I’m on a road trip around South Africa aiming to complete visiting all the Top 100 courses in the same year. Note the use of “visiting” rather than playing. My revised 2020 schedule due to the Covid lockdown has not allowed me to play all of them as I planned. So I have had to suffice by walking selected holes on courses that I know well, particularly in Gauteng where it would take you a month to play all the Top 100 layouts in the region.
This is Road Trip 2, as the first came to a sudden halt in Limpopo on March 23 when lockdown was announced. The next morning, a Tuesday, I played Elements Private Reserve with manager Ian Leach, before beginning a three-day journey back to Cape Town to be home by Thursday afternoon. On the Wednesday I fitted in another course, Orkney in the North West. Although no longer in the Top 100, Orkney features on the Top 100 website within the Regional Rankings, having its own page.
Road Trip 2 has so far taken me from Cape Town through the Garden Route and Eastern Cape to the KZN South Coast, an enjoyable four weeks of remarkably good weather. I hit rain for the first time at the Wild Coast Sun. I couldn’t have picked a better time to be indoors, chatting about golf to three legendary personalities such as Fred Beaver at the Wild Coast Sun, Derek James at Southbroom and Mark McNulty at San Lameer. All live within 20 kilometres of each other.
I’ve been to 19 Top 100 courses, but two other interesting stops in the Eastern Cape came at a new course hoping to be included for the first time in the next Top 100, and an old Gary Player design which time has forgotten.
Having played Royal Port Alfred (No 98) I travelled to East London and pulled in at Fish River about 30 kilometres away. The resort looked as if it was in lockdown, no one to be seen other than at the entrance boom and reception. The person on duty was disturbed by my presence, informing me that the course was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. She became alarmed when I asked if I could walk to the 18th green. “You cannot,” she stressed behind her mask, as if I was entering Chernobyl. She was happy to see me retreat back out the front door, but I wasn’t heading for my car. I knew a side entrance, and surreptitiously sidled alongside the bush flanking the tenth hole.
Fish River Sun, which Player designed in the late 1980s, was ranked as high as 19th in the Top 100 rankings of 2002/03. But the loss of the casino licence at the resort spelled its slow demise. Plus, it was something of a design dinosaur. It’s amazing that it’s still operating, and not full of grazing cattle. The Mantis Group have a short-term lease on the hotel and are desperate to attract golfers. One promotion is buy a breakfast for R80 and get a free round.
I needed to see what Fish River was like in terms of conditioning, and was pleasantly surprised when I found the tenth green with a healthy covering of grass, and running at a reasonable speed. The course was very playable. Just a shame it’s so remote. At 180 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, and 120 from East London, it is far from a major centre.
Golfers in East London are certainly no longer supporting Fish River, but rather the Olivewood estate east of the city at Chintsa. After starting out four years ago as an exclusive club with a high-end green fee and a course with a reputation as a ball-gobbler, it has become an attractive value for money destination complete with accommodation. The course is fun to play and the rough has been cleared to make it a pleasant experience.
It’s a hilly layout which unfortunately means that a golf cart is essential, yet what an asset this is for Eastern Cape golf. East London now has a good second course to complement the Top 10 attraction of East London GC.
Olivewood was designed by local golfer Algy Kietzmann, a former Sunshine Tour pro who used to operate a driving range at Beacon Bay. Construction of the 18 holes on a difficult site was by Chintsa resident Tim Davidson, the man who got the project rolling in the first place. Kietzmann then shaped the greens complexes with TLB operator Mike Malewa. The finished product is quite a remarkable achievement. The bent grass greens are superb putting surfaces. Dare I say it, but Algy has cleverly designed the holes to suit his draw!
There are some fabulous holes which most golfers will enjoy, and several others unique in appearance. It’s challenging, but even with all the ups and downs extremely fair. Hitting my tee shot over a ravine on the downhill eighth was one of the biggest thrills I’ve had on a golf course this year. I’d recommend Olivewood as a novel experience which compares with the likes of Wild Coast and Pinnacle Point. It will leave you wanting to play it again as soon as possible.