fairways & beyond

It’s a Jack Nicklaus design, and the great man has suggested the Eastern Cape gem might just be the best course he has ever seen. It’s on magnificent dune land overlooking St Francis Bay, and, but for the lushness of the fairways, it looks like a genuine links course while giving players some of the advantages of playing on a receptive parkland layout. It may not have been grazing land for sheep and rabbits, but it is a natural course between the beach and arable land.

The Links falls within the amazing Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest floral kingdom in the world yet the most diverse. So the course is unique with its own special plant species and wonderful splashes of colour throughout the year. There are about 9 000 plant species in the region and about half are threatened or of conservation concern. Invasive alien plants and too-frequent fires are the greatest management challenges facing this area. Longer-term threats include climate change and development pressures.

In a water-scarce area of the country, mitigating against those threats is a delicate balancing act: the stormwater system on the estate makes use of all run-off water as it gets pumped back to the dams. Additionally, the Cape Floral Kingdom, the fynbos, is naturally water-wise, so it is constantly renewing itself – each kind of plant at its own pace.


Everything you need to know about what’s on offer at St Francis Links.

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There is, of course, a degree of management required to keep St Francis looking like a golf course, but the original planning of the course took that kind of thing into account. So there is some cutting back of the fynbos at the edges of the course. But even that is done with the environment in mind, and management is promoting the natural Bermuda grasses to eventually take over the Rye grass on the fairways.

Assisting with that kind of thing is Caryl Logie, who has been with St Francis Links since the construction period and assists with everything that grows (and eliminating stuff that shouldn’t be growing). She has created brilliant signage with descriptions of what you find on the estate, and, if your round is not going so well, you can learn a lot about your surroundings.

A round presents a variety of challenges: wide and narrow, short and long, uphill and down, each hole has wonderfully challenging greens with bentgrass surfaces. The course demands a constant mix of bravery and invention.

Gallery below

Nicklaus has always been known for the great work he does with bunkers. The ones at St Francis look as though they have been simply ploughed out of the land – it is the bunkering that truly defines the quality and character of this course, with it having a consistent look throughout.

It is the look which makes the course such a pleasure to play, and it’s also one of the reasons there is no ‘feature hole’ at St Francis Links. But the 8th, ‘Eye of the Needle’ speaks to the work done to fit the course into its natural surroundings. An intimidatingly narrow tee shot gives the hole its name, and it looks the way it does because Logie was instrumental in persuading Nicklaus to reroute the hole to save a part of a dune from being cut off from its vegetation.

And the 18th, ‘Homeward Bound’, despite having atypical water – it’s not a very ‘linksy’ feel – is a wonderful closing hole with an intimidating tee shot from high up preceding an approach to a green which seems almost impossible to hold.

There are more, but the 17th, ‘St Francis Bay’, is a par three with the best view on the course, including the nearby town. It’s a challenging hole with a precise shot required if you are to get close to the hole, wherever it may be on the green. But there was a hole-in-one there on the day the course opened.


Charl Blaauw, estate manager

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