In our April 2006 course review, Alan Ramsay described Pezula (a Shona word loosely translated as ‘high up with the gods’) as a course you have to play before you die – and before the houses on the estate are built.
Well, it is now five years later and many of those houses that he spoke of have been built, but in my opinion the course is still as special as before, and many of those houses are, in fact, the reason why the course still exists today.
The 18-hole championship layout set atop the Knysna East Head, with views of both the Indian Ocean and the Knysna Lagoon, was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale of Golfplan, a Californian course construction team.
Fream took his inspiration for the layout from James Braid, five-time Open champion and the legendary designer of the King’s Course at Gleneagles in Scotland.
He claims the site is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, complete with the heather-like fynbos, and with a bit of imagination I can see where he is coming from.
In 2002, Pezula Investments, controlled by Keith Stewart, acquired the course, known as Sparrebosch at the time, and set up the club to fit in with the newly opened Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa.
Stewart announced his intention to consolidate his business interests in South Africa last year and approached the Sparrebosch Home Owners Association (SHOA), offering it the opportunity to acquire the golf course and clubhouse, as well as the controlling shares of the club. It was a unanimous agreement between the trustees of the SHOA and towards the end of 2010, the property was formally handed over.
The SHOA immediately showed its long-term intention of passing the entire entity to the golf club members by leasing the property to them for R1 per annum. In addition, it made a financial contribution to the club of R4 million to give security and momentum to the ‘new’ club, and Pezula Investments joined in by also contributing R1 million, which brings us to how everything stands today with the club members running the course, and very efficiently at that.
It is difficult to describe what type of course Pezula really is, as, similar to Pinnacle Point, there is no specific type of design genre.
There are some links features and a unique two-hole parklands stretch, but otherwise the course fits simply into the contours of the land, with the fynbos and wind providing the biggest dangers.
Nevertheless, every hole offers a reasonable challenge from every tee-box, and none more so than the 1st hole, a par five that is also the stroke one. Don’t expect to reach the green in two here as a driver off the tee will more than likely see you land in the 50-metre-wide bushy hazard running up the left and middle of the fairway approximately 200 to 250 metres from the tees.
A solid tee shot with no more than a 3-wood will leave you at least 300 metres from the green with another long shot needed before approaching the green for your third shot.
The par-four 2nd hole is no easier, with water all the way up the right of the hole and bunkers guarding both sides of the landing area on the fairway.
A well-struck 3-wood off the tee will again see you in play, leaving you with a mid- to long-iron into one of the flatter greens on the course.
The short par-three 3rd offers some respite and the first look at the coast before you head into a lightly forested area for the next two holes. Getting to the greens on the par-four 4th and par-three 5th holes is not difficult, but once there, beware of the tricks played on your eyes by the shadows of the tall pine trees.
The next three holes are fairly straightforward par fours, offering splendid views of the homes on the estate and the Knysna Lagoon and town down below.
The back nine then portrays the true links feel that Fream envisioned, with plenty of risk-and-reward holes available, which could either make or break your round.
The four-hole stretch between the 13th and 16th holes, in particular, illustrates the beauty of Pezula and is certain to make you want to come back time and time again, if only to better your score. The problem here is not the difficulty of the holes, but rather the distraction of the surrounding scenery.
Starting with the par-five 13th, your tee shot from an elevated tee box peers down to a snaking fairway that appears to carry on all the way down to the waves crashing into the cliffs below – and is only stopped by a few unfortunate and invasive houses on the edge of the cliffs.
All is forgotten once you arrive at the 14th tee. This par four is the undoubted signature hole of the course and once again offers risk and reward. Big hitters will want to take a dip at this green and will quite easily make the 275-metre carry. The only danger comes when trying to stop the ball on the green as one extremely large bunker guards the front, and there is not much space behind the putting surface. Should you choose to lay up, anything from a 5-iron up will leave you at the top of a small mound with a short pitch across the bunker, but take your time and soak in the incredible views of the Indian Ocean from up there.
From here, you meander your way back up the hill towards the clubhouse with shots across gorges and ditches to test every club in your bag. The par-five 18th allows you one more chance to better your score with the green accessible in two for the big hitters. Just make sure you find the right tier on the green as the heightened plateau in the middle makes for a tough putt, depending on where the pin is situated.
All in all, Pezula Championship Golf Course offers a good challenge to all levels of golfers and will have you reaching for your drink at the 19th knowing every facet of your game was tested.
With Knysna being slightly out of the way for most South Africans, Pezula offers the advantage of making a full vacation or weekend away with the resort and spa on the property and many other outdoor activities to keep the rest of your non-golfing party busy.
The resort itself is definitely five star and this is illustrated in the price per night for a room. However, when your smallest suite features a lounge area with a fireplace, walk-in wardrobe and an en-suite bathroom with heated floors, a large bath and twin vanities, price is totally overshadowed by luxury. A culinary experience is also up for the taking at Zachary’s, one of the top restaurants in the country, where fresh produce and venison meats are readily available for a true African feel.
Days not spent on the course can be filled with horse-back rides, hikes and canoeing down the Noetzie River towards Noetzie beach where you will find an undisturbed cove surrounded by cliffside castles.
Five years down the line, Mr Ramsay’s suggestion of adding Pezula to your bucket list still rings true. It is definitely a course to savour, but don’t expect it to flatter your handicap. And if it’s even worse than that, a massage in the Pezula Spa will elevate you high up with the gods no matter what.
At 467 metres, all downhill, the par-five 13th hole is not that long, but finding the fairway off the tee is a must should you look to reach the green in two shots.
You shouldn’t be disappointed if you find the large bunker guarding the front of the short par-four 14th hole, as it gives you more time to admire the spectacular view of the Indian Ocean. And that is enough reward in itself.
If it’s not the length of the tee shot on the par-three 5th hole that catches you out, the shadows of the tall trees surrounding the green are bound to make your putt that much harder to read.
The modern clubhouse at Pezula also doubles up as the halfway house, with the lounge inside providing the perfect resting place with a drink after tackling the course.
- The friendliness and professionalism of the clubhouse staff.
- The spectacular views.
- The challenge on every hole, especially those with the risk-and-reward element.
… AND DISLIKES
- Certain views have been rudely interrupted by houses, none more so than those at the 13th and 14th greens.
Getting there – Turn off the N2 and take George Rex Drive in the direction of the Knysna Heads. Take the first left past Knysna GC into Wilson Street and at the traffic circle, turn right up the hill to Pezula.
Course – Par 72, 5 963 metres
Designer – Ronald Fream
General manager – Meyer du Toit
Club professional – Simon Jourdan
Course superintendent – Danny Maritz (Turfworx)
Greenfees – from R750 (non-affiliated) R690 (affiliated) per person including golf cart and halfway
Tel – 044 302 5360
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – www.pezulagolf.com