Monday, November 20, 2017
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June 2017 ‘An Agent Abroad’ winner, Golf enthusiast KALLAM CRAIGS from Chaka Travel, says South Africa’s Western Cape needs to be seen to be truly appreciated…

Where to start! What a trip, what a country, what a dream! It’s an understatement to say the pictures don’t do South Africa’s Western Cape justice, it needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.

Our trip started in Cape Town, where we enjoyed the first of many fabulous dinners, at the Radisson Blu in the V&A Waterfront area. The V&A Waterfront is the perfect location to start a trip in Cape Town, with a wide range of top quality hotels, bars, restaurants and shops all with stunning views of the harbour and Table Mountain.

The next day we were eased into the ‘swing’ of things with nine holes at Hermanus Golf Club. It was a blue bird day, not a cloud in sight and about 26 degrees. The stunning backdrop of the Overberg Mountain Range left us gawking on every tee box.

After a delightful nine-holes we headed to Arabella Resort where we would spend the next two nights. Our arrival at the hotel defined African hospitality. We were greeted as we got off the bus by the hotel managers and hosts, around eight staff bearing welcome drinks, snacks, cold towels and most impressively an eight-piece band playing traditional African music on bongos and marimba’s.

The hotel more then lived up to the reception, a stunning property built into the side of a cliff meaning you arrive on the top floor and work your way down to the golf course and spa on the bottom floor.

Dinner that evening was as spectacular as the property itself, crispy confit pork belly followed by a perfectly cooked rack of lamb and a baked cheesecake to die for.

The next morning we adventured onto the highly anticipated Arabella Golf Course. We had been warned that she was a cruel mistress, and they certainly weren't lying! The course is an amazing challenge for golfers with its tight fairways and lightning fast greens. It was in spectacular condition, which was amazing as the Cape was experiencing a real drought at the time. My golf was shaky to start but I got things together on the back nine, maybe it was the beer at the halfway house. The 18th hole par five is without a doubt one of the best closing holes in golf that I've ever experienced, it defines the coastal links at Arabella which is a must stop when travelling between the Garden Route and Cape Town.

The dream day continued as I walked off the course and straight into the Arabella spa for my full back and shoulder massage which was ideal after a long round of golf. The Marine Hotel in Hermanus is a beautiful boutique hotel situated right on the coast, the sound of crashing waves and the smell of fresh sea air is almost intoxicating. The seafood dinner we enjoyed was outstanding, a deliciously unique red seafood curry was paired with a wonderfully crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

The following morning we travelled down to Pinnacle Point and the start of the Garden Route. The views became more and more spectacular as we travelled down the coast, huge high cliffs, and rugged coastlines with crashing waves below. It was amazing to look out across the Indian Ocean knowing there was nothing between us and Antarctica but miles and miles of ocean, it felt as if we were looking at the very end of the earth as the ocean and sky became one on the far horizon.

We stayed in the lovely golf villas at Pinnacle Point which all have outstanding views of the Indian Ocean, as well as all the facilities you need to make you feel at home.

The golf facilities at Pinnacle Point are fantastic and we were treated to a guided tour of the course, which was carried out on golf buggies due to the sheer scale of the operation. They whet our appetites by taking us out and showing us a couple of the signature holes on the golf course. I can honestly say I have never been so excited to play a golf course in my life. The tour was followed by a meal in the exceptional clubhouse, which has 360-degree views of the coastline and golf course. The highlight of the evening was the fact that the guys at Pinnacle Point had set up a raised stage and astro turf mat for our group to have a chipping contest from the club house top floor decking onto the 18th green. It was a surreal, and slightly nerve racking experience, and one I will remember very fondly for the rest of my life!

I didn't think Pinnacle Point could get any better, and then we went out and played the course on another perfect blue bird day. To put it simply Pinnacle Point is without a doubt the most aesthetically stunning golf course and area in general I have ever seen.

The course is kept in spectacular condition and I was lucky enough to actually put a good round together of +two on the front nine and +six back nine (the wind picks up as the day goes on making things VERY interesting) giving me a +eight total of 80, and most impressively, I only lost one ball! One of the many stunning holes at Pinnacle Point.

After an amazing time at Pinnacle Point, we travelled on to the beautiful lagoon town of Knysna where we would spend a night in the luxurious Conrad Pezula. The drive in was stunning and it was hard to believe that about an hour ago we were in dry almost arid plains, and now the country had transformed into an almost tropical green oasis.

Knysna is such a fantastic town, the way the two dramatic sea cliffs guard the entrance to the lagoon is staggeringly beautiful. The Conrad Pezula fitted right in with its scenic location, luxurious suites, on site golf and a whole host of other activities from horse back riding and canoeing to their own private beach. We played a round on the beautiful parkland Pezula course which was in great condition and through up a significant challenge once the wind got blowing!

The following day we made the short 40-minute commute back towards George to spend two nights in the legendary Fancourt Golf Estate. Fancourt is a golfing Mecca, a bubble that caters, provides and promotes golf at an exceptional level. It really is the kind of place that you could spend two weeks and still wake up every morning excited with the prospect of new experiences and activities. In the afternoon we went out to play the Montagu Course, a par 72 parkland classic Gary Player design, as always it was in spectacular condition and the greens felt like they were running at about 12 on the stimpmeter!

