Course Review: Swellendam Golf Club
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Swellendam Golf Club to give its pretty nine-holer a once-over. I rather enjoy reviewing country golf courses, and this will be the first of several such reviews I’ll be posting. South African country courses are a truly different kettle of fish to what you’ll find elsewhere in the world, and they all make for fascinating visits.
In America, Asia and Europe, I get the feeling that golf courses are either done properly or not at all. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I’ve seen they’re mostly 18-holers with full standards of maintenance and service. Usually they’re in striking distance of major centres, and if they’re in a remote place it’s usually for reasons of exclusivity or because Jack Nicklaus spotted a spectacular location to work with. We have dozens of such shiny exclusive courses in South Africa, of course, and they’ll continue to be splashed all over the tourist brochures across the world.
But in South Africa (and Australia and New Zealand), small farming towns have golf courses too. Totally unpretentious, these clubs (usually nine-holers) exist purely because the local community had a few keen golfers. They may be a little overgrown and totally deserted during the week. They may even have the odd farm animal wandering around the fairways. They usually cost next to nothing to play, if you can even find anyone to take your money. But they’re an absolute pleasure, run by and for people with a genuine love for the game. No golf directors, health spas or marketing departments…these are genuine golf clubs in the strictest sense of the word. And if you do meet anyone at such venues, you’re likely to get a warm and friendly welcome.
I’ve played many of these in South Africa, and I must say Swellendam – two and a half hours outside Cape Town – is right up there with the best. While many of our country courses are in dry areas and have a distinctly brown hue, Swellendam sits on a pretty green mountainside above the town. It’s reasonably lush, and the greens are in good state.
Watch out for those greens, though…the downhill putts go like lightening! If you’re putting away from the mountain, don’t expect the ball to stop rolling. Ever.
Some country courses have very unimaginative designs, but Swellendam uses its hillside location to good effect. One side of the course overlooks the town, and the other drops steeply away into a valley with a river at the bottom. The eighth hole is particularly frightening in the regard. This short par-three appears to perch on the very edge of the valley, and you don’t want to miss the green here or you might be facing a spot of abseiling.
My favourite hole was the seventh, though. You tee off in front of the clubhouse, because Swellendam Golf Club consists of loops of six and three holes. It’s not a long hole, and it’s downhill, but you can’t see the green because it dog-legs right towards the out of bounds fence. Although it’s only a pitch in if you take the driver, cunning fairway bunkers and a menacing stream in front of the green make you think twice about every shot. It’s a tricky green to putt on too – I actually managed a four-putt from 20 feet here, which even for one so unskilled is quite an achievement.
Oh, and watch out for the sneaky water hazards right of the green on the fourth and sixth holes! They’re tiny and you won’t see them from the tee, but they’re perfectly placed to swallow up an approach that’s even slightly pushed. Trust me…I’ve been there.
So if you’re on a golf holiday in South Africa, and you’re driving between Cape Town’s golf delights (Pearl Valley, Arabella, Steenberg etc) and the jewels of the Garden Route (Fancourt, Pezula, Simola, Pinnacle Point etc), why not stop to experience something different on the way? Swellendam Golf Club is a great place to stop for quick nine holes over lunchtime.