The Links, Fancourt, George, South Africa
I had wind of a mystery links course created in South Africa by Gary Player. Real links? in South Africa? designed by Gary Player who knows how a links course should play. Must be on the list so when I found myself in Cape Town the extra 270 miles to George, each way, was a rounding error on my travels. Not so for my wife whose trepidation was assuaged only by the comforts of the Fancourt Hotel where we were obliged to stay for two nights in order to access the privately owned Links course.
South Africa is a great golfing destination with many scenic courses laid out to appeal to all tastes at reasonable prices. It also has a fantastic coast line with large stretches of the coast being ringed by mountainous dunes. The sporting life is embraced and refreshed by wines, beer and food to suit anyone’s palette. Just a little longer in the air.
Every comfort for the visiting golfer is accommodated; club hire, caddies, practice facilities and even a whisky decanter on the first tee. Service levels we do not often find in Europe. Pre-order your half way house refreshments and take the journey. Visually The Links is a resounding success, plenty of space surrounds each banked hole making each one it’s own amphitheatre. Bordered by wild grasses, dirt bunkers and the like to give the impression of Scottish wildness.
Temperature dictates that the fairways are sown with local grasses so that the springy turf does not feel or play like a genuine links and the fairways are rather too green on the eye. Climate also requires that it is well watered. This combination eliminates many of the greenside shots you might face on a Scottish links. But as it is laid out as a links running shots into the greens are still favoured and the undulations in the fairway and surrounding the greens help you enlarge your target landing area as opposed to rewarding the lobbing of darts from on high.
For the most part the fairways are wide with out-lying cart tracks though the rough beyond that is not for the fainthearted. Sensibly, most rough is marked as a lateral hazard to retain your sanity and the speed of play. In fact the wetland areas of the course are the most beautiful as they are filled with birds and lilies and crossed by walkways. The fecundity of the scene is again a contrast to our seaside links. But hey, this is Africa, they do things differently here and the overall impression is a genuine interpretation of links golf. Yes we are 10 miles from the sea, and no we are not in sand dunes but I think they have done an excellent job.
My delightful caddy was not so keen on pronouncing the Scots hole names; Lang drop, Sheer murrrder, Westward Ho! And Near the dram. I found the shorter par 4’s more interesting, the first being a good starter, as they all had more thoughtful green complexes, greater numbers of fairway bunkers, 6, or steeply banked greens,10, which is rather Lytham like, 14 is a well nestled green, 15 is a great dog leg with distractingly beautiful wetlands.
The par 3s contrast, Lang drop test your club selection on the second, 8 is guarded at the front by bunkers and water, 11 is innocent until you reach the green divided by the eponymous valley challenging the putter’s creativity. Whilst 17 is, for some reason called Prayer.
The par 5s are well laid out with water in front on the two outward holes more twists on 13 and 16 and a damn good heave ho is required on the last.
As a 15 handicapper on my holidays with rented clubs I did not bring it to it’s knees despite the best efforts of Garry, my caddy, not Gary, the designer’s fault either. I played twice to get to know the course and my composite score was respectable but it is a little too easy to run up a nine if it all starts going a bit Druze (Walid Jumblatt is the Lebanese Druze leader whose name is onomatopoeic for how my game feels when it all goes wrong. He is probably a fantastic golfer for all I know).
There is a little echo of many great links holes on this layout which will bring back personal memories of home, it as an African homage to the links, 18 little altars to the links that Gary loves. And for all that I loved it.
The green fee is high for SA but fair for Europe and the level of service and comfort provided by the club and the hotel are worth every penny. And they kindly reduced my second green fee, dramatically, so I could make a donation to Alzheimer’s Society. When you return to the hotel you can see the other two courses here and wonder why, despite the splendour of the Outeniqua mountains, you would ever play a parkland course again. A great advertisement for links golf adapted for the climate not blindly copied. It is rated number 1 in Africa, is home to a Sunshine Tour event and is well worth watching if it comes up on your tv schedule.