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South Africa golf communities: Sparreboschwith Stallone, or Pecanwood with Nicklaus?

By Michael Vlismas,
Contributor

Sparrebosch Clifftop EstateZIMBALI, SOUTH AFRICA - For those of us for whom a left to right break is more likely to describe the time we fell out of the golf cart, this game is often more about where and with whom we play rather than how we play.

The residential golf estate is always a good place to start, as you can marvel at the exceedingly bad architectural taste of people with loads of money while you hunt for your Titleist in their tulips.

South Africa is home to a plethora of upmarket estates also boasting quality golf courses. To make your choice easier, we've put together a list of South Africa's top 10 golf estates, as well as giving you an idea of who would be the ideal partner to play each course with.

Hole 1: The Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate

Layout: Arguably the most famous and top-ranked estate in the country, and a member of both the prestigious "Great Golf Resorts of the World" and "Preferred Hotels and Resorts Worldwide" associations. Nestled at the foot of the Outeniqua mountain range near George on the famous Garden Route of the Cape coast, Fancourt boasts a five-star 100-bedroom hotel, a health and beauty centre, an indoor pool known as the Roman Bath, and five restaurants. And of course, this will be the home of the 2003 President's Cup. The estate boasts four 18-hole golf courses designed by Gary Player, the flagship of which is The Links.

Who to play with: People with power, status and elegance. We recommend a four-ball including actors Pierce Brosnan and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and billionaire Richard Branson. This is a round you want to wile away discussing your coffee plantations in South America and your recent purchase of 20th Century Fox Entertainment. And of course there are the gratuitous shots of Mrs Zeta-Jones' swing. Enough to leave you, as Mr. Brosnan might say, "Stirred, and somewhat shaken."

Hole 2: Zimbali Lodge and Country Club

Zimbali Lodge and Country ClubLayout: Aptly located on South Africa's Golf Coast in KwaZulu-Natal, Zimbali is a regular recipient of international awards for excellence, including being ranked among Conde Nast's leading 31 new hotels in the world. Located in a coastal forest reserve, Zimbali is built around an 18-hole Tom Weiskopf golf course.

The estate boasts a 76-room lodge, including four suites, eight accommodation lodges each serviced by their own butler and staff, a health and beauty spa, a private beach and a highly recommended restaurant.

Who to play with: Weiskopf himself would be a good bet here. Weiskopf was almost killed when he stepped into a patch of quicksand while designing the course. This is one place you want somebody on hand who can tell the difference between a bunker and a fairway to heaven.

Hole 3: Selborne Park Golf Estate

Layout: Selborne is located on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal. The estate is also cut into thick sub-tropical bush, and boasts an abundance of wildlife, including over 150 species of birds. This was once a thriving dairy farm until its owner, Denis Barker, began designing his own golf course. A lodge combines a colonial atmosphere with the rustic beauty and history of Africa. And the individual villas on the course blend tastefully with the surroundings. In fact, the whole ambience is one of, "Yes, I deserve all of this".

Who to play with: The smell of the sea, an ocean of blue from every tee, a stiff breeze in your face, the possibility of conquering a New World … that would have to mean Christopher Columbus. After all, if the man discovered America, then he'll surely have no trouble finding the fairway.

Hole 4: Prince's Grant

Layout: The third jewel in KwaZulu-Natal's golfing crown, lying just 80 kilometres north of Durban, near Stanger. This was once a sugar cane farm, with the course taking you on a roller-coaster walk over hills and through valleys. It's an open layout with an almost links feel to it, with the holes running from the highest hill right down to the beach. The lodge boasts 15 luxury suites, and a private beach and a lagoon ensure that you have your own personal piece of paradise.

Who to play with: Prince's Grant is located close to the tribal area of Zululand, several game reserves and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. For this reason, we recommend teeing off with that legendary king of the Zulus, King Shaka. Be warned, though. King Shaka was famous for impaling subjects who failed to show the proper respect. So every three-footer is a "gimme" for this guy, okay?

