Durban Country Club was one of many courses my group played around this South African city. We didn’t have any success arranging a tee time until one of us, a real dealmaker from Manhattan, called the course pro directly. When he told us of his success, we all wanted to know what he said to the pro.
“I told him we were all wealthy Americans with low handicaps and that he would be well taken care of by us.” Roars of laugher erupted from the foursome as we enjoyed a libation at the bar.
The day we arrived, my partner instructed the group to remain outside while he entered the pro shop to tip the pro $100. There was just one hitch. I was dressed in my snazzy golf shorts, which were unacceptable on the course. It really was not the shorts, but my socks. Turns out shorts are fine if you wear them with knee socks, which, of course, were available in the pro shop. Powder blue was the only color in stock, so you can imagine the laughter that ensued when I returned to the group decked out in my pastel hosiery.
A recent check of the Durban Country Club Web site suggests the club is now much friendlier than in the past vis-a-vis visiting golfers. The rate for non-accompanied golfers with a country club card is 340 rand. It’s 430 for those without. I’m also happy to report the sock rule is no longer in force, but it’s a good idea to bring along a pair of long pants — just in case.
Probably the greatest golf course in all of Africa, Durban Country Club has its roots in the former Royal Durban Golf Club. Royal Durban was prone to flooding. The threat of losing the South African Open spurred the construction of Durban Country Club in 1922, in time for the 1924 South African Open. The parcel of land selected was a mixture of dunes, dairy and chicken farms and a well-known picnic spot by the Blue Lagoon of the Indian Ocean. Laborers relied on donkeys and oxen to carve out the course hole by hole as there were no steam shovels available at the time.
Durban is rated consistently in the top 100 courses in the world and in the top 10 in Africa. It remains the home of the South African Open. The first five holes are often said to be the best starting holes in the world, so let’s begin there.
Hole 1 (354 meters, par 4)
I’ll never forget standing on the first hole in my shorts and powder blue knee socks looking out on one of the greatest courses in the world. I was playing golf in Africa. The hole has a narrow opening, which can be exacerbated if the wind is blowing in your face. With brush (in Africa it’s called “bush”) to your left and right, you will need an accurate drive. As we walked down the fairway to our drives, we noticed small Vervet monkeys in the trees — incredible! The monkeys are not residents of the course. They move about from Burman’s Bush (seven miles away) to neighboring Windsor Park. Your approach shot is to an elevated green with a deep drop off to the back and right.
Hole 2 (172 meters, par 3)
You’re not at home, so remember the conversion — a meter equals 1.09 yards. On this hole, you’re looking at about 189 yards off the tee to the center of the green. The tee box is the highest point on the course and offers you panoramic views of the Indian Ocean. Take a deep breath, as there is little room for errant shots. There is a valley in front of the green, bush to the right and the left side slopes down to the 17th fairway. To make matters worse, bunkers surround the green.
Hole 3 (468 meters, par 5)
This hole is rated the best third hole in the world and it is striking. The tee box is elevated on top of the sand dunes with the fairway carved into the valley between two adjacent dunes. Of course, from this vantage, wind can make or break your drive. Thick bush lines both sides of the fairway, so it demands accuracy. Make sure you take a moment to soak up the view from the green to the fairway behind as you leave this hole — it is magnificent!
Hole 4 (165 meters, par 3)
Not a particularly difficult hole, but you do shoot from an elevated tee box to a bowl-shaped green below. Remember to make a mental conversion, about 181 yards from tee box to green. Take care to avoid the bunkers that guard this hole.
Hole 5 (420 meters, par 4)
This is the No. 1 ranked handicapped hole on the course. At 462 yards off the tee to an undulating fairway, it’s long by par-4 standards. Accuracy is required off the tee and with a nearperfect drive, a fairway wood or low iron should reach the green. This hole easily can turn from a par 4 to a 5 with one wrong move. The approach to the green is narrow and it is well-guarded by two bunkers.
Hole 10 (512 meters, par 5)
This is the longest hole on the course and measures 563 yards. There is bush throughout your second and third shot and two bunkers protect the large green.
Hole 12 (143 meter, par 3)
No review of Durban Country Club would be complete without a review of the “Prince of Wales” hole. Why is it called the Prince of Wales? Because when he played the course in 1925, this particular hole took him 17 strokes to hole out. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck. The hole is a short par 3. From the elevated tee box, you are teeing off to a green that appears to be the flattened top of a dune. If you miss the green like the Prince of Wales, your ball rolls all the way down to the valley below on either side making for an impossible chip back up to the green. In front of and behind the green are two gigantic and deep bunkers to catch shots that fall short or travel over the green.
Hole 18 (250 meters, par 4)
This is your finishing hole in South Africa at the famed Durban Country Club. Big hitters can rip a shot to the green, which is only 275 yards away. There is bush to the left, a very steep dropoff to the right and a hollow to the front of the green. Beware of the bunkers on the right and left side of the green. Unless you can control a long drive, it’s best to go for a more conservative approach. It’s a great finishing hole with the clubhouse behind.
DURBAN COUNTRY CLUB
101 Walter Gilbert Road
Durban, 4001, South Africa
tel 27 31 3131700
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