A round for less: where to go for cut-price golf in Cape Town

There’s no shortage of top-notch tracks in Cape Town, but look a little closer and you’ll find courses that offer a great-value round of golf.

The premium courses of the winelands may draw plenty of attention, but for local Cape Town golfers those are a rare treat rather than an everyday round. Instead, the city’s laid-back clubs offer interesting tracks at a price that won’t break the bank.

Rondebosch Golf Course is a perennial favourite amongst local swingers. Situated just minutes from the Cape Town city centre, this 18-hole course wanders in and around the Black River. An approachable layout that’s great fun for mid-handicappers, it’s an urban course where the traffic may intrude on the odd hole, but offers an excellent round of golf at a cut-price cost.

Clovelly Golf Club in the Cape Town suburb of Fish Hoek is another local favourite. Built on the flanks of Kalk Bay Mountain it’s a course kept in immaculate condition. Although short, it’s a technical layout with tight fairways and unforgiving rough. The course boasts wonderful sea and mountain views, and when the summer south-easter is blowing those “short” holes become infinitely more challenging!

Local golfers also swear by Westlake Golf Club, a classic parklands layout situated just a solid five-wood from Steenberg Golf Club. Well-maintained, with a convivial clubhouse overlooking the course, this is a fine alternative to more expensive parklands layouts further afield.

Arabella charms golfers on a day out from the big city

Looking for the prettiest par-5 in South Africa? You’ll find it at the superb Arabella Golf Club, an easy 90-minute drive from Cape Town.

The 8th hole at Arabella Golf Club catches you by surprise. From the tee box, a marker pole indicates your line. Strike your ball well and it will sail over the crest of the rise and into the great unknown. As you follow, the true beauty of the hole becomes apparent: a fairway falling away beneath your feet, waste bunkers lying in wait and a green guarded by the waters of the Bot River Lagoon. Spectacular.

It’s a signature hole on this remarkable course designed by star golf architect
Peter Matkovitch. Aside from the thick rough and endless waste bunkers, there are plenty of challenging landscape features here and club selection is critical.
You’ll want a cart if you’re unfit, but the hills and swales only add to the drama of the course. No surprise that Arabella has been ranked in the country’s top 10 courses by Golf Digest magazine for 11 years running.

While Arabella welcomes day visitors, the on-site hotel makes it the perfect destination for a weekend escape from Cape Town. The 143 rooms and suites are decorated in a modern African style and the excellent facilities – spa, outdoor pooland range of restaurants – makes it a good option for family travellers and those with non-golfing partners. The winelands of Hermanus and Elgin are also a short drive away.

Best times of year to play golf in Cape Town

Wondering which is the best season to book a golf holiday in Cape Town? You’ll need to balance the crowds and the southeasterly ‘Cape Doctor’ wind, says Justin Roux, Golf Director at the acclaimed Steenberg Golf Club.

In the Western Cape I’d say that summer (November to March) is a great time of year to come and play in Cape Town. Even if it’s a little windy, the days are much longer and the weather is generally fantastic.

The Western Cape gets its rain in winter (June to August), so you do get wet days, but then you also get the days in between the cold fronts that are just perfect for winter golf: clear skies, moderate temperatures and little wind. In winter the availability of tee times is also much better, and you’ll usually get a better rate on green fees from the club.

Clubs generally have a set rate for the high summer season, but they may have a sundowner rate or specials on offer.

Most courses need to accommodate their members first and foremost, so it becomes a balance of making sure there are sufficient tee times for members, as well as providing spaces for visitors.

At Steenberg we have limited visitor rounds available, so it’s best to book far in advance. Throughout the year, Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays are the most popular days for members, and visitors will struggle to find available tee times on these days.

Cape Town’s friendliest golf clubs

Meeting the locals and sharing a drink after the game is part and parcel of a great golf escape. Robert McNeilly, owner of Exclusive Golf Tours, which runs golf holidays across the Western Cape, recommends two clubs where visiting golfers are likely to get a warm welcome.

In my business I’m offering five-star tours to visitors who get to stay in the best hotels and play on the very best courses. I wouldn’t say there are any clubs that are unfriendly to these visitors, but there are certainly some that will bend over backwards to help them out with tee times.

