Published by : Stuart McLean - 07 December 2022

Durban Country Club’s iconic short par-4 18th hole is almost unrecognisable after the thick tropical bush which defended the entire left side of the fairway was recently ripped out to its roots.

Some members are horrified by the bush’s removal, yet this is the beginning of seismic change at Durban CC that is going to see this internationally acclaimed course begin the second century of its existence being rebuilt to new standards, resuscitating the health and character of the classic layout which hit rock bottom when flooded for months earlier this year.

The 18th (left) at Durban CC and the bare slopes between it and first hole right.

A bigger shock for members is learning that their course is to close for most of 2023. It will shut down late in April and re-open again on December 1. Options for members to play elsewhere during that period are limited. The only other course that might be able to accept large groups is Beachwood, which DCC owned before selling to property developers.

Golf Data have been tasked with the upgrade of DCC. The company has had considerable success with similar projects but this is a major contract for Golf Data in terms of renovating a course with such a worldwide reputation.

All 18 greens, most bunkers, and certain tee boxes will be rebuilt and reshaped over a three-month construction period. And there is talk of the DCC greens being planted with a strain of bent grass resilient to the heat and humidity of a Durban summer. That would be a game-changer, as the previous paspalum and bermuda grasses resulted in slow putting surfaces.

The par-3 12th, the Prince of Wales, is no longer framed by tall trees.

The majority of the old pushup greens (the way greens were built prior to 1970) had become deformed and prone to disease through unchanged maintenance practices over the past century, and new greens will be a revelation.

Changes to the course will include a new first tee complex by the old bowling greens, which was the site of the first tee in earlier years. Another would be a new green site for the 14th, stretching this par 5 by 50 metres.

The DCC board of governors had a tough decision to make regarding the closure of the course, but felt it would not be practical to keep it open with temporary greens, and no bunkers in play. “The reality is that we must endure short-term pain for long-term gain. Reconstructing our course is a serious undertaking,” said chairman Errol Stewart.

The cost of the upgrade is being borne by the club and benefactor Nic Jonsson of the Jonsson Workwear Group. Without his input it wouldn’t be happening on this scale. The club share Jonsson’s vision for the future of Durban CC as a “premium experience.”

Members have already been notified of a new all-in membership model (unlimited golf) for 2024 that will raise the subscription from the current R30 200 a year to R50 000. And there will be an entrance fee of R50 000 for new members.

Country Club have been committed during the last 10 years to a bush-clearing campaign to open up more of the holes of their beachfront layout and reveal some of the hidden trees and views of the rest of the course. The bush removal at 18 is another step in this process.

They are turning the clock back to how the course looked when it opened in 1922, the holes having been built in bare dunes alongside the Indian Ocean. (DCC is celebrating its centenary in 2022.) Over the following decades it became more and more overgrown, the coastal bush isolating holes from each other.

Golfers who haven’t been to DCC for several years will be surprised at the amount of changes and the new vistas between holes. The tall trees which lined the par-3 12th hole have also been removed.

The 18th will become a showpiece finishing hole. “The dunes and landforms between 18 and first fairway have been beautifully exposed,” said golf director Don Gammon. “Some members have said the absence of the bush has made the hole easier, but as part of our 2023 upgrade we have plans for a bunker complex and veld grass to replace the bush and punish errant tee shots.

Durban CC clubhouse overlooking the 18th green and first tee.

“The 18th played like a tough par 3 during the Jonsson Workwear Open (Sunshine Tour) in February this year,” said Gammon. “The new design for the green and bunkers will be a great improvement. Shot making and distance control will be at a premium.”

The challenge of this 246-metre hole, as Gammon says a long par 3 at that distance for today’s younger golfers and elite players, has always been its narrow and undulating fairway, and the dangers attached to missing it on either side. The bush on the left was a no-go area, where balls would disappear, while those missing the right of the fairway either ended up on a steep slope with no sight of the green, or out of bounds further right.

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