Atlantic Beach is one of those courses golfers take a while to appreciate, and for good reason. Play it in a strong wind in the middle of a Cape summer and most won’t find it fun. Wait for a calmer day though and the delights of this links-style layout come to the fore.
Atlantic Beach has had a similarly yo-yo relationship with the Top 100 ratings. Few courses have had such a switch of opinions about its merits. One of three courses opened in the first year of the new millennium (along with The Links at Fancourt and Pezula), it reached the heights of No 46 in the 2005 Golf Digest rankings, only to tumble to No 86 just seven years later.
Today it is staging a comeback at No 62 in the rankings, up 6 places on 2022, thanks to a makeover in the past two years which has ironed out some of its previous weaknesses. It is one of only two Top 100 courses on the Atlantic Ocean seaboard, the other being Milnerton, and yet this is only part of its unique status in South African golf.
Atlantic Beach is a stunningly bold design by Mark Muller when he was working for Golf Data. A lover of links golf, he wished to create something in that mould among the rolling dunes and fynbos at Melkbosstrand, 30 kilometres north of Cape Town, overlooking Robben Island, and managed to achieve that while constrained by environmental restrictions and fitting the holes around a vast residential estate.
Atlantic Beach has spectacularly creative holes, the likes of which you will only find elsewhere at a Humewood or St Francis Links, and also extremely challenging ones. And the greens complexes have been beautifully constructed, some of them perhaps too severe in wild weather. Take a look at the hollow in the rumpled green of the par-3 eighth pictured.
This is windy territory, yet the fairways are wide and the course has become ever more playable over the years. Saying that, though, there are holes which golfers may find intimidating, notably the 490-metre stroke 1, par-5 13th. This must qualify among the toughest challenges in SA. A tee shot over a ridge to a hidden fairway, fynbos and houses on both sides. The fairway then winds through the natural topography and fynbos to an elevated green.
The first hole is a tough 404-metre opener doglegging left around a rugged dune, and the par-3 third, where from the tee you get the best view of Table Mountain, is a scary challenge with its long narrow green surrounded by fynbos.
“Atlantic Beach receiving this recognition of a sizeable move up the Top 100 rankings is so well deserved for the Atlantic Beach team and everyone involved,” said Atlantic Beach CEO Francois Swart. “Our maintenance team from STM, headed by Jacques van der Westhuizen, has continuously delivered great results and we are proud of them. Our focus is on creating the best experience that our residents, members and guests deserve. We look forward to continually raising the bar on the estate and at the club.
“Key improvements we are focusing on for 2023 include the continuation of the bunker renovation programme on the front nine; further redesign of four holes to improve playability; improvement of the tee complexes; and the addition of a Par 3 course within the 18 holes.”
During the Western Cape water crisis in 2017-18 the course suffered more than any other due to an acute shortage of recycled water, and the fairways were lost. They are now on the mend. This had such a devastating effect on the estate, with property prices falling, that the home owners took over management of the course and now contribute towards its upkeep. The clubhouse has been converted into an attractive lifestyle centre where residents can gather during the day.
In its early years the course twice hosted International Qualifying for the Open Championship, and this month a professional tournament returns with the Cape Town Ladies Open. The competitors will enjoy upgraded bunker complexes, and the removal of bunkers that affected playability.