Fancourt: Jewel in South Africa’s Golfing Crown

The Western Cape’s Garden Route is rightly regarded as one of South Africa’s ultimate destinations, with a breathtaking array of choices for family fun or individual pursuits.

From the beaches of Plettenberg, to the holiday feel of scenic Knysna, the natural wonders of Wilderness and so much more, one could frolic for weeks on end with surprises at every turn.

But there are also some amongst us who go to the Garden Route for a single reason, largely oblivious to the rest of the items on the Western Cape menu.

To some of us, that part of the world is actually known as the Golfing Route, dotted as it is with such fantastically playable courses, rich in history and charm.

From established stalwarts like George Country Club and Plettenberg Bay’s offering, onto the coast-hugging Instagram vistas of Pinnacle Point, not to mention the elevated Pezula and Simola, the region is simply overflowing with options to suit the avid golfer.

Courting Fans

The dazzling jewel in this considerable golfing crown, however, is Fancourt. Simply put, it is Africa’s ultimate golfing destination, and a place that many call home. Fancourt, 7 km from George Airport, lies on 613 hectares of pristine countryside sheltered by the Outeniqua Mountains.

It’s more than a golf estate. It is a community, a large family of people brought together by the appreciation of the finest things in life.

Fancourt Family Recreation
Fancourt Family Recreation: image courtesy of Fancourt

Fancourt is an exceedingly special place, even amidst the natural abundance that is the Garden Route. As soon as you drive into the estate, there is a sense of occasion. The clubhouse that serves the Outeniqua and Montagu courses is cavernous, with plenty of corners to sit and natter as a family or a golfing fourball.

Clubhouse lounge
Clubhouse lounge: image courtesy of Fancourt

Choices, Choices, Choices

There are three dining options, besides the club lounge, to suit the casual and the immaculately turned-out patrons who want to make an occasion of things.

The clubhouse is a hub of activity, with the soundtrack of happy children at ease in their surroundings.

The accommodation choices are also varied, with 115 rooms and suites dotted around the Montagu course, as well as houses that can be rented out by families and golf groups.

The Manor House Exterior
The Manor House Exterior: image courtesy of Fancourt

For the well-heeled, the butler-serviced Manor House is a truly majestic experience. The Cotswold mansion-style abode is the former house of 1850s British engineer Henry Fancourt White, and is a bespoke offering where nothing is impossible. The overall service and attention to detail elevates Fancourt to its world class billing as a hotel, never mind the golfing opportunities.

The Manor House Gazebo
The Manor House Gazebo: image courtesy of Fancourt

This consistency has been recognised over the years, with a host of hospitality awards, including a recent acknowledgment by Golf Digest as one of the Best Golf Resorts in Africa and Asia.

The Manor House Canapes
The Manor House Canapes: image courtesy of Fancourt

For the pampering of weary limbs, the hotel spa is easily accessible by the clubhouse, and there are hiking trails for those guests who want a break from all the golf on offer – or if they just want to really earn the therapeutic call that follows in the well-appointed spa facilities.

All the amenities of a modern, family-friendly estate are at hand, and the staff at all levels are particularly friendly. There is a pride in being a Fancourt employee, part of a rich heritage of understated luxury.

Three of the Best

Fancourt Outeniqua Golf Course
Fancourt Outeniqua Golf Course: image courtesy of Fancourt

There are three championship courses at Fancourt, each requiring your full attention to get the better of them. Outeniqua is an excellent parkland track, shooting out to the captivating mountains it gets its name from. Though some dare to call it the easiest of the three golf courses on the estate, Outeniqua bares its teeth with subtle elevations, a deceptive wind whipping off the mountain, and massive putting surfaces that place a premium on accuracy.

