There is something rather special about playing golf on courses that provide uninterrupted vistas of a vast ocean and waves crashing onto beaches and rocks below. This is one of the reasons why the likes of Pebble Beach (USA), Cape Kidnappers (New Zealand) and Old Head Golf Links (Ireland) are frequently mentioned on travelling golfers’ bucket lists. Here at home, Pinnacle Point stands toe-to-toe with any of these highly rated layouts.
Nestled around the corner from the ever-expanding town of Mossel Bay on the Garden Route, Pinnacle Point, designed by Peter Matkovich, is arguably the most spectacular course in the country.
With input from 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, Matkovich unveiled Pinnacle Point in November 2006. It immediately received rave reviews, including being named one of the top 10 new courses in the world by America’s Golf Travel & Leisure magazine. Matkovich went as far as to say it was “the most dramatic golf course site I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world”.
Six years on, Pinnacle Point’s superb conditioning masks the fact that it has endured some tough financial times since its opening. Rumours about the financial health of the estate and golf course had been spreading for some time when, in 2010, the developer of the estate, Pinnacle Point Holdings, initiated preventative measures on the course. Sadly, over the next 18 months, the general upkeep of one of the most incredible layouts in the world took a dive.
The situation became so bad that in November 2011, the developer was placed under liquidation and the course was then handed over to the homeowners association. During 2012, the homeowners set out to get the course back to its original pristine condition. They were able to convince Matkovich to return to the estate to sit on the golf committee and help oversee the improvements. Nic Grundtvig was appointed as the new golf director, while European Senior Tour player Bertus Smit became supervisor of the newly renovated practice facilities, which now rank among the best in the country. The efforts of the homeowners have certainly made a difference, and after a recent visit to the estate and 18 holes of manicured drama, it’s clear that Pinnacle Point is now back on the list of ‘must visit’ places on the global golf map.
What Matkovich has done with this cliffside piece of land covered in fynbos is truly amazing – even more so when you are on the course and realise that he hardly had to move any soil to construct the unnecessarily well-made layout. Every hole offers a magnificent view of the Indian Ocean, whether from the tee, fairway or green – which is why it doesn’t take much to get distracted from your game while playing here.
The course starts by making its way up the side of the mountain, away from the cliffs. It is immediately noticeable how wide the fairways are, although thick rough and fynbos await those drives that miss the wide fairways.
On a calm day, the course is not overly difficult for any level of golfer, and adding to its playability is Matkovich’s cunning use of numerous tee-boxes on every hole. From the tips, this is every bit a championship course, especially when the wind gets up – which it often does.
The 1st and 2nd holes are both relatively easy par fours to ease you into the round ahead. The 488-metre par-five 3rd hole is the first of the real challenges, with the fairway splitting in two with a thick sliver of rough between the upper and lower levels of the landing area. The second shot is steeply uphill, with bunkers flanking the entrance to the green. The putting surface is reachable in two, providing your drive is accurate enough and doesn’t stay on the sloping piece of rough in the fairway.
The following hole is a long par four that plays along a plateau. It may be straight and flat, but this is one of the most difficult holes at Pinnacle Point because of its length and exposure to the wind.
The 7th, 8th and 9th holes form arguably the most dramatic stretch in South Africa. All three place you at the mercy of the sea breeze and provide cliffside dangers, with waves crashing below.
Pinnacle’s par-three 7th is not very long, often requiring no more than a wedge, but your shot to a green perched on top of a cliff is a thriller. The par-four 8th is just as astounding; you can drive the green if you have the courage and ability to carry the ball 220 metres across the ravine. The conservative play sees you turn 180 degrees to the left and lay up on the fairway. Bringing your front nine to an end is another hair-raising par three that often requires a fairway wood or driver to find the green when the wind is up. The back nine then heads along the coast towards Mossel Bay, with breathtaking views of the shore and beaches from all nine holes.
The par-four 12th is an eye-opener, starting with tee-boxes wedged into the side of the slope. Your tee shot travels a fair distance down to another double-tiered fairway below, with a long, narrow bunker the only defence against the fynbos. Your approach then needs to stay below the hole as the green slopes quite heavily from back to front, with bunkers waiting to catch any stray shot.
Another well-struck shot across the cliffs is required on the signature par-three 13th hole. A noticeable feature is the waste bunkers, where rocky outcrops are surrounded by sand. You’d do well to avoid these hazards.
The next four holes offer different challenges, from a driveable par four to a particularly long par five. Navigate these successfully and you arrive at the par-five 18th that looks down onto the clubhouse and ocean. A good drive could allow you to attack the green in two, but you will have a nervy shot across the cliffs once more. It’s often a worthwhile challenge as the thin lay-up area appears not much easier to find.
The 19th hole is worth a visit at Pinnacle Point, with the clubhouse overlooking the 9th and 18th greens, backdropped by the Indian Ocean. The sighting of a southern right whale might just be the icing on the cake after a great round on what many consider the most spectacular golf course in Africa.