It is said that members of Port Elizabeth Golf Club approached Colonel SV Hotchkin in 1929 to design a new course to accommodate the insatiable appetite for golf at the turn of the century. A mere two years later and with army-like precision, a stunning links layout was complete.
Cut out from low-lying coastal scrub, over meandering windy terrain beside Algoa Bay, one of South Africa’s most famous courses and only links course at the time was born. Stories abound about the incessant wind, balls being blown off greens and the treachery of gnarly, low-lying bush where many a ball vanished never to see the light of day again.
The prevailing winds, the easterly or westerly, amazingly blow into or from behind the majority of the holes, undoubtedly not an oversight on the designer’s part.
The great Bobby Locke, who won five British Open tournaments, – which certainly qualifies him to comment – was quoted as saying Humewood was the finest golf course in South Africa. Although this was back in the ‘40s with many courses mushrooming up since, Humewood consistently manages to maintain her ranking in the top 10 South Africa has to offer.
By definition, a ‘links’ golf course is meant to have bunkers that are deep enough to stop the breeze from blowing the sand out of them. But ‘breeze’ is a term that is not used very often in Port Elizabeth, also affectionately known as the ‘The Windy City’.
For it is the wind that protects her and the lack thereof that denudes her of the aura and respect she deserves. Having said that, the course still manages to protect herself like a true lady on the rare occasion when Mother Nature decides to be kind. As for the additional ‘criteria’ of a true links course, she is well worth her weight in sea sand. The term, originating in Scotland, in its purest sense refers to a strip of arable land between the ocean and the land. It’s not quite in Scotland, but with Humewood originally having agricultural land bordering it, it can certainly be classified as one of South Africa’s true links courses.
Deviating from the links theme is the fact that the course loops back on itself as opposed to having a proper outward and inward nine, in true links fashion.
The layout of the course is slightly different to the norm, as the front nine has only one par five, hence the par 35, while the back nine has three, making it a par 37.
The 1st hole is a nice welcoming par four of no more than 356 metres with no real danger for the average golfer as the two fairway bunkers are a decent bash to reach. Depending on the wind direction, the par-three 3rd, at 194 metres, is when you feel the first bite of Humewood. Into the wind, a driver will suffice for many. The safe shot is to miss left, as bunkers guard the right side. A par, if offered, should be taken every time.
The Colonel certainly had a grin on his face when designing the 4th hole. At 354 metres, it includes fairway and greenside bunkers, making it a tough ask for even the most experienced golfer.
Yardage is also paramount, as the 100-feet-deep green demands your full attention.
Nasty in its simplicity, the par-three 6th is a real tease. At 123 metres, you would be forgiven for not giving it your full attention, but beware the well-protected and elevated turtle-shell-like green.
From the tee-box, the surrounding trees will mislead you as to the wind’s direction and severity. The hole also has an unnerving similarity to the ‘Prince of Wales’ 12th hole at Durban Country Club, with severe drop-offs and deep bunkers. This hole is well documented as one of the most difficult par threes on African soil.
The difficulty of the stroke-one 8th is its length, some 413 metres, which is compounded by a bushy graveyard both left and right, and it requires both accuracy and a large dose of nerves.
The long 10th (previously a par five) is a true links-like hole; the rolling fairway, which is slightly obscured from the tee, is saturated with swales and hollows, assuring you an uneven stance. A long second into predominantly crosswinds to an undulating green completes a difficult hole.
The view that greets you after a short walk to the elevated 11th tee gives you a true sense of the land and beauty of this course with the ocean as a backdrop.
Gary Player himself identified the 13th as one of the toughest par fours he has ever played. Just shy of 400 metres, this uphill monster requires total accuracy, and then the rolling fairway may still dish up a stance reminding you of a giraffe struggling to drink! And with that image in mind you still have a tiny green to hit, that is protected by what appears to be an elephant buried right and short of the green and bush all around. It is a hole not for the faint-hearted.
With no respite in mind, the Colonel then created a true gem. An elevated par three, with a green that has a ridge through it, pot bunkered left and a drop-off over the back, and if that wasn’t enough, another blind bunker right.
The next two holes are higher strokes and although demanding precision off the tee, they are relatively straightforward.
The par-five 15th is followed by the relatively short par-four 16th. This hole, at only 259 metres, gives you the option of going for the green, bearing in mind it is well protected by bunkers. The 17th’s difficulty lies in its length, strong crosswinds and a green that falls away at the sides.
The 18th is a great finishing hole; with the clubhouse beckoning you in for a frosty, you know you are a mere 358 metres away. The fairway bends slightly to the right and is inundated with more buried elephants.
With the ball guaranteed to be above or below your feet, and a well-bunkered green, your work is still cut out for you. After sinking your putt on the biggest green of the course, a moment is needed to acknowledge these truly memorable 18 holes.
The clubhouse is one to be enjoyed with a friendly atmosphere, thick soft carpets and panoramic views from the balcony, making a cold beverage after the round a must. The course experienced high volumes of winter rain, and with new superintendent Vernon Waters, previously from Wedgewood and the Links at St Francis, the layout is in good hands.
The bent-grass greens, running between nine and nine-point-five on the stimp, have settled in well, and are now well established after almost two years.
Furthermore, with a tee-box redesign underway with an extension of the 2nd, modification of the 10th and redesign of the 18th, the course is adding options to its layout.
Not a stranger to big events like the Goodyear Classic, which was hosted here from 1984 to 1992, and with whisperings of it being in its best shape in years, Humewood’s next big event can’t be too far off. Having hosted the SA Open five times and the SA Amateur 10 times, she is revered by your average golfer and professional alike.
This is a course that has to be on your bucket list – steeped in history and mercurial by nature, she is truly one of our best.
Humewood’s opening hole is a gentle par four of 356 metres. Of course it plays considerably longer should the wind whip up off the coast.
The par-five 11th hole, often played downwind, is considered a birdie hole if you are able to find the short grass off the tee. As with most links courses, you would be lucky to find an even lie for your approach shot.
The par-three 12th hole measures only 154 metres from the back tees. Some nasty bunkers are well positioned to gobble any errant tee shot.
The iconic white clubhouse at Humewood is visible from most parts of the course and is home to one of the best 19th holes in the country.
Getting there: From Port Elizabeth CBD take Humewood Road (runs parallel to the beach) away from town. Humewood Road becomes Beach Road, and the course will appear on your right.
Course: Links, par 72 (rated 71). Cynodon fairways with bent-grass greens, 6 022 metres.
Designer: Colonel SV Hotchkin, 1931
General Manager: Brad Muller
Course Superintendent: Vernon Waters
Club Champion: Michael Holden
Greenfees: R295 affiliated R450 non-affiliated
Contact: 041 583 2137
- The bent-grass greens are a definite winner.
- The course is steeped in history and the knowledge of all who have passed before certainly adds to the experience.
- The clubhouse atmosphere and thick carpets make the 19th hole hard to leave.
… AND DISLIKES
- The bunkers can be somewhat powdery at times, leading to the all too well-known ‘fried egg’.
- The driveway up to the clubhouse. Here you either need to wait for players to finish on the 17th green or tee off on the 18th. If not, you’re running the gauntlet!