The Garden Route is rightly regarded as one of South Africa’s ultimate destinations, with a mind-boggling array of choices for family fun or individual activities. From the beaches of Plettenberg Bay to the vacation feel of picturesque Knysna, the natural wonders of the wilderness and so much more, one could frolic for weeks.
But there are also some of us who go to the Garden Route for one reason only, largely oblivious to the rest of the Western Cape menu items.
To some of us, this part of the world is actually known as the Golf Route, dotted with fantastically playable courses, rich in history and charm.
From established mainstays like the George Country Club and the Plettenberg Bay offering, to the Instagram views of Pinnacle Point, not to mention the elevated Pezula and Simola, the area is full of options for avid golfers.
The dazzling gem of this sizable golf crown, however, is Fancourt. Put simply, it is the ultimate golf destination in Africa and a place many call home. Fancourt, 7 km from George Airport, stretches over 613 hectares of pristine countryside sheltered by the Outeniqua Mountains.
It is more than a golf course. It is a community, a large family of people united by the appreciation of the finer things in life. Fancourt is an extremely special place, even in the midst of the natural abundance that is the Garden Route.
As soon as you enter the field, there is a feeling of opportunity. The clubhouse that serves the Outeniqua and Montagu courses is cavernous, with plenty of areas to sit and chat with family or four golf balls.
There are three dining options, in addition to the club lounge, to suit laid-back, impeccably prepared guests who want to make things occasion. The club house is a hub of activity, with the soundtrack of children comfortable in their surroundings.
Accommodation choices are also varied, with 115 rooms and suites spread across the Montagu course, as well as houses that can be rented by families and golf groups.
For the well-heeled, the mansion serviced by a butler is a truly majestic experience. The Cotswolds manor-style mansion is the former home of 1850s British engineer Henry Fancourt White and is a tailor-made offering where nothing is impossible.
The overall service and attention to detail elevates Fancourt to its world-class billing as a hotel, not to mention the golfing opportunities.
This consistency has been recognized over the years, with a host of hospitality awards including recent recognition by Golf Digest as one of the top golf resorts in Africa and Asia.
To pamper tired members, the hotel spa is easily accessible from the clubhouse, and there are hiking trails for guests who want a break from all the golf on offer – or if they just really want to win the day. therapeutic appeal that follows in the well-equipped spa facilities.
All the amenities of a modern, family-run estate are close at hand and the staff at all levels are particularly friendly. There is a pride in being an employee of Fancourt, which is part of a rich heritage of understated luxury.
There are three championship courses at Fancourt, each requiring your full attention. Outeniqua is an excellent land park trail, pulling over the captivating mountains from which it takes its name.
Though some dare to call it the easiest of the estate’s three golf courses, Outeniqua shows its teeth with subtle elevations, deceptive mountain wind and massive putting surfaces that emphasize precision.
Montagu’s course commands the respect of all who set foot there. There is more than a hint of Augusta National to its park design.
Grass even looks like a Masters blazer green, and the review of his golfing prowess is just as heartfelt. Montagu is long and uncompromising, with wide fairways often requiring a medium to long iron approach over fast greens.
You have to bring your A game to a track that even professional golfers consider one of the toughest tests in South Africa. The 16th hole was designed with Augusta’s 12th hole in mind, with water, carefully placed bunkers and what looks like a small target.
If you are a guest at the Fancourt Hotel, you might be lucky enough to be offered one of the limited slots to play The Links, South Africa’s top ranked course. Jack Nicklaus’ USA team and Gary Player’s international team, led by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els respectively, The Links at Fancourt is an absolute item on the to-do list for the avid golfer.
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Words fail to adequately describe how impressive The Links is at first glance. Everything is different and the experience designed by Gary Player stays in the mind for a long time.
Even the smallest detail is highlighted, and you feel like a golf pro for a day because of the attention and silence surrounding you during your round.
Tee times are limited for hotel guests because The Links is, well, special. It operates on its own schedule, where time stands still and nature speaks.
The golf itself is breathtaking, requiring the most demanding shot in your arsenal. A local caddy is worth its weight in gold in Fancourt, but even more so at The Links.
The design deceives the uninitiated eye, with subtle elevation changes. You also never seem to have a flat lie on the fairways, so focus is a bonus.
From the club tees the course can appear on the small side, but the defense is heavily based on slopes on the greens and a few devilish pin positions.
In this modern world of constant noise and news, The Links is a temporary pause button. It’s an escape, even from Fancourt, and a step into golf nirvana. Sitting in the simple stone-walled halfway house in the middle of nowhere, you remember how special the place is.
The brutal path back to the clubhouse includes a bunker wildly named The Coffin, as it can stifle any moose.
Fittingly, the par-five closing hole climbs up to the clubhouse on top of a hill. From the back tees it’s an almighty throat transfer, before a last tap, and a welcome drink from veteran Links staff such as Sipho Kalawe, who is eager to hear your tales of doom. and glory on the sacred fairways.
Throughout the experiences, the entire Fancourt estate is unforgettable. Golf is demanding, demanding even. The hospitality is luxurious and, more than that, the attentive staff make sure you can’t wait to come back for more.