Durban Country Club will be closing their golf course in the first week of May for a substantial 7-month renovation by Golf Data, and it will only re-open again in December. It will re-emerge as an exclusive high-end private members club.
Country Club members are making alternative arrangements to play golf elsewhere for the rest of 2023. Many have taken up membership at Royal Durban.
Golf Data’s vision proposal for the DCC renovation is to refine and enhance the course to a standard that will enable the club to maintain its status as one of the world’s leading courses. They will respect and accentuate iconic features of the 100-year-old layout. Golf Digest ranked it No 97 in the 2022-23 World Top 100 outside the United States.
Following the damage to the course in the April 2022 floods, Golf Data will rebuild the greens (new drainage and growing medium) and bunkers to refine the strategy, shape, playability and maintenance. New tees will be constructed, both forward and back. Flood-prone fairways will be raised to add character and interest to flatter areas of the course.
“This is a huge project to complete in seven months, with so much earthworks, and the weather must play a part in making it happen for us to re-open in December,” said Country Club general manager Don Gammon.
The project is likely to cost in the region of R30-million, and half of that is being contributed by club benefactor and board member Nic Jonsson. His company sponsored the Jonsson Workwear Open at DCC in 2022 and Steyn City in 2023 which were part of the DP World Tour. A chunk of the budget has already gone on new irrigation and drainage.
There has been much debate about the choice of grass for the rebuild of the greens, and bent grass is being firmly touted ahead of other varieties. If you’re upgrading the course to a 5-star standard, surely the renovation must be matched by having outstanding quality greens? However, can bent survive the Durban heat and humidity from January to March? Bent has proved a success at Mount Edgecombe, on The Woods course, yet it was introduced through overseeding on the original paspalum.
Country Club has only ever had two varieties of grass on their greens, paspalum until 2010, and mini-verde cynodon from the 2010 SA Open until recently when the dying greens were plugged with Royal Blue cynodon. But Country Club never enjoyed consistently good greens throughout the year. Both paspalum and cynodon varieties required frequent disruptive maintenance practices to keep them in shape, and they were slow surfaces for putting. If Golf Data can successfully manage bent grass greens it will be a game-changer for DCC.
A major aesthetic feature of the “new” Country Club will be the construction of a large irrigation dam between the par-3 15th and halfway house. There is already water around the 15th tee, and the hazard will now surround a new green for the par-5 14th, which is being moved 50 metres further back into what used to be tropical bush. This hole, currently 482 metres from the championship tee, will become 540 metres.
Length is being added here and there, although only 150 metres extra in total to the overall distance, taking it to 6 300 metres from the championship tees, most of that going on two par-5s, Nos 8 and 14. One exception is the par-4 sixth hole being shortened from 322 to 295 metres, with a small, raised green moving closer to the tees.
Two of DCC’s iconic holes, the par-3 12th Prince of Wales, and 250-metre par-4 18th, will remain the same distance. However, the green on 18 will be angled from right to left, extending towards the current first tee box. The bush on the left of the 18th fairway has already been removed.
The tees on the par-4 first are being moved towards the boundary fence on the right of this opening hole, increasing the length from 354 to 380. There will be a bigger green.
One of DCC’s finest holes, the eighth, where golfers carry steep rolling dunes to reach the green, is gaining some teeth, going from 465 to 495 metres, the green moving back into what is currently bush. The green itself will remain bunkerless.
A new strategic dimension to Country Club will come in the form of a Scottish-type burn winding through the lower-lying holes at the far end of the course from the clubhouse. An attenuation dam is being dug on the site of the club’s rubbish dump between the fifth and seventh holes. “There is an underground water source there, and water will flow all year round from the dam through the burn and into storm drains outside the property,” said Gammon. “It is crucial we control the movement of water and drainage to limit any future flooding as we’ve had in the past.”
The burn will cross the seventh fairway and pass in front of the 13th green. The 310-metre 13th, played from a high tee, has always had the potential of being a better short par 4 than it is, and the presence of the burn will raise the risk-and-reward stakes for long hitters trying to drive the green. The burn will be 280 metres from the back tee.
The burn will follow the left side of the 13th fairway before turning sharply right in front of the tees on 11, and then curve around the front of the green at the par-5 tenth, before exiting across the 14th fairway.
The par 3s will have differently angled greens, other than No 12 where the green will only be extended. The contours short of No 4 will be softened, and No 15 will have a wide shallow green with a deep swale at the back reminiscent of the 11th on the Old Course at St Andrews.
The three longest par 4s will be No 11 at 440, and 5 and 9 at 415 metres. No 17 will go from 367 to 395, and the green will be extended more towards the right.