Published by : Stuart McLean - 31 March 2023

Amanzimtoti Country Club was devastated by flooding in April last year. Now, for the first time in almost a year, the opening of a new R3.6-million bridge has reunited club members with all 18 holes of their golf course south of Durban.

As dawn broke on April 12, 2022, following heavy prolonged rain in KwaZulu-Natal, residents in the homes on the hillside above the golf course witnessed a flood plain below. The entire property was under water as the Mbokodweni River burst its banks and engulfed everything in its path to the Indian Ocean, causing immense damage to the course, clubhouse and other facilities. The cart barn and its contents was destroyed. About 500 trees gone. Two bridges linking the two halves of the course had been swept aside by the torrent.

Greenkeeper Louis Steyn on the new bridge overlooking the 12th green.

The cleanup operation under new greenkeeper Louis Steyn began almost immediately. A retired farmer from Bothaville in the Free State, who moved to the KZN South Coast 10 years ago, he was blessed with the right disposition to tackle the challenge life had thrown at him. And he had support from a wide group of staff and helpful members.

“I had 12 permanent staff and we took on 12 casuals. There was just so much for us to do in the beginning, containing sewage spills, removing mud around the clubhouse, digging trenches to drain water back to the river, before we even got around to fixing the fairways and greens,” he explained while driving me around the re-opened course on his golf cart. “It was a huge team effort to produce what you see today, from the brush cutter to the engineer who gave his time.”

Within a few months, however, Steyn had nine holes playable for members on the clubhouse side of the river. But there was no way for golfers to access the other holes on the opposite bank, adjoining the industrial area. Plus, three of the greens on that side had been lost to the river and needed rebuilding. “We didn’t have any paspalum for one of these greens and I had to plant it with cynodon as a temporary measure. There’s still much work to do but at least we now have 18 holes in play again.”

Thousands of tons of sand had to be removed by the truck loads from the holes, some of which resembled sand dunes when the flood waters had dissipated. A similar amount of rubble was needed to reclaim land from the river, which was significantly wider than it had ever been, while Steyn and his staff had to resod 20 000 square metres of grass.

The new bridge alongside the 12th green which survived the flood.

Amanzimtoti CC is not a wealthy club, and has a relatively small membership, so paying for the cleanup has been another challenge. There was an insurance claim, but the money received was only enough to pay 50% of the cost of a new bridge to span the river. Engineering companies assisted generously in making that connection happen.

Members helped where they could in terms of contributions and free time. And in due course a new bridge was bought, constructed and delivered by a crane earlier in March. It’s a strong steel structure, which towers high above the river compared to its predecessor, at the same level as the road bridges, including that on the N2 highway, adjoining the course. There are wooden ramps on either side to carry traffic on to the bridge.

Having only one bridge though has meant a re-routing of the entire course. There is now one starting tee at the first. Golfers cross the bridge after playing No 2 and teeing off across the river at No 3, and there are nine holes on the far side of the river. An attractive par-3, the 12th, takes golfers back again. Amazingly, the green on the bank of the river survived the flood.

The old tenth hole at the back of the clubhouse is gone. It was a par 5 where the approach shot to the green was played across the river. In its place is a new par 3, No 15. The round then concludes close to the ocean with the same No 16 to 18 as before. The range next to the clubhouse has not yet been opened and remains a mess.

“We had our official re-opening on Saturday, March 25,” said Steyn. “A big day for the club as each fourball paid R10 000 which will help offset our expenses and begin the rebirth of Amanzimtoti.”

Amanzimtoti members have hung old golf bags in a tree near the clubhouse as a “memorial” to the flood damage.
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