GOLF IN THE KAROO
Enjoying the 21st Proudfoot Trophy at a remarkable Karoo 9-holer.
Proudfoot festival at Graaff-Reinet.
Historic Graaff-Reinet is a beautiful Karoo town, said to be home to more national monuments than any other place in South Africa. Surrounded by mountains, it is a lonely settlement in the heart of this arid southern region, 225 kilometres north of Port Elizabeth.
In bygone days, Graaff-Reinet produced outstanding sportsmen, among them our earliest golfing legend, Douglas Proudfoot.This undisputed national amateur champion from the 1890s bequeathed the Proudfoot Trophy for the winner of the SA Amateur qualifying rounds, and his name was embraced for an annual festival of golf in Graaff-Reinet.
Not having a handicap low enough to enter the SA Amateur, I settled for the other Proudfoot Trophy, where I could familiarise myself with one of the best 9-hole layouts in South Africa – rated in the top 10 of 9-holers by Golf Digest in 2013. Following my March visit I can confirm that Graaff-Reinet comfortably deserves its place on that list.
This is a relatively modern layout, one that would astonish Mr Proudfoot, who never lived to see the creation of a grass course in his home town, despite hanging around until as late as 1960. He played on oil and sand greens. Only in the early 1990s did this green oasis in the Karoo take root. It has grown into a stunning bushveld location, filled with some of the spikiest thorn trees in Africa.
This year the Graaff-Reinet Golf Club hosted the 21st Proudfoot; three days of individual Stableford, attracting a varied crowd of men and women golfers from various parts of the Cape. I joined a festive crowd from Somerset West GC who have supported the event for years, and usually rebook their accommodation before leaving town.There are numerous B&Bs and guest houses, plus the luxury Drostdy Hotel – a monument in its own right – but the town fills up quickly at certain times of the year. It has the Union Schools, founded in 1919.
The size of the Proudfoot field varies between 80 and 100 each day, so it’s not a squash.There is a low-key homely feel to the Proudfoot compared to the bustle and booziness you find at some festival weeks. After golf, everyone fitted into the bar and/or the popular outside deck overlooking the 18th.The club is a few kilometres outside town, so the star-filled Karoo evenings are magical.The clubhouse lounge seated everyone for the evening prizegivings and dinners.
While I loved the golf course, I will probably return for the food! The R1 000 entry fee not only covers 54 holes of golf and halfway meals, but also the most hospitable of Karoo spreads. Homemade pies the first night, a lamb and wors braai the second with potato bake, and the piece de resistance on the Saturday night finale, roast lamb on the spit with roast potatoes.There were many takers for seconds, even though there was dessert to follow. A bow to the kitchen staff who prepared these culinary feasts.
A tribute was paid on the last night to a man called Reg Holmes, who died last year.A former club president, the new course was his labour of love, and he raised it to the quality we see today. Built on a curve of the Sundays River, which runs through Graaff-Reinet (although there’s so much foliage the river is invisible to golfers), it is a strong test at 6 022 metres (with a 530-metre par 5), even allowing for there being only one conventional hazard on the course, an artificial pond in front of the final green.There are no bunkers.
The true hazards at Graaff-Reinet are the trees which not only line the fairways, but sit squarely in the middle of them on three of the nine holes.They reminded me of the course at Sishen in the Northern Cape. On the eighth/17th you have to shape your shot either over, under or around a bulky tree to get a look at the
green.The design of the holes favours the player with a natural draw, because that takes you away from much of the trouble.
With my fade, my ball – which quickly lost its white sheen – regularly ran into the tree line, from which there is virtually no escape other than an obligatory chip back to the fairway.The shade was welcome, but otherwise frustrating. My first day playing partner, though, Colin Cloete (Royal Port Alfred), cruised to a 72 off 10 for 46 points. Scores at these festivals can be competitive.
The interestingly shaped greens are varied and challenging, some flat, some raised, some undulating, and therein lies much of the course’s character, and its elevation above other 9-holers. Planted with a hardy cynodon grass (Bayview), they were in excellent condition, running at a smooth pace which kept everyone alert when putting.
Graaff-Reinet has had good rains – the Nqweba Dam above the town was full – and the surrounding countryside greener than usual. One morning before golf our group visited theValley of Desolation, in Camdeboo National Park, and this and the Toposcope, with its bird’s-eye view of the town, are not to be missed by visitors. Above: The Graaff-Reinet golf course, with the 18th green on the right, and 16th on the left. Below: Local architecture, including the Gothic Groot Kerk.