Fancourt have built a new halfway house for the Montagu course, and on the walls inside hang memorabilia belonging to the late John Bland, who passed away earlier this year at age 77. It’s a tribute to one of South Africa’s finest golfers, who lived at Fancourt and for the past 25 years was an outstanding ambassador for the Garden Route resort.
The halfway house building is directly behind the tee of the par-5 tenth hole, and is long overdue. The previous halfway house was either in the Fancourt clubhouse or leisure centre, a longish walk from the tenth tee, and golfers at halfway could never be sure if and when the tenth tee was free. This should improve pace of play.
It’s bigger than the halfway house on the adjoining Outeniqua course, with tables outside. The back tee for 10 is on the side of the building, and the others in front. There’s a framed photo inside of Bland receiving a trophy from Ernie Els. This was the December 2001 Ernie Els Invitational at Fancourt. Bland’s two scorecards are framed along with the photo and are worth a good look because they contain 14 threes and 4 twos. He opened the 36-hole tournament with a 10-under 62 on Outeniqua, playing the back nine in 29, and followed that with a 9-under 63 on Montagu, with a front nine of 31. He had one eagle and 17 birdies, not a single bogey, a superlative display of golf.
Bland was one of the greatest putters in the game, and retained that skill throughout his life. He won 21 titles on the Sunshine Tour (1970-91) and two on the European Tour, represented SA in the World Cup, then made a sensational debut on the US Senior Tour (Champions Tour), winning five times in the space of 12 months from October 1995 to October 1996. His final victory came in the 2010 Wales Senior Open.
Two playoff defeats though to Gary Player in significant tournaments were to cast an edge of regret on his career. The first was in the 1981 SA Open at Royal Johannesburg, after 21 playoff holes, and the other the 1997 Senior British Open at Royal Portrush. Bland was thus denied both a SA Open title (he never won it) and a major championship. He was a runner-up three times in the Senior Open.
NEW 9 HOLES AT FANCOURT
Construction is underway on a full-sized 9-holer at Fancourt on the site of the Bramble Hill 18-holer which closed in about 2010. It was ranked in the 80s in the Golf Digest Top 100 from 2005 to 2009. Bramble Hill was a public facility close to The Links at Fancourt with its own clubhouse. After closing it first became a practice facility, and then four holes were retained from Bramble Hill as part of the Fancourt Academy.
One of these holes runs between The Links at Fancourt clubhouse and the practice facility for The Links.
The 9-holer has been designed by South African Sean Quinn, and earthworks are being done by experienced George-based contractor Philip Basson. Quinn works for Jack Nicklaus Design, before that Golf Data. His original design work in this country includes Katberg in the Eastern Cape, Clarens in the Free State, and The Club at Steyn City in Gauteng.
Basson, recovered from major surgery earlier in 2023, first earned his reputation in the industry by rebuilding all 18 greens at George around the turn of the century. He’s worked with designers such as Danie Obermeyer (Kingswood, Boschenmeer and Robertson), Phil Jacobs (in China) and Peter Matkovich, at Pinnacle Point. “The 9-holer at Fancourt will have something of a links theme to the design, with long grass and mounding, and extra tees will be built so that it can be played as a Par 3 layout,” said Basson.
Work on the Fancourt 9-holer is due to be completed by the end of summer, and it may open towards the end of 2024. Five new holes, on undulating land alongside The Links at Fancourt clubhouse, will be built and the existing four Bramble Hill holes will be redesigned.