive place to come visit because you have Zimbail, Simbithi, Prince’s Grant (towards Stanger), Cotswold Downs (Hillcrest), Gowrie Farm (Nottingham Road, KZN Midalnds)… Durban Country Club.”
The Durban Country Club (which took over Beachwood in the early 1990s) is really beyond the scope of this blog, but Umhlanga Tourism spoke briefly to Susan Reeve, who is on its board of governors.
The venerable club has the only course in Africa rated in the Top 100 golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine USA. It was also rated in the Top 5 golf courses in South Africa by Golf Digest SA.
Reeve said well-heeled American golf tourists arrived to play at the club from time to time as they worked their way through the top 100 and she recalled meeting one who was so impressed he played it twice.
“It’s a very, very old course. Coming up for its centenary. It opened in 1922. One of the oldest in the country,” she said, describing it as a very challenging links course.
“A lot of the holes are grass covered so there are a lot of ups and down,” said Reeve, confessing to be “hopelessly passionate” about her club.
We asked Hough for the final word on golf and Durban.
“You get great weather and great quality golf courses that are easy to access. From May to September it’s hard to beat,” he said.