Presidents Cup shines spotlight on Royal Melbourne, one of many gems in the Sandbelt

The 4th hole at Royal Melbourne (Gary Lisbon)

The 2019 Presidents Cup featured a splendid performance by Tiger Woods, both as player and captain, thrilling competition between the United States and International sides and the emergence of young pros Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer.

But the real star of the weekend was Royal Melbourne, the exquisite Alister MacKenzie design in the Sandbelt, which rewarded angles over power, demanded accuracy approaching the greens and tested each player’s touch, nerve and mental acumen.

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The 16th hole, a 433-yard par-4, was one of our favorites. The players favored the right side of the fairway, unafraid to miss wide in the wispy rough, to assure the proper angle into a undulating green, allowing them to feed their approach shots in from right-to-left and set up makeable putts. Woods closed out his singles match with Ancer on the 16th, draining a 15-foot birdie to give the United States the first point of the final day and jump start the comeback that produced a 16-14 victory.

Cavernous bunkers surround the 13th green at Royal Melbourne. (Gary Lisbon)

Of course, the glowing reviews Royal Melbourne received from players and spectators alike were no surprise to PerryGolf guests, who have enjoyed the temperate climate and finely manicured courses offered throughout the region and across Australia on many occasions. The friendly people and pleasant conditions make the land Down Under one of the five top international golf destinations each year.

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Not only is Melbourne, second-largest city in Australia, a delightful destination but there are seven world-class courses within 20 miles of downtown. Each is renowned for firm, fast turf and sharp greenside bunkers which can pose a problem to even the most advanced short game.

Royal Adelaide has undergone renovations since Dr. MacKenzie designed the course in the 1920s, however, it retains a true links feel, making it unique in a region that features mostly parkland courses. Commonwealth Golf Club, which has played host to the Australian Open, Women’s Australian Open and Victoria Open, finishes with one of the most demanding stretches anywhere. There’s only one water hazard on the layout, but ample trouble lurks. Victoria Golf Club, which recently underwent a renovation by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead (OCCM), is where Peter Thomson, five-time champion of The Open, and U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy learned the game. A three-time host of the Australian Open (and future home of the 2022 Australian Open), the layout also welcomed the Australian Masters in 2010 and 2011 with countryman Stuart Appleby and England’s Ian Poulter hoisting the trophy. Kingston Heath, home to the 2016 World Cup of Golf and 2020 Australian Open, may have the most extreme green complexes of any Sandbelt course and the native grasses bordering the fairways provide sharp definition on rugged land. While all the courses take pride in their excellent condition, using Sutton’s Mix to craft fine putting surfaces, Metropolitan Golf Club (home to the 2018 World Cup of Golf) deserves the accolades it receives for being the best of the best from a conditioning standpoint year round. The marquee courses don’t stop there – also deserving of mention include: Yarra Yarra Golf Club, Woodlands Golf Club, Huntingdale Golf Club and Spring Valley Golf Club. An hour away is the Mornington Peninsula, home to three brilliant courses at The National, plus Sorrento Golf Club and the Tom Doak designed St Andrews Beach Golf Course.

The ideal weather and gently rolling terrain make all of the Sandbelt courses a pleasant walking experience.

Away from the course, take a tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens, an 89-acre park founded din 1846 that features more than 8,500 plant species, peaceful lakes and lush lawns. Tour the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere, with a capacity of 100,000 spectators has served as host for World Cup Finals, Pope John Paul II and the Rolling Stones. The National Sports Museum, which reopens in February 2020 to unveil a massive renovation, is located adjacent to the stadium.

Guests wanting to view Melbourne from an eagle’s perspective will not want to miss the Eureka Skydeck, the Southern Hemisphere’s highest public vantage point. Feeling brave? Step out to The Edge and peer across the vast cityscape with nothing but air beneath you.

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Reflections: Golf, Cape Town, Winelands & Safari in South Africa

Gordon & Marion Dalgleish

South Africa is a very young country filled with an enthusiastic and optimistic population…at least, that is the case for many of the people we encountered in the hospitality sector. Our trip provided a great overview of the nation; from a golf resort to a wine farm, a city experience, and finally safari. This trip does not feel rushed but moves along at a pleasant tempo. 

We always try to learn from our trips and other than some very minor tweaks, this schedule works extremely well. The hotel experiences were all quite different but luxurious and memorable for different reasons. The golf courses were similarly challenging and enjoyable and showed off some of the finest golf experiences in Southern Africa.

Away from the golf experiences, South Africa provides an overall travel experience which is world-class, and at world-class value pricing. United Airlines has joined Delta as the only US-based airlines flying their own planes to South Africa. It is a destination better known to European travelers, but should be on everyone’s bucket list…in my humble opinion.

I cannot begin to quantify the added enjoyment from a compatible group of travelers. Our group was exceptional and an absolute joy to be part of. On a land-based tour like this, group size is also a significant consideration, and I am very confident we have found the sweet spot between 24 – 30 golfers. It is a large enough group so that travelers have flexibility yet small enough that the logistical movements can be handled in a comfortable environment.

PerryGolf offers two escorted trips annually to South Africa, in addition to numerous dedicated departures for individual country clubs designed for their Members’ wishes.

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. View on LinkedIn.

Part 7: Kruger National Park – Golf, Safari & The Big Five in South Africa

Arrival into Skukuza Airport is unlike anything you will have normally experienced: your transfer is in a safari vehicle and between the airport and your accommodation, you will see any number of animals as we did with elephants and giraffes, amongst others.

