Course Review: Devonvale Golf & Wine Estate
‘Away’ games are a rare – and therefore very exciting – treat for me. And when the course in question is a new one, I’m generally all set to burst by the time I reach the first tee. Which was precisely the case when I recently tried out Devonvale, a tucked-away and under-the-radar treat near Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands.
Please understand that I have played over 200 rounds at Westlake now, and I’m sick of it! It’s a great course with many subtleties, and a friendly club, but I think even Augusta would have worn thin by now! Sadly as long as the concept of ‘club membership’ prevails over simple business sense in our golf industry, we’re not going to see any courses joining forces to offer group subscriptions. Which means most of us – like myself – are stuck playing the same course over and over purely for economic reasons.
One of my pet hates with Westlake is the course rating of 69 from the club markers. That means handicap differentials are calculated from three under par in good conditions, which I think is pretty extreme. When you consider that Rondebosch’s rating is 70 for a par of 72 and Metropolitan’s is 69 for a par of 70, and that both of these are arguably easier courses, I just don’t get why the SAGA rates Westlake as if it’s some kind of pushover.
Devonvale’s another case in point – it’s rated 70 for a par of 72…perhaps this is because it measures a staggering seven metres longer than Westlake from the club tees. Anyway, the more reasonable rating was one more reason I was excited about my game here!
Another joy of playing a course blind is that I don’t have to confront any demons, which may just be the case on certain holes at Westlake…
Slow starts are one of my biggest bugbears at the moment, with the first three holes of both nines at Westlake proving quite troublesome. I can quite often play holes 4-9 and 13-18 at level or just a couple over combined. But holes 1-3 and 10-12 routinely see me dropping around seven or eight shots all told.
Which brings me to the first three holes at Devonvale – finally! Fortunately I didn’t know about it before I teed off, but this course has a sting in the beginning. The first is a short par-four but its uphill aspect makes it look quite challenging to the average player. Then come the real testers – two par fives with vineyards (out of bounds, you understand) uncomfortably close down the left-hand side. OK, they’re not particularly long holes, but they have an intimidating look about them.
From then on the course settles into its true character, which is a layout with a lot of short par-fours. Just the kind of place I like, being a not-particularly-long (and exceedingly wild) driver of the golf ball. I really enjoy this kind of course – you don’t have to bomb it off the tee, but you do have to think about where you’re putting the ball. There are plenty of holes where you have to cut across a corner – the blind shot over the dam at the sixth is particularly daunting for the newcomer – but you’re rewarded with a short approach if you get it right.
Not that there aren’t a couple of long holes to mix things up a bit. The 10th plays 394 metres, and it was into the wind on the day I visited. I didn’t take that well, and made a seven! The 14th measures 374 metres, which isn’t massive until you consider that there’s a tree pretty much right in front of the tee. If you’re not able to hit a shapely draw with your driver here, you’re in for a tough time.
For visitors there’s an interesting touch on the tee boxes, which have cryptic quotes from a mysterious character with only the initials ‘A.C’. These give you a key clue as to how to play the hole. Something like ‘aim at the tall tree on the left’. Except more poetic. I wonder who A.C is or was? And should he be penalized for giving advice?
As I was making my way around the course I could feel a sense of unease building inside me. For some time I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but I knew something wasn’t right.
Then it hit me…the course was quiet! I could hear the birds in the trees! It stirred a distant memory of golf as it’s meant to be played, with only the sounds of nature for company. I’d actually forgotten what this was like, because on weekdays at Westlake golfers are constantly being chased around the course by ear-shattering maintenance vehicles. The mowing never stops!
Granted, Westlake’s conditioning is light years ahead of Devonvale’s, but frankly I’d be willing to lose quite a lot of aesthetic appeal in exchange for some peace and quiet. But perhaps that’s just me.
Anyway, to the numbers. I shot 82. A differential of 12, but the computer quite reasonably took that down to 10 in the light of some windy conditions (these adjustments are a GREAT innovation from SAGA) and so my long drive out to the Winelands earned me a more than useful 10 differential.
It’s a pity Devonvale is a bit too much of a hike for someone based in Cape Town itself, because I think I’d have been happy to make it my home course. It’s a little more forgiving than what I’m used to, so I might have hit single figures by now!
I’d definitely recommend Devonvale to anyone in search of a friendly welcome, reasonable green fees and some intoxicating smells from the vineyards. And you might just come away with a tidy scorecard too!