De Zalze Golf Club near the winelands town of Stellenbosch is always incredibly friendly; I’d say it is the friendliest golf club in and around Cape Town. All of my clients love the course and the club, and in fact most of my clients like to play there twice during their stay. The layout and conditioning of the course is superb, especially considering the amount of foot traffic the course gets. Congratulations to them for keeping it in such good condition.

Hermanus Golf Course [a two-hour drive from Cape Town] is wonderful and is also a great option for those with higher handicaps. If you’re just learning to play, or new to the game, you’ll probably have more fun at a course like Hermanus than the challenging championship courses, like the nearby Arabella Golf Club. I’m a great Hermanus fan.

Golf, fine food and superb wines — you’ll find it all at De Zalze Golf Estate

There aren’t many golf courses worldwide where you can toast your round in one of the country’s top restaurants, or taste some of the world’s best white wines in the cellar where it’s crafted. However, De Zalze Golf Estate, a short drive from Cape Town’s city centre, is one such place.

It’s no coincidence that top golf courses in and around Cape Town, such as the Arabella and Steenberg golf estates, have the name Peter Matkovich attached to them. The former pro golfer turned golf course architect sets the bar high when he lays out new greens.

The De Zalze golf course outside Stellenbosch, an easy 45 minute drive from central Cape Town, is no exception. It’s one of the celebrated golf architect’s finest layouts.

Perhaps less dramatic than his other courses, De Zalze golf course is no less enjoyable. The parkland layout wanders back and forth across the tree-lined Blaauwklippen River, with plenty of holes bringing the river into play. In the winter floods the par-3 3rd hole plays directly over the river and you’ll need a firm swing to land safely on the green.

Unlike many other Matkovitch courses, it’s water rather than sand you’ll want to watch out for at De Zalze golf course. Water runs almost the full length of the par-5 6th, and also guards the green at the downhill par-3 9th. But it’s the par-4 13th that you’ll remember most.

This signature hole has boardwalks that lead to tee boxes on mid-water islands, and although big-hitters can reach the green in one shot, the narrow landing zone calls for both accuracy and power. Fittingly, the river comes back into contention on the memorable 18th. Here, elevated tees atop a granite mound offer two choices: lay up for a cautious iron shot over the water, or drive for glory. But where’s the fun in caution?

While the clubhouse offers a wonderful terrace on which to savour a drink after your round, it’s well worth booking a table for lunch or dinner at the golf estate’s celebrated restaurant, Terroir. Wine tastings are also offered daily in the cellar of Kleine Zalze wine estate.

Golfing Cape Town: where to have a swing in the city centre

Don’t have time to hit the winelands for a round of golf? Or just prefer to soak up some sea air and the buzz of the city centre? Head for the Metropolitan Golf Course.

Established in 1895, the Metropolitan Golf Club is one of the oldest courses in Cape Town and has long been an icon of Cape Town’s Atlantic seaboard suburbs of Mouille Point and Sea Point.

Although only a nine-hole course, the variety of tees and 14 greens means it plays very much like a full 18-hole layout. It’s a well-maintained course, and while you may have to battle the odd flock of seagulls, the bent grass greens and kikuyu grass fairways are usually in fine form.

But it’s the location, as much as the layout, that makes this a course worth playing.

Sandwiched between the seafront apartments of Mouille Point, the Green Point Urban Park and the Cape Town Stadium, it’s remarkable that a golf course has survived on such valuable land. But the “Met”, as locals call it, is here to stay. In fact the entire course was rebuilt as part of the 2010 Soccer World Cup rejuvenation of the area.

Today it’s a wonderful layout with a clubhouse that boasts unbeatable views of the iconic stadium and mountains beyond. It may not have the vines of the winelands, or close-up sea views, but the Met remains a must-play course in the city.

Home on the (golf) range: where to practice before you play

Before you hit the golf courses of Cape Town, spend some time on the driving range working out the kinks in your game. Because it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing!

Long-haul flights are ideal for loosening your shoulders and getting your swing in top form for your golf holiday in Cape Town. Said nobody ever.

Before you tee up on one of the fine golf courses in Cape Town, you’d do well to spend a few hours on one of the many driving ranges in and around the city. Buy a bucket of balls and get those big swings loosened up, but also remember to work on your short game. Drive for show, putt for dough!

