David Melman is the Golf Manager at Huddle Park in Johannesburg, and I worked out it must be both exhilarating and at the same time annoying to play golf with him. David is a genial sort of guy with a friendly smile and a strong physique. Which probably explains why he is one of the longest drivers of a golf ball, certainly in South Africa. He’s competed on the Long Driving circuits, including the world champs in Las Vegas. He’s smacked a drive 450 metres in competition!
You can imagine what it’s like to play golf with him. You get on the tee of a medium to long par 4, hit your drive, and then wait for David. He’s in no hurry to tee off. First, he needs the fourball in front of him to be out of range before he launches one of his ‘bombs.’ And being out of range probably means them being on the green.
“People look at me as if I’m a joking when I say I’m waiting,” he says. “The greens of many par 4s are in range. I was on the first tee of the Woodmead course at CCJ, a downhill par 4 about 380 metres. The starter thought I was unnecessarily holding up play by waiting, and insisted I go. I wasn’t happy about it, because I’m concerned about hitting someone. My drive pitched short of the green, took a big bounce and struck a golfer who was putting.”
Back in 2001 Melman had what is still thought to be the longest hole-in-one in South Africa. That was at the 351-metre fourth hole at Oppenheimer Park. Two years later he started competing on the professional Long Drive circuits.
In a tournament at the Royal Swazi Spa he boomed a drive on the 460-metre par-5 12th which finished on the front edge of the green, to the amazement of both him and his playing partners.
Melman began his career in the golf industry at White River in Mpumalanga where he apprenticed as a PGA pro under Peter Nicholl. He worked at Leopard Creek, then had several long stints in the retail business with The Golfers Club and Pro Shop. It was after being retrenched from The Pro Shop that he was offered a job at Huddle Park when it reopened in 2013.
His current position is a wide ranging one, because Huddle Park is more than just a pay-and-play golf facility. The property occupies 130 hectares and has a 9-hole Par 3 course, public driving range, bike and running trails, 5-a-side soccer pitches, and Acro-branch. The owners are now preparing to build an equestrian centre in the heart of Johannesburg.
The golf shop at Huddle Park also specialises in sales of second hand equipment and golf balls, reminiscent of Roger Manning’s old shop in the 1990s before Huddle Park became derelict. “We do an amazing amount of trade in rental sets here,” said Melman, “but as you can see we have no apparel. Golfers who come here want the basics – balls, gloves, caps.”
My travels on the Road Trip have taken me to Pecanwood Estate on the shores of the Hartbeespoort Dam. It’s a fabulous place to live, surrounded by the beautiful Magaliesberg range, and there are some 600 permanent residents. There’s a Boat Club, and General Manager Morne Botha took me for a cruise around the dam in a sleek Monterey sports boat.
Passing the 9-hole Sandy Lane course on the opposite side of the dam to Pecanwood, he told me of a rather unique tournament.
“We have a day where about 100 Pecanwood members play the 27-hole Boat Challenge,” he said. “The golfers are divided into three groups, and we play 9 holes at Pecanwood, Sandy Lane and Magalies Park, which is up the river at the far end of the dam. We travel by boat to each venue, where golf carts are waiting. There’s a shotgun start, so that everyone returns to their boats at the same time. Then we all meet back at Pecanwood for the prizegiving.”
I’d love to hear from readers of special tournaments of this kind. Visiting Kyalami Country Club I see that they host the Back to Back Challenge. It’s 18 holes playing from the very back tees to 18 back pin positions, which stretches the course to 7000 metres.
That’s not as long as the King of the Tips at Blair Atholl. They have an event for members and another which is open to members from other clubs. That’s 7500 metres from the gold tees; seriously long. I played the club’s silver tees with General Manager Paul Marks, and soon realised I was out of my depth. At 6742 metres the club tees are longer than the championship tees at most Gauteng courses. I don’t know when last I failed to make a par!
Paul, who had a long run as chairman of the PGA of SA, made Blair Atholl’s silver tees look like a walk in the park, having 6 birdies in a 67. For a man turning 50 this year he has an impressive game, and I fully expect him to contend on the local senior tour.
A highlight at Blair Atholl is the outdoor halfway house on a deck overlooking the Crocodile River. What a superb idea. And Saturday mornings they serve a breakfast for members and visitors.
Most golfing staff use carts to get around the course, but not Kevin Wylie, the golf operations manager at Pecanwood. He has an E-bike (called the Chilled Squirrel) with which he prowls around, swooping like a hawk on unsuspecting residents getting up to no good – like diving for golf balls in a water hazard or hitting shots during quiet times.
It has fat tires to reduce compaction on the course, and can seat two people, at a squeeze. He allowed me to take it for a spin on a fairway and I was instantly hooked. Perfect for whizzing around a golf estate. Sling a light bag over your shoulders and off you go.