Fancourt Montagu Golf Course
Fancourt Montagu Golf Course: image courtesy of Fancourt

The Montagu course commands respect from anyone who sets foot upon it. There is more than a hint of Augusta National to its parkland design. The grass even looks Masters blazer green, and the examination of one’s golfing prowess is just as sincere. Montagu is long and uncompromising, with the sweeping fairways often requiring a medium or long-iron approach into greens that are on the speedy side.

You simply have to bring your A game to a track that even pro golfers consider to be one of the toughest tests in South Africa. The 16th hole was designed with Augusta’s 12th hole in mind, with water, carefully placed bunkers and what looks a small target welcoming the golfer to his final stretch of holes.

Famous Links

The Links Golf Course
The Links Golf Course: image courtesy of Fancourt

If you are a guest at the Fancourt Hotel, you may find yourself lucky enough to be offered one of the limited slots to play at The Links, South Africa’s top-ranked course. Host to an unforgettable President’s Cup duel that ended in a famous tie between Jack Nicklaus’ American team and Gary Player’s International side, spearheaded by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els respectively, The Links at Fancourt are an absolute bucket-list item for the avid golfer.

The Links Golf Course
The Links Golf Course: image courtesy of Fancourt

Words fail to adequately describe just how awe-inspiring The Links is at first glance. Everything is different, and the Gary Player designed experience stays long in the mind.

The smallest detail is emphasised and you feel like a golfing professional for but a day, because of the attention and the silence that surrounds you during your round.

Testing Tees, Lies, Pins

There are limited tee times for Hotel guests because The Links is, well, special. It operates on its own schedule, where time stops and nature talks. The golf itself is mind-blowing, requiring the most exacting shot-making in your arsenal. A local caddie is worth his weight in gold at Fancourt, but even more so at The Links. The design fools the uninitiated eye, with subtle changes in elevation. You also never seem to have a flat lie on the fairways, so concentration is a premium.

From the club tees, the course may appear on the short side, but the defence is based heavily on the slopes on the greens, and some devilish pin positions.

In this modern world of constant noise and news, The Links is a temporary pause button. It is an escape, from Fancourt even, and a step into golfing nirvana. Sitting at the simple, stone-walled halfway house in the middle of nowhere, you are reminded of just how special the place is.

The brutal path back to the clubhouse includes a bunker savagely named as The Coffin, as it can snuff out any momentum. Fittingly, the closing par-five hole climbs up to the clubhouse at the crest of a hill. From the back tees, it is an almighty carry over the gorge, before a final tap-in, and a welcoming drink from veteran Links staff such as Sipho Kalawe, who is eager to hear your tales of woe and glory from the hallowed fairways.

As experiences go, the entire Fancourt estate is unforgettable. The golf is challenging, demanding even. The hospitality is luxurious and, more than even that, the attentive staff ensure that you can’t wait to come back for more.

Umdoni Park, KwaZulu-Natal- a hidden golfing secret

A Challenging Walk in the Park

You haven’t played KwaZulu-Natal coastal golf until you’ve toured Umdoni Park, a top 100 course. Perched, like a hidden secret, within an indigenous forest and overlooking the Indian Ocean, it is a fantastic challenge for golfers of all levels.

Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe
Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe

The secret to the golf club’s enduring success is the warmth of its members and staff. Within minutes of arrival, you feel part of the place – which is just as well, ahead of the challenge that awaits.

The sharp elevation of some approach shots, particularly on the front nine, speak to deceptive design, and you under club at your peril.

Often, a golfer is most fearful of that which they don’t know. The members will tell you to pack plenty of club for each shot chasing the safety of the green.

Don’t Come Up Short

For players coming from up north, where the air is light and the ball flies forever, best you adjust your yardage early. You will need at least two clubs longer, and that is before you take the wind into consideration. Here, too, the course can hoodwink the uninitiated. Even if you can’t feel it beneath the trees, your shot will be affected.

Terrific features of Umdoni are the short holes on the course. Each is unique in character, and places a massive premium on accuracy. The charming third and the wicked 12th both require little more than a wedge, but they can both gobble up a shot short on distance.

Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie
Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie

There are plenty of candidates for a signature hole, but the closing stretch of four holes, heading back to the clubhouse and the sea, will demand your last bit of concentration.

The final hole, from a tee box that has a view as vast as it is blue, is a wonderful par-five. The heroes will try and get there in two big blows, but water near the green combine with forest on the left to protect a well-bunkered putting surface.

Convivial Clubhouse Company

Head into the convivial 19th hole for tales of adventure and what could have been, as the wind outside whips up and brings in the night.

Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe
Photo courtesy of Ndimbulele Khasibe

If you’re eating, the clubhouse restaurant has some excellent choices every day expect Monday, including a truly sumptuous fillet dish that would sit proudly at any reputable eatery.

Rustic or Baronial?

If you’ve travelled from afar, Umdoni’s range of accommodations offerings suit every budget and party size. For the modern Tarzan and friends, there are rustic dwellings near the 12th green- the self-catering forest cottages which accommodate up to 20 people, well away from anyone else. You can be as loud as you want, and only the resident mambas (snakes) might complain.

Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland
Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland

For those after a more genteel night’s rest, Botha House sits between the estate entrance and the clubhouse. Botha House was originally built for General Louis Botha as a beach retreat for his wife Annie. Today this sensitively restored, gracious homestead stands proudly above the ocean, the sound of the waves crashing on the Umdoni Point rocks below.

Surrounded by rolling lawns, it has a certain country charm and appealing grandeur. Its architecture is unmistakably Cape Dutch, its interior elegantly colonial- think columned entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, country house paraphernalia, fireplaces, oil landscapes and portraits- and it is a sublimely relaxing retreat.

Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland
Photo courtesy of Angela Buckland

The four rooms of the manor house are glorious and cavernous, with views towards the sea or the forest. The staff, led by the knowledgeable Charles, are attentive and knock up a traditional breakfast, which you can take in the grand dining room or on the terrace, with the morning sun and sea breeze for company.

Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie
Photo courtesy of Alex Crowie

It is an experience that speaks of a bygone era, where time went by as slowly as the gin and tonics. There are also cottages dotted around the main house, and these are also comfortable and make for fine double rooms.

Off Course, On Track

It’s not all about golf, so golfing widows or widowers have plenty of options. That forest I mentioned? Imagine riding through the forest simply enjoying the solitude and hearing nothing more than birds tweeting and the hooves of your horse as you make your way along the trails.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Stoffels
Photo courtesy of Shannon Stoffels

There are walking trails with Bushbuck, Impithi, Red Duiker and so much more, running trails with weekly parkruns and myruns, and cycling tracks, over 120 tree species, ditto for grassland species, a resident pair of Crowned Eagles and over 150 bird species.

Photo courtesy of Thobekani Mdletshe
Photo courtesy of Thobekani Mdletshe

For the more adventurous, hike down to the gorge and along the Nkumbane River and Ridge Trail. Stop off at the Otter View Site and take-in the forest sights and smells.

Photo courtesy of Khulasande Tshayile
Photo courtesy of Khulasande Tshayile

There’s a whale watching deck, lovely picnic area, an Environmental centre, with interactive walks to learn about the fauna and flora. The beach has a tidal pool and the best access to Pennington point, a renowned fishing spot.

Photo courtesy of Thando Ngcobo
Photo courtesy of Thando Ngcobo

Closing Shots

It is easy to forget that KZN has two coasts, completely different in manner or manor.
The well-heeled North attracts the attention, and even more so after the airport relocated. Everything happens quicker on that side of Durban.
But, as the international pandemic has reminded us, there is still a time and a place for old creature comforts.
Like the south coast, and hidden treats like Umdoni and it’s wonderful people.
Go.
Play.
Stay a while.
Visit www.umdonipark.com

Fancourt: Jewel in South Africa’s Golfing Crown

The Royal Portfolio, South Africa