In Cape Town, the River Club is the easiest way to get out on the range. Situated in the suburb of Observatory, it’s just 15 minutes from the centre of town and offers a wide range of practice facilities. The large driving range has both grass and artificial-turf bays, with a double-storey undercover section taking care of any rainy days. There are numerous chipping and putting greens, as well as a 9-hole “mashie” course that is great for tweaking your short game.

The two branches of the Momentum Golf Village – in the suburbs of Kenilworth and Durbanville, each about 20 minutes from the city – are also excellent. Daily membership passes offer unlimited access to all facilities, including the driving range, short game section and putting greens. There are also free daily group masterclasses, and retail outlets on-site.

Lastly, if you don’t have time for either of the above, remember that most golf courses near Cape Town have a driving range and warm-up section on site. Facilities vary in size and quality, but it pays to arrive an hour before your scheduled tee time to get the shanks out of your system!

Langebaan: a West Coast golf escape

An easy drive north of Cape Town brings you to Langebaan Country Estate, where a course by Gary Player Designs offers an excellent taste of West Coast golf.

You’ll either love or hate Langebaan, a holiday town an hour north of Cape Town. For although the scenic lagoon (a Ramsar wetland of global importance) and local beaches are superb, the town itself could do with an injection of charm.

But those considerations may just fall away when you wander down the impressive fairways of the Langebaan Country Estate.

Playing to 6 359 metres off the Championship Tees, this is a surprisingly challenging track for a resort course. It’s a course that challenges from the first hole, a stroke 1, where you’ll need to battle the prevailing winds through a tunnel of Manatoka trees and past fairway bunkers. Lose the fairways and your chances of par blow away in the wind.

The 6th is also tricky, needing a carry over thick fynbos (dense bush) dune vegetation to make the green, while the 18th is a fitting ending to this challenging course. Offering panoramic views over the lagoon and estate, choose your club carefully here. A tip: Your driver may not be the right choice off the tee box…

The estate facilities are as impressive as the course, with a well-equipped driving range and practice area alongside an 18-hole mashie course.

My top 3 golf courses around Cape Town

With over a dozen golf courses in and around the city, choosing the right one for a short golfing holiday to Cape Town can be tricky. Robert McNeilly, an experienced golf tour operator from Exclusive Golf Tours, shares his favourite courses near the city.

My favourite course in the Cape winelands is De Zalze Golf Club – it is brilliant.

Erinvale Golf Club outside Somerset West is also wonderful. I’d say Erinvale has the best fairways in the country. They’re always fantastic, always in great condition.

The only trouble at Erinvale is that it can be difficult to get a tee time: they may push you to play in the late morning or late afternoon, but it’s worth it. Erinvale is certainly one of the better courses in and around Cape Town.

Pearl Valley Golf Club designed by Jack Nicklaus is also fantastic. From the layouts to the greens, which are probably the quickest in the Cape, it’s a great course. I just love Jack Nicklaus courses, because he has tee boxes for every standard of golfer. You can go there and choose the tee that suits your game, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a struggling beginner. He’s also got the classic four pin positions on his greens, which sets it apart from other courses.

Table Mountain tee-off: Atlantic Beach offers a postcard-perfect round

You’ve seen the image a thousand times: a flat-topped Table Mountain across the sparkling waters of Table Bay. Atlantic Beach is the golf course in Cape Town that best offers players that postcard shot with a pitching wedge in hand.

Cape Town is a windy city. In the summer it howls from the south-east, while the winter brings squalls and rain and the north-westerly wind. If you want to play golf in Cape Town, you need to be able to deal with the wind.

That is never truer than when you tee up at Atlantic Beach Golf Club on the west coast north of Cape Town. An easy 30-minute drive from the city, this remarkable links-style course enjoys a dramatic position on the edge of Table Bay.

This championship course is unlike most other Cape tracks, focusing on its eye-catching sea views and thick coastal fynbos (indigenous scrub vegetation). If you thought Scottish gorse made for challenging rough, just wait until you come face-to-face with fynbos. Between unforgiving rough and stiff winds, this is a challenging course where you’ll want a spare sleeve of balls to hand. In fact, make that two.

Thankfully, the fairways are forgiving and the greens putt true. As long as you work with the wind and don’t let the views distract you, you’re in with a chance of a low score. Have your camera ready on the 12th hole for that classic Cape Town photograph. Yes, the one with the mountain…