The next day we had the luxury of a lie in after several days of early morning rises however, the thought of going out to play the number one ranked course in South Africa eliminated any chance of a lie in as I was wide awake by 7.30am and unable to get back to sleep with excitement! The buffet breakfasts at all the resorts throughout our trip had been magnificent and Fancourt was no different with a selection so broad you could spend a week there and not cover half of it!

Straight after breakfast it was onto the putting and chipping greens for a short game clinic, we then made our way up to the separate golf academy practice area which is situated on the Links. Its another Gary Player design and in his own opinion his greatest achievement as a course designer, I never thought a course could lay a glove on my favourite links of all time, Royal County Down back home, but this certainly gave it a run for its money! Its staggering to think that it was the old George Airport and therefore completely flat! Everything you see is man made and sculpted to perfection, so much so that the course has hosted the likes of the Volvo Open, the SA Open and the Presidents Cup.

We were then introduced to our caddy’s for the day, having a caddy is mandatory on the Links and trust me when I say it’s necessary! Our caddies escorted us down to the range where we hit balls for 40 minutes whilst our caddies watched so as to get to grips with our yardages as well as general ball flight.

It was then onto the first tee and I must admit I was rather nervous as a decent crowd of about 20 had gathered on the first tee, somehow I striped one down the middle and off we went. The undulating, windswept terrain and dune style landscape made me feel right at home, expect for the fact that it was nearly 30 degrees and blue skies all round!

Even the half way house stop after nine holes was just that little bit more special, we had ordered on the first tee box and when we arrived at the halfway house we walked up to the decking to find our food on the table keeping warm under a silver cloche, we had a steak sandwich each that was outstanding!

For me, the back nine was even better then the front, as the sun began to set we walked up the eighteenth with a magical colour in the sky that you only really see in Africa, the surrounding mountains cast long shadows across the undulating fairways and the clubhouse looked spectacular behind the green. As we finished up waiters came out to meet us with refreshing iced juices and we could immediately smell that our braai was under way. For those that don't know, a braai is a traditional African barbecue, and we were lucky enough to have one at the Links Clubhouse after our round.

Sirloin steak, lamb chops and boerewors sausage were grilled and charred to perfection and served with a huge spread of accompaniments. It was a relaxed atmosphere and we were encouraged to get stuck into our lamb chops and corn on the cob with our hands. We had some great fun and some of Ernie Els beautiful ‘Big Easy’ red blends to accompany all the food.

The following morning we made the short commute of about 10 minutes to Oubaai Golf Resort and Spa. We were staying in their fantastic Regency Suites, which are luxurious, spacious and very well equipped. We headed out for what I can only describe as one of the most ‘interesting’ rounds of golf I’ve ever played in my life! Oubaai’s course is a classic Ernie Els design, fairly wide and open off the tee, and then everything narrows in towards the hole, there are beautiful views and place is kept in great condition. However, as we were teeing off the wind was blowing so hard that the flag sticks were not just side ways but nearly touching the greens! Huge dark clouds filled with malice were heading straight towards us, huge bolts of lightning sparking the sky to life every couple of minutes followed by the deep roar of thunder. I have to say I honestly found the sight of this impending doom quite beautiful and appropriate with the conditions we were playing in, mother nature at full force. The rain drops began to fall on the second tee box and they felt the size of water balloons, freezing cold as well. Then out of nowhere the dark clouds vanished and the sun came out accompanied by a very warm breeze, quickly the temperature had reached about 30 degrees and the half way house cold beer was well needed!

Somehow the weather had then turned into quite a cool fresh wind on the back nine which was followed by a thick mist reducing visibility to about 15 feet as we finished! Never in my life have I experienced such a range of weather conditions in one round of golf, not even in Northern Ireland!

Our final evening was spent in the wonderful Waterside Grill restaurant at Oubaai, the kitchen and grill is situated right in the middle of the restaurant and it’s all open plan so you can see, hear and smell your steaks sizzling on the away. We enjoyed another bottle or two or Ernie’s Red with our steaks before getting comfortable in the Regency Suite Lounge to watch the thrilling final day of the Masters. It was an extremely exciting finish and a great result, I cant think of anyone that deserves a major more then Sergio, and I’m certain that Seve was smiling down.

Unfortunately the final day of the trip had arrived and it was time to head home. But not without one last unique experience. My internal flight from the tiny, yet amazingly efficient George Airport to Cape Town was aboard an even tinier plane. There were only about 10 of us on the 30-seater aircraft with a seating arrangement of one on the left and two on the right. The flight was extremely smooth for such a small plane but the conditions were perfect, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, something pilots refer to as visibility unlimited. And that's how I summed up South Africa as I flew over the Southern Cape with the most breath taking views. Unlimited possibilities, so many different cultures, climates, geographical environments and experiences, it’s like eight countries all rolled up into one amazing destination and I can’t wait to get back out and explore it further.

What you can be guaranteed wherever you go in South Africa is great golf, delicious food, top quality wine and warm welcoming African hospitality!

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