The 9-holer at Cathedral Peak Hotel is one of the most scenic inland venues in South Africa, situated as it is deep within the heart of the Drakensberg mountains. It is also one of the more isolated courses, 45 kilometres from the nearest town of Winterton.
Not only does it offer magnificent views and bracing mountain air. Cathedral Peak is a well-designed layout with a variety of interesting and challenging holes. It is set in a valley below the hotel, on the opposite bank of the uMlambonja River.
Persons with golfing ability and imagination weaved their magic on a site which traverses three different levels on a hillside. These were Reg and Roly Taylor, who combined in the design process by using the land as naturally as possible.
For a 9-hole course the design variety and risk-and-reward quotient is more diverse than golfers would expect. The greens have subtle slopes and Bayview grass gives them a slick pace. Reg Taylor was one of SA’s legendary amateurs, winner of the 1954 SA Open, and he was active in the field of course design in the decade prior to his death in 1998.
What makes Cathedral Peak a fun experience are the elevation levels. The opening par 5 of 475 metres is flat and uninteresting, with water hazards situated some 50 metres short of the green, but after that you scramble up and down hillside ridges. There are several wonderful high tees, thrilling shots to play from them with a driver, 3-wood or hybrid, and it is healthy exercise.
Golf was a relatively new addition to the list of activities at the family-owned hotel, the course having only been opened in January 1996 when the hotel was approaching its 60th anniversary. Given its location it is quiet most of the year yet the golf club has an enormous membership of 6 500, many of whom have never been there.
They are all among the tens of thousands of virtual members found around the country at a variety of clubs. The annual membership fee is R1 040.
The biggest golf event of the year at Cathedral Peak is the club championships in March, and there is always a full field of 88 players.
Memorable holes include the fabulous 380-metre third, played from a high tee over the back of a roller-coaster fairway, the ball disappearing from view as the fairway slopes down to a water hazard slightly short of the green. At the 338m fourth the back tee is built on the edge of a steep drop and there’s almost a 200-metre carry over a stream and pools to set up a short approach into the green.
Considering the hilliness of the terrain the only uphill hole is the attractive 325m sixth, behind and above the clubhouse, and that’s followed by a dramatic drop in elevation at the second par-3. It’s 166m at No 7 and 113m the second time around at No 16. A tricky green to hit from the back tee, and the most effective way for most golfers to play the hole is to bounce short on a downslope and let the ball run on.
A superb hole is 8/17 playing between 290 and 316. An elevated tee to a narrow fairway flanked by a hillside and stream on the left, and trees on the right. The green only comes into view when you reach your ball, tucked away into the hillside and its front guarded by a water hazard.
The round finishes with a strong par 4 between 388 and 412. The tees are back on the high ridge adjoining the third fairway, and the challenge here is a narrow fairway and a wide tree in the middle of it at about 200 metres. Long hitters can carry the top branches with ease, but the average golfer will find it a difficult barrier to breach.
2022 Frikkie Janse van Rensburg Jr & Friedel Sipsma
Practice putting green.
There are 6 500 members (350 female) of the golf club who pay an annual membership fee of R1 040, which gives them a handicap and affiliation to the SA Golf Association. They are effectively “virtual” members as many of them have never been to play at Cathedral Peak. However, the club does have two-day club championships in March each year, attracting a full field of 88 players. They receive preferential accommodation rates at the hotel.
The rocky hillside above the course is home to a large troop of baboons who during the day are to be found foraging on the fairways of the golf course, grubbing in the grass for ants and termites. They are not aggressive towards golfers.
1/ The hotel was opened just before Christmas in 1939, the inspiration of a farmer’s son, Albert van der Riet. Uniquely it has remained in the family ever since. A feature of accommodation at the hotel is that guests receive three meals a day in the dining room with its large buffet selection.
2/ Bowls was the sport that Albert van der Riet encouraged his guests to play. He built two greens and there was a major tournament at the hotel in August each year. After Albert’s death in 1987 his nephew Hugh van der Riet, a keen golfer, motivated the building of a golf course on a site in the valley below the hotel, on the opposite bank of the uMlambonja River. It took two years to build.
3/ Cathedral Peak Hotel is 45 kilometres from Winterton, the nearest town. It is a tar road all the way, narrow and winding through local villages over the last 25 kilometres.
4/ Cathedral Peak is a free standing mountain (3004 metres), part of the Cathedral Ridge, and was first climbed in 1917. It is a strenuous day trip from the hotel to the summit and back. It is one of only eight mountains in South Africa which exceed 3 000 metres in height.
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