JOHN COCKAYNE: On course for putting and pottering around KwaZulu-Natal
We continue our golf travel feature in discussion with Durban’s Elangeni Hotel CEO Wayne Smith, who confesses, as a golfer, to getting full value for money for his green fee.
The Elangeni’s location puts Durban’s nightlife and attractions on the hotel’s doorstep, while the beachfront is only a gentle lob wedge from the foyer. Golfers have equally easy access to the city’s golf courses at Durban Country Club and Royal Durban and can venture slightly further afield up the N3 to Cotswold Downs in Hillcrest.
Wherever the golfers choose to play, there is the excellent chance they will not even be missed by their families. Happily, that is the point of the exercise.
Stopover number four was at the Beverly Hills hotel in Umhlanga. This unashamedly luxury hotel has been a perennial favourite of ours for many years. The connection stretches back over five decades, from my mother’s first visit in 1969 when the cabana rooms were still the site of the Copacabana nightclub.
“Welcome home” is the usual greeting for us on arrival, but John Aritho and his team do not differentiate and go out of their way to make every guest feel special, whether they are a newbie or a 50-year veteran.
We were booked for three nights but extended this stopover to 10 to provide much-needed rest and recreation and sea air after the rigours of the lockdown in midyear.
The extended stay enabled me to meet Steve Sewell from GolfVistaSA and discuss new plans for the website and its developing role as a much-needed shop window for local golf holiday packages. Golfers planning a family trip will find this site very useful as it details the golf courses in each area, things to do and places of interest near each club.
I also had the opportunity to spend time with Samantha Croft (director of Tsogo Sun’s KwaZulu-Natal operations and the group’s resorts portfolio) in which she shared intel on some of the challenges and successes during the lockdown and in its immediate aftermath. The good news is that the rationalisation of staff numbers and processes have pared off fat accumulated over the years and that the guest experience will not be compromised.
This was certainly the case from what I saw. Watching the food and beverage teams of Pranesh Sukhdeo at Drakensberg Sun and Smith at the Elangeni “choreograph” staff and guests through a Covid-safe modified buffet-breakfast was an education.
Umhlanga is ideal for golf excursions to Mount Edgecombe and northwards to Zimbali and Prince’s Grant, and non-golfers will have little concern about what you are doing on the course as the Beverly Hills is one of only a handful of SA’s hotels with direct access to the beach. In addition, the gardens and heated pool provide the backdrop to views of whales and dolphins cruising by between the breakers and ships moored offshore waiting to enter port.
Immediately behind the hotel is Umhlanga Rocks village, with its restaurants and bars, while on the ridge sits one of the country’s finest shopping centres, Gateway, so golfers’ only concern for their families might be about potential damage to their credit cards.
The final leg took us back along the N3 towards Harrismith and into the heart of the Midlands Meander and to Bosch Hoek, which is an oasis of charm and sophistication and only a short par five from the N3’s Balgowan exit.
I have known Bosch Hoek golf course since the early 1980s, but the transformation, which has been gradual and considered, is remarkable. Andrew Clark, the owner and CEO, acknowledges that this is a work in progress, which has allowed for organic changes such as the development of property ownership.
The move away from Bosch Hoek being seen just as a golf club is subtle but important. With the opening of Bosch Hoek Lodge, expertly managed by Michael Senke, Bosch Hoek has reached another milestone in its journey to becoming a fully fledged holiday destination.
The original course, which is quite beautiful, looked to be in superb condition and both it and the golf operations are overseen by Brad Ross, the director of golf.
The personal engagement, from discussing what we would like for dinner each day to Clark loaning me a warm jacket (rain and cool weather being the norm in the last week of the trip), epitomises Bosch Hoek management’s strategy, which is to create a personalised and singular experience for each guest.
I am confident the attention to detail, sensitive pricing, careful positioning in marketing terms — the latter being overseen by Kayleigh Page — will reap deserved rewards soon.
Overall, the trip was great fun. The drive option adds the flexibility of having transport to hand, without the expense of car hire and flights and, above all, avoids being at the airport three days before the flight, with the risk of being overweight with only a toothbrush in your top pocket!
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