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Text: John Botha. Photographs: Jamie Thom. Article from the May 2012 issue of Compleat Golfer Magazine.

Prince’s Grant Golf Estate was the brainchild of attorney and keen golfer Guy Smith, and against all the odds, his dream became a reality. This course is considered to be one of the finest coastal layouts in the land.

The stroke-1 9th hole runs uphill back to the clubhouse and measures over 400 metres. It is appropriately named 'Lang Whack'.

The history of this beautiful tract of real estate goes back to when it formed part of the farm Hyde Park, owned by George Wilson Prince.

Prince had acquired the property on what would become the Dolphin Coast of northern KwaZulu-Natal by deed of grant on 20 October 1856 from Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

It is amazing to consider that the original farm, occupying some 3 354 acres, was considered to be worth the ‘princely’ sum of two pounds, five shillings and four pence, which is what Prince paid. Soon after this, the land was acquired by the legendary Babu Bodasing, who had come to South Africa as an indentured sugar-cane cutter, but later became a property mogul. The property remained in the Bodasing family until Smith’s Prince’s Grant Property Share Block Limited bought the property from Raj Bodasing, who retained a share and became a director of Prince’s Grant Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

“The seed was planted as far back as 1976, “says Guy Smith, the developer who transformed the dream of building a golf course into reality. While travelling and working in the United States, Smith had attended the US Masters (the year Ray Floyd won the fabled Green Jacket), and the breathtaking sight of Augusta National fully groomed for the season’s first Major championship in all her spring glory had inspired Smith, as it has countless golf fanatics before and since. But few have actually followed through and realised their dream.

It would take almost 20 years before the Pietermaritzburg attorney and passionate golfer could realise his long-term goal to unveil his own golf course, and the process was anything but plain sailing.

The story of how exactly Smith went about acquiring the land, establishing the estate and eventually being able to admire his handiwork indeed bears testament to the man’s determination – particularly considering that this venture was launched without any capital. “I borrowed R120 000 – this covered the costs of getting the approvals and all the marketing. I could do much of the legal work myself, but it wasn’t easy,” he says with some understatement.

The pressure of sleepless nights, whirlwind trips around the country frantically trying to sell his dream to investors, raging arguments with course designer Peter Matkovich, all this while working as a senior partner of a legal firm took its toll, and Smith eventually suffered a nervous breakdown.

An aerial view of the short par-four 12th hole, measuring in at just 297 metres, gives great perspective of how the entire Prince's Grant estate is laid out.

Prior to the design being finalised, Smith tells us that certain things were non-negotiable: “I routed the course, and I was determined that Peter Matkovich was not going to plant palm trees or construct Trent Jones-type bunkers that would not suit the terrain – Pete certainly designed 95 percent of the course, but not before we had a few heated arguments,” he says. (The first hole here is named ‘TemperTantrum’ in memory of one of these lively debates.)

Smith wisely decided that his golf course would have a natural look and feel, and he commissioned Jeremy Stubbs to assist in establishing natural, endemic flora that matured in a relatively short space of time.

During the construction of the layout, fierce winds bedevilled attempts at sprigging the land with paspalum, the grass of choice that has been proven to thrive in subtropical, coastal regions.

The wind would blow the tufts of grass clean out of their bedding – windbreaks had to be constructed to aid the planting, but even these failed to prevent a lot of the grass from being blown away.

The course was finally officially opened in June of 1994, a decision that Smith, with hindsight, says was too soon. “I probably should have ‘semi-mothballed’ the course, because we were basically insolvent having spent so much money on maintaining the course in the first two years.” Certainly Smith can pride himself on having weathered the economic storm that saw the demise of other developers of golf estates at the time and since, not that he made any money out of the project.

“I was fortunate that, having fought liquidation and spent what money I had without having anything to show for my efforts, in 1998 I was accepted back as a senior partner in the company of attorneys.”

The course was eventually sold to the homeowners in 1999, and Guy Smith has gone on to complete another successful golf development at Gowrie Farm in the KZN Midlands.

Much of this course’s appeal lies in the wise use of the magnificent natural topography – Smith, during his painstaking routing, was determined that the golf course would take precedence over property that was made available for home sites. The result is some beautifully positioned tees that afford impressive views, and the backdrop of the Indian Ocean makes playing this course a very special experience. Some truly classical shaping and strategic bunkering makes for a collection of superb holes that will appeal to the purist, and the use of gimmicks was fortunately avoided.

At no time during the round does one feel that a hole does not fit the terrain – and although a look at the distances on the score-card might suggest that the more proficient player might overpower the layout, this is not so. Of course the wind is a major factor in tempering the layout’s resistance to scoring, but even on a calm day club selection is never easy.

The signature hole at Prince's Grant is the par-five 15th hole. The tee-box offers breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the fairway descends to a well-guarded green. Beware the bush on the left and OB to the right.

Manager of golf operations and PGA professional Frans Strauss, who has been based at Prince’s Grant for 12 years, names the par-three 3rd, the 12th and the course’s signature hole, the 15th, as his favourites, but there are other exceptional holes here.

“The 3rd can be set up to play from 130 metres to 180, and the wind is funnelled in a way that the flag may suggest the shot is being played into the wind, yet on the tee it might seem that the opposite is true. The hole has a stroke index of 13, yet during tournaments the hole always proves to be among the five most difficult holes,” he says, explaining that even the better players often get their club selection wrong.

So many of the holes here are perfectly defined, and as at many good courses, the first-timer instinctively knows which line to take off the tee. There are no hidden surprises, and unless a player become greedy and attempts to take on shots that are beyond their normal capability, the opportunity to score well, even in the wind, is available.

Prince's Grant's unique clubhouse includes The Lodge above it, where guests are able to climb out of bed and onto the 1 st tee.

Prince’s Grant is more than a golf estate, it is also a golf resort, and the clubhouse is also home to a lodge that has an impressive staircase leading to well-appointed rooms. There is a wonderful feel of this being a true ‘golfer’s lodge’, with portraits of golfing heroes adorning the walls. As clubhouses and 19th holes go, this is undoubtedly one of the best. For residents and visitors, there is also the option of fishing, canoeing, protected walking trails or simply relaxing on the private, uncluttered beach. As a ‘stay-and-play’ venue, Prince’s Grant ranks with the best.

Guy Smith may have completed this project without the financial reward he deserved, but he can pride himself on creating something that generations of golfers to come will enjoy.

Unlike some high-budget creations, this course will never date – and passes the acid test with flying colours; once golfers have experienced playing here, they will long to return.

Likes …

  • The course is without trickery, a classic coastal layout that rewards shot-making.
  • The clubhouse – a great feel where there is no doubt that golf is the main focus.

 And dislikes

  • In one or two places large trickery, a classic coastal homes dominate the views of layout that rewards the hole, but a minor irritation given the overall quality of the course.
  • A little far from Durban (80 kilometres), but worth the trip.
Factfile

Getting there

Travel north from Durban on the N2, take the Stanger off-ramp, turn right at traffic lights and follow signposts.

Course

Links/parkland type, par 72,

rated 72,6 196 metres.

Paspalum tees, fairways and greens.

Designed

Peter Matkovich, completed 1994.

CEO

Dr Chris van der Merwe

Head professional and manager of Golf Operations

Frans Strauss

Greens Superintendent

Danie Kok

More info on the town of Blythedale More info on the Dolphin Coast area

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