Hole 5: Pecanwood Estate

Pecanwood EstateLayout: The first Jack Nicklaus designed course in Africa. Need we say more? Only 50 minutes from Johannesburg, this estate overlooks the waters of the Hartebeespoort Dam, a favourite watersports playground for South Africans. The course is flat, but well bunkered, and offers a variety of options to test both the good and bad golfer. The course was ranked by Golf Digest as the fifth best in the country.

Who to play with: Who could resist a round with the Golden Bear himself?

Hole 6: Sparrebosch Clifftop Estate

Sparrebosch Clifftop EstateLayout: There's a very simple question they ask you at Sparrebosch. "Did you bring two rolls of film?" The site for this estate is the spectacular East Head of Knysna, also on the Garden Route. The site has been compared to those of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, with the estate dubbed the "Postcard to African Golf". The views are priceless, as are the signs on each tee. The one at the 18th sums up your experience with the words, "Big fairway, big uphill, big smile!"

Who to play with: Sylvester Stallone. Nobody knows how to handle a "Cliffhanger" such as this course better than Sly.

Hole 7: Atlantic Beach Estate

Layout: The estate boasts a links-style course near the waters of the Atlantic Ocean just outside Cape Town. Table Mountain looks down upon the course, which can be brutal when the strong south-easter blows during the summer months. A luxurious clubhouse awaits you after your round, the highlight of which will most surely be playing the par-four 11th, a tricky hole with breathtaking views of the ocean and Table Mountain.

Who to play with: Seeing as this is the Cape of Good Hope, we thought it apt that you should tee it up with the man who first bumped into this bit of beach. Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape in 1652. But for some reason he preferred to set up a trading post rather than start designing golf courses. As a man more interested in following the spice route to India, we feel he may appreciate Atlantic Beach's own sprinklings of charm.

Hole 8: Arabella Country Estate

Layout: Also a pitching wedge away from Cape Town, and the proud home of a six-star luxury hotel with 145 suites and rooms, a Wellness Centre, a Cigar Bar and a world-class restaurant. All of which can be reached via a limousine transfer from Cape Town International airport. Oh, and did we mention the spectacular 18-hole championship golf course?

Who to play with: The whole atmosphere at Arabella is one of hurry up and slow down. It's all about recharging the batteries and calming the mind. So we thought we'd hook you up with that legendary mind guru Deepak Chopra. So, kick that karma into shape and head off to the first tee, O wise one.

Hole 9: Sabi River Sun Resort

Layout: The resort lazes languidly on the banks of the Sabi River in South Africa's rustic Mpumalanga province. The 18-hole golf course is surrounded by 104 luxury chalets and a 60-room four-star hotel. The most attractive feature of the course is the presence of hippos and crocodiles in the large dam alongside the 16th and 17th holes. Such world famous attractions as The Kruger National Park, God's Window, the Blyde River Canyon and the prospector's town of Pilgrim's Rest are all nearby.

Who to play with: It's here, only four hours' drive from bustling Johannesburg, where the writer Sir Percy Fitzpatrick drew the inspiration for his tales of adventure with his faithful dog Jock in his book "Jock of the Bushveld". So Percy is your man for these 18 holes. He knows this part of the world like the back of his hand. "It is easy enough to lose oneself in the Bushveld," Fitzpatrick admits in his book. So you certainly want someone who knows the way to the 19th hole.

Hole 10: White River Country Estate

Layout: This estate specialises in contrasts, starting with an 18-hole course in complete contrast to the surrounding bush. Here you are presented with a parkland course in a beautiful residential estate dotted with lakes and gently flowing rivers. White River is a short drive from the main centre of Nelspruit, also in the Mpumalanga province.

Who to play with: Here you want to be teeing off with a Yeats, Keats or Wordsworth, all of whom were great naturalists with an eye for beauty. Keats would open your eyes to the fact that, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever". Yeats would convince you that "heavens' embroidered cloths" were indeed "spread under your feet" as you trundled along together. And a pre-dawn tee-off time with Wordsworth would rekindle in you the line, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive". A poetic round of golf, to say the least.

Michael Vlismas is a freelance golf writer and has covered the game for Reuters, several international newspapers and publications such as the Daily Telegraph, Golf Digest and Golf Weekly, as well as having done radio work for the BBC World Service and other stations worldwide.