Our arrival at Jock Safari Lodge and evening game drive on our first evening was hampered by a deluge, but like many things, there is a silver lining. The weather for the next three days was superb and due to the earlier rain, there was more animal activity as they came out to drink.

Our first full day on safari was truly Africa at its best for a safari loving golfer! We departed Jocks Lodge in our safari vehicles for the 50 minutes drive through the park to Leopard Creek, a Gary Player designed course on the edge of Kruger National Park. It also serves as host for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the end of November. The course was in exceptional condition. The clubhouse is stunning and a great morning was had by all.

Returning to camp after golf entailed another animal viewing opportunity before a quick rest, and our evening safari drive later followed a wonderful dinner. No truer an expression than pictures speak a thousand words…the following selection came from our safari experiences in Kruger.

Our last full day in South Africa was enjoyed on safari…the day started with a 5am wake up call and finished with a delightful closing dinner for our group, with new friendships and future travel plans discussed…amidst much laughter and storytelling. The bar at Jock Safari Lodge overooking the dry riverbed is the ideal venue for gathering. Throughout our visit, their team provided excellent food and outstanding, friendly service, which only added to the convivial atmosphere.

Prior to departing for the airport and our homeward journey, our entire group enjoyed one final morning game drive, which was highlighted by lion sightings.

Remarkably, on the 60 minute journey back to the airport, our six-person vehicle saw the Big Five (cape buffalo, rhinoceros, lion, leopard and elephant)…it was a trip which was well documented with more photography, some of which I have shared…but as interesting as the images are, it truly only tells part of the experience!

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. View on LinkedIn.

Part 6: Golf & Sightseeing in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town

After a quiet final evening at Lanzerac, with individual dining arrangements, we set out for the short drive to Cape Town and a four-night stay at the Cape Grace Hotel in the Waterfront. Cape Town is also known as “The Mother City”, which given the history of the area is understandable, as she was originally settled by the Dutch as a refreshment stop to service ships sailing between Europe and Asia many centuries ago. We took the opportunity for some sightseeing en route to our hotel. It is now a city of greater than 4.5 million people. After a stop at Signal Hill which provides great views of the city, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Camps Bay, one of several charming suburbs of Cape Town which enjoy spectacular ocean views.

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a wonderful, planned used development with restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. The Cape Grace Hotel is ideally located beside all of this activity while providing a welcome haven from the nearby bustle with exceptional, understated service. It would be our home for the next 4 nights.

For golfers, our first round of golf was at the Jack Nicklaus Signature designed Pearl Valley. The overcast weather was ideal for golf, with a very light breeze. The course had just hosted their Member’s Club Championship over the prior weekend and the course was in excellent condition. As normal, the golfers enjoyed drinks in the clubhouse after golf and shared stories of their round. Our fifth round of golf for the trip was played over Steenberg, situated in the suburbs of Cape Town in the midst of a wine farm…again, a successful and enjoyable day, albeit windy.

Cape Town is infused with a global streak as she feels European with Asian undertones in many ways but also distinctively African. The location, with Table Mountain serving as a backdrop, is as iconic as Sydney Harbor. With four nights at the Cape Grace, and a group dinner on our third night (many thanks to the Cape Grace Hotel for a great dinner, enjoyed by all), individuals were free to sample the myriad of restaurants that the city offers. My wife and I particularly enjoyed the Codfather and another notable restaurant was the Greenhouse.

V&A Waterfront - The Best of South Africa Escorted - PerryGolf.com
Cape Town with Table Mountain in background

When not playing golf, guided tours were provided to Robben Island, Nelson Mandela’s prison home for 18 years, the Cape of Good Hope and Penguin Colony.

Departing Cape Town on the nonstop flight to Skukuza for three nights in Kruger National Park, there was an air of excitement within the group but also one of appreciation for the time spent in Cape Town and surrounding areas. Based upon comments of my fellow travelers, I think Cape Town met and exceeded expectations on a range of levels.

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. View on LinkedIn.

Part 5: Sabers & Vineyards in the Cape Winelands, South Africa

Boschendal Wine Farm

Three consecutive golf days can often be enough for many travelers, despite how interesting, unique and challenging the courses may be. Our journey to the Winelands, about 60 minutes from Cape Town, was a wonderful break and opportunity for the group to enjoy another element of the South African experience.

Cape Winelands

Dinner on our first evening at Lanzerac House was in the Governor’s Hall and the images do not do it justice. One long, magnificent table with the most comfortable dining table seats I can recall sitting in…coupled with excellent service and food…made for a lovely evening and set the tone for our next 36 hours in this wine region.

Lanzerac House – Dinner in the Governor’s Hall

The following day we visited Boschendal Wine Farm for a wine tasting – it was a gorgeous morning, pleasantly warm while enjoying the shade of a massive oak tree. Three of our group even learned how to open a wine bottle with nothing more than a saber! We also enjoyed an entirely impromptu song from two of the local servers.

From there we had a short ride to Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards for another wine tasting and an excellent lunch.

As we travelled through the countryside, Chris, our Tour Manager provided a concise history of wine and the development of Cape Town & South Africa.

The small town of Franschhoek was our final stop. The second oldest town in South Africa, the central street is a wonderful mix of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops. 

…time to return to our accommodations and for many a relaxing nap!

Lanzerac Wine Estate

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. View on LinkedIn.