The first time I played Devonvale, we finished up in the late afternoon and sat in a small boma area near to the clubhouse downing a frosty and watching the Simonsberg light up in a kaleidoscope of pink and red.
The next time was as part of the dawn patrol and I remember being awed by the misty beauty of the Bottelary Valley, that crisply fresh feeling you get from the air in this part of the world – Mother Nature’s Epsom salts. If you’ve not experienced golf in the Cape Winelands, you’ve missed out. From the classic old tracks of Stellenbosch and Paarl to the new kids on the block like Pearl Valley and De Zalze, golf among the vines is as pleasurable, satisfying and cerebral as the fermented product of their collective fruit.
And never were both sentiments more true than in the case of this month’s featured course, Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate.
It’s almost eight years ago that we last featured Devonvale and, at the time, it was proudly boasting a ‘new’ housing estate of sorts and a conference centre, but to be fair, for the most part, it was still a fairly humble, countrified golf experience.
In the years between then and now, however, under the leadership of JJ Provoyeur, this little gem in the Winelands has glowed increasingly stronger, culminating in the complete renovation of the rather pokey old clubhouse that opened in October 2008.
As for the conferencing side, things have gone from strength to strength – thanks in no small part to the 40 rooms available at the lodge – and further accommodation available in rental-pool units in the adjacent estate. But the main reason that the corporate market has embraced Devonvale with as much enthusiasm as the constant flow of day visitors probably has more to do with an intangible quality about the entire development that gives it a kind of ‘X’ factor.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, in a day and age when marketers tend to stand on rooftops with loud-hailers, JJ and his team have taken a far more organic, dare I say, subdued, route to market. Perhaps they feel that the place speaks for itself and that word of mouth is the strongest ally in the world.
The net result is that there’s an air of humility about the place entirely in keeping with its genteel surrounds.
Or perhaps it’s because there’s a sense of rationality about the whole thing that restores one’s faith in ‘sensitive’ developers. Yes, they do exist!
Built for the main part ‘behind’ the clubhouse, the ‘estate’ component, together with the lodges and conferencing side of things, effectively forms a village that only really impacts on the aesthetics of the course on the opening hole. And although there was talk of a further phase of development sprouting up between the 2nd fairway and Bottelary Road that borders the course, it seems to be off the table completely for the near future. As general manager Ryno Bernado explains, “It’s been a few years of plenty of activity, but the building and everything is now done and we’re very much concentrating on providing a great golf course and a great day out.”
Then again, it might simply be due to the fact that from the very beginning, Devonvale has been run like a business, or more aptly, like a well-run sailing boat, with captain Provoyeur at the helm! Whatever the reason, it’s clear that there’s a passion at play here that makes for a completely satisfying experience from the moment you drive up the road to the clubhouse to your first steps on one of the most underrated layouts in the Cape.
The Devonvale story goes back to around 1950 and a guy called Simeon Blumberg who dreamed of building a golf course. His more famous brother George is also involved in the murky history of the place, as is Gary Player, but the murkiness of those early days does nothing to detract from the course’s more recent history – the one that starts with JJ buying the ground and finishes with him turning it into a successful course, club and estate.
As is so often the case, those who place importance on golf course ‘rankings’ will probably not consider it worthy of a visit – and if ever there was a case of ‘their loss, not mine’, Devonvale would be it.
It’s a charming track with a front nine that winds up and down the vineyard-flanked slopes and falls away from the clubhouse towards the wooded areas of the back nine.
In recent years the only major change made to the course was the re-routing of the closing holes on the outward nine, primarily as a result of expanding the main storage dam in a bid for complete self-sustainability. And even those changes haven’t altered the character of the course – a fair and friendly challenge.
Some might find fault in the length of the layout, but as is always the case in the Cape, this is the kind of ‘pussycat’ that can just as easily turn tiger if there’s a bit of wind. And as the co-host of the SA Open qualifying rounds, more than a few lusty young guns have found themselves humbled on what is apparently a gentle track. But for the majority of golfers looking for a great game of golf, it will certainly be found here.
Personally, the run of holes from the 2nd to the 4th along the vines has always been memorable – and look out for the wicked par three on the turn of the back nine that is always at least one club more than you thought. What’s more, thanks to that storage dam and a combination of kikuyu fairways and bent greens, Devonvale has withstood the worst that the Cape has thrown at it, and come out looking pretty darn good. And if you haven’t played for a while, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the trees and shrubs have matured, the off-play areas have been cleaned up and in general, how maintenance standards have risen over time.
If there’s one major change in the past few years, however, it’s in those grapes that you might just hook your ball into! It was back in 1999 that vineyards were first planted here, in keeping with the general surrounds, and just five years later, almost as an afterthought, between a small harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, a couple of interested homeowners and Mr Provoyeur, they managed to pick some 10 tons of grapes – and the seed was planted!
As the years have passed, Devonvale wines have grown in quality and quantity, helped out by Dirk Morkel of Bellevue Estate and winemaker Wilhelm Kritzinger, to such an extent that the 2006 Provoyeur Shiraz managed three-and-a-half stars in Platter. For the 650-odd members of Devonvale and the visitors who play more than 40 000 rounds each year on these peaceful fairways, what could be better than sitting on the new balcony, having dinner in the charming clubhouse restaurant and knocking back a bottle of fine, and very local, Shiraz. Well, maybe another round – and a second bottle!
The 15th hole is a par four that requires a well-placed drive to take the tree out of play on the approach – and watch out for the big slope on the right side of the green!
Sixteen is one of the classic holes at Devonvale – apparently straight and flat, it’s a par three that always plays a club or two longer than you think – and the target is surprisingly small.
A driveable par four, the 8th is one of the most memorable holes on the course, not least of all because of its hugely undulating green. Longer hitters will have a go at it, but be careful!
Picture 4: The clubhouse
The new clubhouse at Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate, opened in 2008, has completely transformed the golf experience, but it has somehow managed to retain the lovely ‘country’ feel in the process. There are few better places to sit on a balcony after 18 holes of golf and watch the sun go down over on another glorious day in the Cape Winelands.
- The setting – pure ‘Winelands golf’ and now that the wines are up to scratch, that’s more true than ever.
- The revamped clubhouse.
… and dislikes
- Surely there should be a wine bar somewhere out there on the golf course!
Getting there: Take the N1 towards Paarl, take exit 39 (the R304) to Stellenbosch, proceed for about seven kilometres and turn right into Bottelary Road. Devonvale is about a kilometre down the road, just past Hartenberg wine farm on the left-hand side of the road.
Course: 18 holes, kikuyu fairways, bent grass greens
Designer: Devonvale owners, Gary Player, et al!
Course record: 63 (Norman Dodd in the 2000 Boland Open)
General Manager: Ryno Bernardo
PGA Professional: Anna Becker
Greenfees: Affiliated R260 Non-affiliated R380
Contact: Tel: 021 865 2080 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.devonvale.co.za