In South Africa, the Halfway House stop has for countless years been a traditional part of every round we play. It’s normally a room in the clubhouse adjoining the kitchen, yet there are 20 Top 100 courses with stand-alone halfway houses, some quite fancy. Kingswood in George, instead of a halfway, has two quarter houses after the fifth and 13th holes where golfers are allowed a brief stop.
The majority of golfers in many other countries never feel the need to break for a meal midway through 18 holes, yet South Africans will not tolerate tackling the second nine without sustenance unless they’re in a tearing hurry and the course is clear. Those clubs that have tried to circumvent the halfway house tradition, perhaps with a grab-and-go policy, have not been popularly received.
The food varies from club to club, dependent on who is catering. Some provide a range of dishes to tempt the palate, others not much choice other than a toasted sandwich, burger or pie. (Durban Country Club’s pies with curry gravy are legendary.) Bacon and eggs are standard fare. (Hermanus does an excellent help-yourself breakfast buffet.)
A better-than-average halfway house, with a tasty menu, is something most golfers appreciate and eagerly await. The offering at many clubs has improved in recent years, particularly with the conversion of some golf estate clubhouses into lifestyle centres to attract non-golfing residents. It’s noticeable that golf estates make up 70 percent of the leading 30 halfway houses.
THE BEER CART AT ST ANDREWS
The original version of the halfway house is said to have evolved from a service provided in the 19th century on the Old Course at St Andrews. The par-4 fourth is known as the Ginger Beer Hole. The teeing ground of that hole was where David “Daw” Anderson used to park his basketwork cart and quench the thirst of golfers with his home-made ginger beer and lemon juice. Golfers made use of it on their way back to the clubhouse, at the adjoining 15th hole. In later years his successor had golf balls for sale.
“Daw” was at various times a greenskeeper, golf club maker, and caddie for Allan Robertson, one of the game’s first professionals. His son James Anderson won three consecutive Opens from 1877 to 1879.
The Old Course today is one of the few links in Scotland which has a proper halfway house facility, and a substantial building at that, behind the ninth green and tenth tee. It’s the only one at St Andrews. However, golfers are not encouraged to linger. Once served their cup of coffee and sandwich they hasten back to the tee, unless they want to relinquish their place in the field.
SOPHISTICATED DINING AT HIGH-END CLUBS
Halfway houses have become ever more sophisticated in the 21st century, notably at exclusive high-end clubs the world over where members feel that dining (and drinking unusual concoctions) is an essential part of the playing experience. It definitely impresses their guests.
On that score, three of South Africa’s best halfway houses are to be found at Blair Atholl, Leopard Creek and The Links at Fancourt, which rank among our most exclusive golfing properties.
Blair Atholl, ranked the No 1 halfway house on the Top 100 Courses website, offers something unique and stylish, an alfresco dining experience on the banks of the Crocodile River flowing through the Gauteng estate. It comes after the par-3 eighth hole, rather than the ninth, to take advantage of the idyllic setting.
The river is more a narrow stream, yet in December 2022, immediately after Blair Atholl had hosted the SA Open, heavy rains turned it into a wide torrent, which flooded and damaged the halfway house, a small and rudimentary structure.
Yet size is unimportant at Blair Atholl. Being a one-tee course there is usually only one fourball being served at any time. When the next group arrives you know it’s time to reluctantly leave. A chef is on hand preparing hot food, and you can eat whatever is available as the cost is part of the green fee.
LEOPARD CREEK, CCJ AND THE LINKS
Leopard Creek’s halfway house (No 2) is situated on a sunny upstairs deck at the rear of the clubhouse, coincidentally overlooking another far larger Crocodile River. It’s a favourite spot and a busier area, attracting not just golfers but anyone seeking a cup of tea and a quick snack with friends. A quality presentation of mostly cold food is refreshing on a warm Lowveld day.
Country Club Johannesburg ranks No 3, and the quality and rich variety of the halfway offering has played a large part in that. Catering for two golf courses and club members it is essentially a buffet restaurant, serving a selection of tempting meals, healthy and otherwise, throughout the day. I often plump for fish and chips, and do feel a bit full starting the second nine.
The Links at Fancourt, No 4, has without doubt one of the most attractive stand-alone halfway houses I’ve seen on my travels, built on a rise overlooking the green of the par-5 ninth hole, some distance from the clubhouse. The views of the Garden Route mountain range are breathtaking. Again, relatively compact, with an outside area of tables for golfers. The food is exceptional, and I once memorably sat down to a seared tuna steak and salad, followed by a Magnum.
There used to be an hourglass, or sand timer, hanging in the halfway house, which measured the length of time a fourball could stay, but that sadly appears to have disappeared in recent years.
TOP 50 HALFWAY HOUSES
1 Blair Atholl, 2 Leopard Creek, 3 Country Club Johannesburg,
4 The Links at Fancourt, 5 Hermanus, 6 The Club at Steyn City,
7 Atlantic Beach, 8 Bryanston, 9 Knysna, 10 San Lameer
11 Pretoria CC, 12 Champagne Sports Resort, 13 Lost City,
14 Paarl, 15 Pearl Valley, 16 De Zalze, 17 Serengeti,
18 The Belmont, 19 Steenberg, 20 Houghton
21 Zimbali, 22 Kambaku, 23 Eagle Canyon, 24 Gowrie Farm,
25 Cotswold Downs, 26 Woodhill, 27 St Francis Links,
28 Arabella, 29 Erinvale, 30 The Lakes at MECC
31 Goose Valley, 32 Simola, 33 Bosch Hoek, 34 Durbanville,
35 Royal Johannesburg, 36 Glendower, 37 Gary Player CC,
38 Stellenbosch, 39 Fancourt Outeniqua, 40 Killarney
41 Randpark, 42 Olivewood, 43 Kingswood,
44 Fancourt Montagu, 45 Goldfields West, 46 Royal Cape,
47 Dainfern, 48 Ebotse Links, 49 Westlake, 50 Pinnacle Point
TOP 20 IN GAUTENG
1 Blair Atholl, 2 Country Club Johannesburg, 3 The Club at Steyn City,
4 Bryanston, 5 Pretoria CC, 6 Serengeti, 7 Houghton, 8 Eagle Canyon,
9 Woodhill, 10 Royal Johannesburg, 11 Glendower, 12 Killarney,
13 Randpark, 14 Goldfields West, 15 Dainfern, 16 Ebotse Links,
17 Kyalami, 18 Wingate Park, 19 Centurion, 20 Emfuleni
TOP 20 IN EAST & WEST CAPE
1 The Links at Fancourt, 2 Hermanus, 3 Atlantic Beach, 4 Knysna,
5 Paarl, 6 Pearl Valley, 7 De Zalze, 8 The Belmont, 9 Steenberg,
10 St Francis Links, 11 Arabella, 12 Erinvale, 13 Goose Valley,
14 Simola, 15 Durbanville, 16 Stellenbosch, 17 Fancourt Outeniqua,
18 Olivewood, 19 Kingswood, 20 Fancourt Montagu
TOP 10 IN KZN
1 San Lameer, 2 Champagne Sports Resort, 3 Zimbali,
4 Gowrie Farm, 5 Cotswold Downs, 6 The Lakes at MECC,
7 Bosch Hoek, 8 Prince’s Grant, 9 Umhlali, 10 Selborne Park.