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South Africa

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Text by Brendan Barrat Photographs by Jamie Thom

Source: This article is taken from the July 2011 issue of CompleatGolfer

Arabella translates loosely into ‘beautiful land’ and any visitor to this little piece of golfing heaven would find it hard to disagree. It’s no wonder the course continues to rank as one of the country’s best.

It’s been over a decade since the first guests of the Arabella Hotel and Spa pulled open their curtains to reveal the breathtaking view of the Arabella golf course and, behind it, the Bot River Lagoon. The hotel ownership may have changed hands a few times over the years, but no matter who signs the cheques here, their claim to having one of the finest golf courses in the Western Cape remains undisputed. And for those lucky enough to stay in the luxury five-star hotel in Kleinmond, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, it certainly ranks as one of the country’s top stay-and-play golfing experiences

Arabella 6th hole
The par-four, stroke-three 6th hole measures only 350m from the club tee, but requires a left-to-right shaped tee shot and an accurate approach to a wickedly slippery green.

The course was officially opened in December 1999, with widely respected designer Peter Matkovich tasked with transforming a stretch of idle farmland into one of the country’s finest golfing layouts. Thankfully the former touring professional succeeded, although, as he describes, there were a few speed bumps along the way.

“The land was an old, run­down farm and it was overrun with alien vegetation,” says Matkovich. “It took us three months of clearing before we could even start to work on the course.”

He also had a number of envi­ronmentalists watching his every move to ensure that not a foot was placed in the environmentally sensitive lagoon area that borders parts of the golf course. Yet, as anyone who understands Matko’s commitment to the environment will agree, they needn’t have worried and the end result was a superb golf course that received awards for environmental best practice – with the lagoon remaining a no-go area for golfers once the course opened for play.

Arabella’s signature 8th hole is simply breathtaking. Playing downhill, this 499m par five is all about the approach shot. For those who lay up, even a short-iron approach can be quite daunting.

Arabella 8th hole
Arabella’s signature 8th hole is simply breathtaking. Playing downhill, this 499m par five is all about the approach shot. For those who lay up, even a short-iron approach can be quite daunting.

From the very start it was clear that Matkovich had created something special, and he pays credit to the developers for giving him free range over the land, with the obvious exception of the position of the hotel. The course is carved into the landscape around the 145-room hotel to great effect, with the finishing stretches of both nine-hole loops making use of the lagoon to form a stunning backdrop. Indeed, the signature 8th hole, a par five that plays down a steep hill to a well- protected green that seems to jut out into the lagoon, must rank as one of the most-photographed golf holes in the country.

Nearly 12 years on, the layout has matured well and it is rare that you will come across the course in anything but showroom condition. “The key is to keep on improving the course and investing in it,” said Matkovich, “and that’s what they have done at Arabella. They also have a fine superintendent in Derek Bolton. I’d like to have a Derek Bolton at every course I build.”

While Arabella is capable of hosting professional tournaments, as has been proven with the likes of the Nelson Mandela Invitational and Vodacom Origins of Golf events, the course is decidedly playable for amateurs. The fairways, while wide in most landing areas, tend to blend in with the surrounding fynbos, meaning that Arabella is not an intimidating course from the tee-box.

Arabella 17th hole
The par-three 17th is one of the most attractive holes at Arabella. Measuring only 166 metres, one should not be fooled into thinking it is an easy hole, as plenty of danger awaits the errant approach.

“Any time you get the golfer to start seeing the course and not the hazards around it, like bunkers, water or out-of-bounds, then you’ve done well,” said Matkovich, and perhaps with the exception of the par-four 4th hole, the route from tee to green is laid out clearly for the visiting golfer.

The balance of holes is one of the course’s finest features, with an excellent mix of long and short holes ensuring that every club in the bag is used. A perfect example is Arabella’s closing stretch of five holes. Following the short par-three 14th, players come up against the nasty par-four 15th, a tight driving hole of 375 metres that ranks as the hardest on the inward loop. The 16th is a short par four of little over 300 metres and the 17th, another candidate for Arabella’s signature hole, is a truly remarkable par three of 166 metres. With the lagoon to the right, bunkers in every direction and some nasty rough growing up a steep bank to the left of the green, there is very little margin for error on this hole – and when the professionals roll into town the event organizers are able to conjure up some particularly tricky pin positions.

By the time you reach the par- five 18th hole that, despite being 488 metres in length, is surprisingly reachable, it’s not unusual to be greeted with a sense of disap­pointment that your round at this fine golf course has come to an end. However, some consolation comes in the form of this fine three-shotter, which runs adjacent to the Bot River Lagoon. The gen­erous fairway appears narrower due to the presence of the hazard to the right and once you’ve found the short grass, a tricky decision awaits those capable of reaching the green in two. Were this anything but the closing hole, I suspect most players would treat it with more respect and lay up, but for those looking to end their round in a blaze of glory, only one great shot stands between them and a grandstand finish. Bravo, Mr Matkovich.

It’s no surprise that the Nelson Mandela Invitational managed to lure so many high-profile players and celebrities to Arabella when the event was hosted here from 2000 to 2006.The halfway house has a ‘wall of fame’ with pictures of some of the world’s best who have played here, including Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and all of the top South African players.

The clubhouse, modest in com­parison to the hotel that towers above it, forms part of the lower level of the hotel, and is particu­larly cosy. A drink here or at one of the outside tables seems a perfect end to a day of golf.

Making your way back to the car via the hotel, you are reminded of all that you leave behind, with the swimming pools, golf course, lagoon and distant mountains and vineyards all visible through the big glass windows of the top floor. It’s easy to imagine spending a week or more at this hotel, and those who have the means to stay here, even for a night, certainly won’t be disappointed. During the busy season, you’d be hard pressed to find a room, but over winter there are a number of stay-and-play specials to entice the golfer. This area, not far from the southernmost tip of Africa, is also a prime spot for day tripping, with various wine farms and interesting villages nearby and the busy holiday town of Hermanus, famous for whale watching, is a few kilometers down the road.

Arabella Clubhouse
The stunning Arabella Hotel and Spa is once again owned and managed by South African companies.

At the time of writing, the sale of the Arabella Hotel and Spa had recently been finalised, with the Hospitality Property Fund adding this property to its impressive portfolio. Now back in South African hands, the hotel and golf course will be managed by luxury hospitality brand African Pride Hotels and the new owner can proudly promote Arabella as one of the best golfing experiences in the country – with precious few daring to argue.

Likes Dislikes
  • The view from the hotel over the golf course and lagoon never fails to impress. Truly spectacular.
  • The driving range is really only a warm-up area, with a maximum of a 6-iron allowed.
  • The Paulaner beer that is served at the 19th.
  • The vibe at the clubhouse bar seems to be a little lacking.
  • The top-notch service levels – from the moment you arrive, you are made to feel special.­
  • I wish the course was just a little closer to Cape Town so that 1 could play it more often.

Factfile

Getting there

Take N2 from Cape Town

towards Somerset West and

over Sir Lowry’s Pass.

Turn left onto the R43 (to Hermanus).

Turn right at R44 (Kleinmond)

Arabella is on your left.

Course

Parkland, par 72, 6 381 m

Designer

Peter Matkovich (1999)

Director of Golf

John Bumpsteed

Professional

Alison Sheard

Course Superintendent

Derek Bolton

Contacts

Pro Shop: 028 284 0105

golf@arabellahotelandspa.com www.arabellahotelandspa.com

More info on the town of Hermanus More info on the Cape Overberg

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