When we return to Cape Town in a few years (something we devoutly hope to do), things golf related will have changed dramatically, for perhaps nowhere in the world is the golf boom having such a salutary effect on foreign investment as in South Africa. Just outside Cape Town, there are four new courses under construction or in the planning stages. A Nicklaus design is the foundation of a new development in Paarl that is scheduled to open in 1999, and the next year Stellenbosch will boast a new Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout. Of course the dominant golf presence in South Africa has always been Gary Player, and that is no less true today. Having designed Fancourt and Erinvale (and about seventeen others across South Africa), he is now developing his old farm into a housing project that includes a golf course called Goose Valley, whose second nine is expected to open in 2000. Meanwhile, the older courses are upgrading. Royal Cape, host to seven South African Opens, is rebuilding some holes and adding a huge lake. Paarl Golf Course has plans to add a third nine to be designed by Ernie Els. This new layout will be the first step in a complete course renovation aimed at transforming Paarl into a world-class golfing destination. That is something the region around Cape Town can already claim to be. Here are some of the best reasons to visit.
The world first glimpsed this gorgeous Player-designed course (which opened in 1994) during the 1996 World Cup, won by South Africans Ernie Els and Wayne Westner. Player loves to add traditional elements to his courses, and here he cut in deep Scottish sod bunkers next to the greens -- unique for a parkland course. The first seven holes run through flatlands before you get the first picturesque view: Helderberg Mountain through tall fir trees at the par-three eighth. The 170-yard hole rises slightly uphill from the elevated tee, and the eye rises with it to note two bunkers in back and above the green -- a seeming design quirk until you realize that they serve as catch basins for the adjacent seventeenth green. After the tough ninth hole, the course turns playful on the rolling back nine. The short par fours at the tenth and eleventh require precise tee and approach shots, but it can be hard to concentrate because of the spectacular views. From the back tees the course measures about 7,200 yards.
How To Get a Tee Time: Out of season (April through October), reservations can be made two weeks in advance. In season, you can book a month ahead. Local hotels, including Erinvale Estate Hotel, can assist in getting you on. From December 1 to January 31, the course is reserved for members.
Contact: Bruce Bain, golf director
Location: About thirty minutes southeast of central Cape Town in Somerset West, across from the Vergelegen Wine Estate
Greens Fee: About $50. Nonmember play is best on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Carts ($24) are mandatory.
Nearby Courses: There are two public tracks worth playing: Somerset West (011-27-21-852-3625) and The Strand (011-27-21-854-3309). The former, an older, flat course, winds through eucalyptus and pine, and the Strand sports nine holes with water in play -- a real test in windy conditions.
Located in an exclusive housing development in the Constantia valley, Steenberg is a very private club, but the trouble arranging a tee time is well worth it. Architect Peter Matkovich balanced the layout so that holes pass through pine forest, wetlands, Cape flats and fynbos (an indigenous bush). His distinctive touch is in the chipping areas -- aprons of short bent grass that present many options for getting to the pin. From the back tees, the par-seventy-two course stretches out to nearly 7,100 yards, with the best holes on the back nine. The most notable is the 220-yard par-three fourteenth, whose green is eighty yards long from front to back (the groundskeeper walks more than a half mile during each mowing) and is encircled by a large waste bunker. But the best hole is the 515-yard twelfth, a crescent-thin par five that curls left around a waste bunker more than two hundred yards long. The right side of the narrow fairway is bordered by thick natural grasses, then a stand of small pine set against another stand of larger ones, which itself is set against Steenberg Mountain. At the mountaintop it's possible to see the rock formation called the Elephant's Eye. The 180-yard seventeenth, with two oak trees framing the view of the green and the vineyards to the right, is a close second.
How To Get a Tee Time: Visitors must play with members or be a guest of the Steenberg Country Hotel, a first-rate historic inn with Dutch Cape architecture. Nineteen rooms are available, starting around $230 a night. Information can be obtained through its New York sales office (212-465-0619).
Contact: Brian Lundie, golf director
Location: Twenty minutes southwest of central Cape Town, about one mile from the end of the M3 expressway
Greens Fee: For hotel guests, $25
Nearby Courses: Two miles from Steenberg is Westlake, a 6,500-yard parkland course that has a distinct charm, with narrow fairways, towering cypress trees, small greens (011-27-21-788-2020). About ten miles south near Fish Hoek is Clovelly, another parkland course that works through woodlands and dunes. When the greens are in condition, it's a gem (011-27-21-782-6410).