Twice the size of Ireland
To give you an idea of the enormity of the Eastern Cape, it is twice the size of Ireland. But while Ireland has over 400 courses, the Eastern Cape has 50. Of our nine provinces, only the vast Northern Cape is larger in area. It’s a day’s drive on the N2 to get through the Eastern Cape; 900 kilometres from the Fynbos 9-holer on the western edge of the province, to the Wild Coast Sun CC on the eastern edge. The Wild Coast is technically part of the Eastern Cape, after provincial boundary changes, but not for the purposes of this article.
You could spend weeks exploring the region’s courses, but the easiest way to get around to the best of them is to start in Port Elizabeth, the biggest centre, take the coastal road to East London, and return via inland routes.A detour west to St Francis Bay will complete a trip of about 1 000 kilometres.
The Humewood Links on Algoa Bay is the crown jewel of Eastern Cape golf. It may only rank No 11 in Golf Digest’s Top 100, yet more reverence is attached to this natural piece of linksland by overseas raters than locals. The much travelled Australian Darius Oliver believes it is South Africa’s best course, and has accordingly ranked it in his Planet Golf World 100 ranking, at No 94.
Several courses in South Africa are loosely termed as being a “links,” but Humewood is the real deal, comparable in design and looks to the famous links of the UK and Ireland.The remodelling of all 18 greens eight years ago made a big difference to the playability and challenge of Humewood, improving it dramatically. Its bent grass putting surfaces are the equal of any course along the coast. It’s unfortunate that Humewood has never been a wealthy club, because money could potentially transform their links into South Africa’s No 1, with improved classically shaped bunkering and the removal of all kikuyu grass from the property. Nothing much else needs to be done. A brilliantly routed layout, wonderful individual holes, and one of the country’s best clubhouses, already makes Humewood special.
Another rarity about Humewood, and one which makes it a great championship venue – it’s beyond reason to think that only one SA Open has been played there in the last 60 years – is a terrific practice facility.You seldom find such a spacious range at an old members club.
Humewood was once part of the Port Elizabeth Golf Club, until they became separate clubs in the early 1950s.The PEGC has long been the city’s premier club, with a parkland course in the suburbs. It’s particularly well kept, and always an interesting layout to play. I am at odds, though, with its signature hole, the par-5 eighth.The green sits on the opposite bank of a large dam from the fairway, requiring a brave long shot over water for anyone wishing to get there in two. Most golfers play it safe as a three-shotter, and this to me weakens the excitement factor. Surely it should be a long par 4, forcing more golfers to think about risk and reward.