GOLF IN THE KA­ROO

En­joy­ing the 21st Proud­foot Tro­phy at a re­mark­able Ka­roo 9-holer.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean

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.

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