Anyone who has played at Plettenberg Bay CC, ranked No 44 this year and a course which has hosted the SA Senior Open the last four years, will have no difficulty recalling the distinctly odd short par-4 14th hole. This is a quirky setup if ever there was one.
First of all you tee off from a mat inside the natural forest which is a feature of the beautiful back nine. No grass will grow in there. The fairway turns sharp left, and directly in front of a raised green are two enormous oak trees, so close together that their leafy canopies are touching each other.
The trick with your tee shot is to find somewhere on the far side of the fairway where you have an opening to the green. Middle of the fairway is usually stone dead. From there you need to get creative, possibly a running shot up the steep false front of the long narrow green. The green itself is a creatively challenging one, by Rob O’Friel in his 2000 redesign of the layout. A lot can go wrong with the approach. The hole would rate as one of my favourite short par 4s, even though it has often frustrated me.
However, here comes the bad news. The two oak trees, riddled I believe with borer beetle disease, were emasculated last year by tree fellers. All that remains are two trunks and protruding bare branches. They look hideous. Half the height too. Now you can easily hit a short iron over them on to the green. The Plettenberg Bay CC management and committee are unsure what to do about the future of the 14th.
I’m glad to see they are not acting hastily about a solution. A good hole can still emerge from this because the green is a classic. And I like its positioning. The best golf designers in the country should all be consulted. A new elevated tee position might be the answer if environmental restrictions allow it.