GOLF Magazine published their first Top 100 courses in the World list in 1985. Durban Country Club is among those elite clubs that have stayed on the list since the beginning. The iconic landscape of the undulating Durban topology is the catalyst for such lofty global praise. As you walk off the first tee, the land begins to take over and you enter the gauntlet of humps and bumps along the opening fairway. Much dialogue surrounds the opening 5 holes, and the course deserves every ounce of the credit it receives by golfing critics around the world. Having just spent 4 days at Kruger National Park, the memories of ‘Elephant Burial Grounds’ returned to my head as I walked the undulating opening stretch at this old masterpiece. Naturally raised land-forms and beautifully exposed mounds echo effortlessly throughout this golfing amphitheater. Not only is this course stunning, but it is a fierce test worthy of the National Open. One is easily distracted standing on the elevated tee-boxes; however the treachery that waits below you shows little to no mercy if you decide to flirt with its sharp teeth. The downhill par 3 2nd hole is among the finest short holes in the world, followed by the world famous par 5 3rd hole which has cemented its place on the pedestal of epic par 5s. It’s the poster-child image of Durban Country Club, and for good reason. The par 3 4th hole is framed beautifully by the adjacent mounds and continues to demand a high degree of skill to hit the small target. Depending the wind direction, which is always a significant factor at Durban, I considered the 5th hole as the toughest par 4 on the course, if not the country, with its tight tee shot, lurking hazards and distance measuring close to 450 yards. It’s not uncommon on certain holes at Durban to hit the fairway with your tee shot and have a blind approach shot due to the magnificence of certain mounds dominating the fairways.
The land begins to settle as you move away from the clubhouse (note: the first 5 holes all go in the same direction along the shore), but the quality continues at a very high level. I confidently suggested that the par 5 8th hole is superior than the 3rd, which only fuels the fire of healthy golfing debate and further promotes the quality of golf away from the Colonial clubhouse. I was really enamored by the par 4 11th hole which is a long dog-leg right that oozes difficulty. How could such a beautiful course never let up? That’s the key to success. As an Irishman, I had a wry smile on my face when I heard the story of how the iconic par 3 12th hole got its regal name – ‘The Prince of Wales’ - following an unfortunate series of events many decades ago on this devilishly perched green. This treachery of this short hole quickly removes the feeling of royalty! When you look at the old photographs of the course from the 1930s/1940s, you quickly begin to realise how certain holes on the back-nine are very different than they are presented today. Bunkers have been removed and reshaped, trees have been planted and fairways realigned. Despite my youth, the grizzled old architecture critic inside of me began to ponder the decisions over time that has impacted such history. For example, holes like 13 and 14 have changed from the original design when you compare them to old photos, and the disappointing par 3 15th hole just doesn’t fit well with any other hole on the course as the pond looks like an out of place after-thought. With a determined effort currently underway to clear away unattractive, unnatural and unnecessary trees, scrub and bushes, the ability to expose original mounding and return the course (within reason) to how it looked and played in the 1930s can only do this layout a world of good. The untapped potential lying silently along the Durban shore is waiting for a glorious South African renaissance.
The finishing stretch at Durban Country Club requires you to fasten your seatbelt and return your seat to the upright position as the turbulent topology is back in all its glory. The par 4 17th and 18th holes are golfing legends in their own right with wonderful changes in elevation. Hugely moving landforms govern these fabulously rollicking fairways. You stand on top of a mound and could be 20 feet above your playing partners. The 17th fairway is not for the faint-hearted. The drivable 18th hole at just 275 yards has broken many hearts of those competing for the title of South African Open champion. With the fairytale “Dalton Bunker” guarding the front-right side of the narrow putting surface, it has a veracious appetite for golf balls like those monkeys up the trees eyeing your lunchbox. Club-selection on the 18th tee is almost pot-luck as the fate of your golf ball is mostly dictated by the bounce on this fiercely mounded fairway. With just 275 yards between you and your well-deserved drink, the 19th hole has never seemed so far away! For keen golfers around the world, a round at the Durban Country Club is an experience which is not to be missed. You’ll be met by the country’s warmest hospitality and world class service.
Date: September 07, 2015