SA golf tourism gains pace

4 October 2004

Peter Matkovich, of Matkovich and Hayes Golf Course Architects, is one of the top course designers in South Africa. A professional golfer of 25 years, he has designed or upgraded 16 of the top 100 golf courses in the country.

Matkovich’s assessment of golf tourism in South Africa is that it is one of the fastest growing destinations in the world – and that its full potential hasn’t even begun to be tapped yet.

For Matkovich (whose business partner is Dale Hayes, presenter of the Supersport programme “Pitch and Putter”), South Africa’s biggest drawcards are “golf and game”.

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If it’s not a wildlife safari mixed in with the golf, Cape Town itself is considered a must-see, SA’s beaches rate as some of the most beautiful in the world, the Drakensberg Mountains are stunningly scenic … there are choices to suit anyone’s desires.

But the one consistent explanation that people in the know give for South Africa being a winner with overseas golf visitors – besides the variety of challenging and interesting courses – is the weather, with the times most favoured by overseas visitors being from October to March, during the cold European winter and the warm African summer.

The major centres
Johannesburg and Cape Town enjoy an advantage other South African destinations because of their international airports, allowing visitors direct access to numerous courses.

Richard Fulford is an eight-year veteran of the Sunshine Tour. He also works in the Pro Shop at the Johannesburg Country Club, and has a good idea of just who is patronising the Country Club’s two courses.

He says the Club draws plenty of overseas visitors and that tour operators are bringing in good business, giving three reasons for this: a favourable exchange rate for foreign visitors, the fantastic golf courses, and the one thing that everyone mentions: the weather. He’s also in no doubt: the market is still growing.

At the Royal Cape Golf Club, advance bookings agent Wendy Raeburn says most people that play at the club are from overseas. She reckons golf tour operators have a lot to do with those numbers.

Averil Sander of the Durban Country Club, an internationally renowned course that pulls visitors from abroad because of its name, feels that Durban is “out of the loop” because its airport does not receive direct international flights – despite the fact that Durban and its surrounds boasts seven courses in the country’s top 30.

The southern Cape
But there are areas outside of Johannesburg and Cape Town that attract golf lovers too. George, in the beautiful southern Cape, boasts four courses in South Africa’s top 10, with Knysna’s Pezula in 14th place.

Zimbabwean star Nick Price has bought a property at Pezula, and he describes it as “a place where words alone fail to portray the sheer beauty and tranquility of nature’s gifts” – suggesting that going the extra distance, from either Johannesburg or Cape Town, could prove very rewarding.

Peter Matkovich explains the surge in popularity of the southern Cape. “It all started with Fancourt,” he says, “and then it progressed. A minimum of 12 top courses is needed to create interest in an area.”

He says Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal are probably where the next boom of world-class courses will take place. At present he is busy designing courses in Bela Bela and Dullstroom but, he says, the picturesque Kwazulu-Natal Midlands are set to add a further stunning dimension to South Africa’s golf offerings.

Competition
The United Kingdom and Germany appear to be where most of South Africa’s golf tourists come from, with Switzerland also in the mix, and to a lesser extent other European nations. It seems too that golf is still a male-dominated game, with most of the tourists being men, although there are a fair number of husband-and-wife teams.

Interestingly, Wendy Raeburn at the Royal Cape Golf Club says 2004 has so far been slower than 2003. Averil Sander at the Durban Country Club suggests that competition from Portugal and Spain may be the reason for this.

South African golf courses and tour operators have to ensure that their prices remain competitive, Sander says, otherwise it will be a lot easier for European tourists to visit destinations nearer home.

Matkovich sounds a further word of warning, saying that when the boom really hits and more golf tour operators spring up, it is going to be imperative to enforce good standards: treating visitors well, with top class service, is vital.

There’s no curbing Matkovich’s optimism, however. “It’s a wonderful country and there’s nothing that we can’t do”, he says. “We just need to tell people about it.”