Humewood Golf Club
Eastern Cape, South Africa

Third hole, 220 yards; One tenet of good design that the Golden Age architects embraced from time to time was the notion of building hazards on only one side of the green. The skilled golfer who takes on the challenge is rewarded while those less accomplished are given plenty of room on the other side of the green to work the ball in. This concept is sadly absent from many modern courses in South Africa where bunkers guard the left and right of greens, effectively leaving the golfer little strategy to mull over other than to hit the green. This long par three is a fine case in point with two bunkers right of the green and a low row of mounds left that the golfer can use to feed balls down onto the putting surface.

The most direct route is to aim at the right center of the green. Golfers who choose that way also enjoy the most predictable bounces onto the green. Nonetheless, it brings the two pot bunkers into play. Better yet is to perhaps play one's tee ball just inside the distant left telephone pole in hopes of catching the slope and having one's tee ball feed right onto the putting surface.

Fourth hole, 430 yards; The well conceived bunkering pattern lends this dogleg left its strong character. Two deep greenside bunkers mean that this angled green is best approached from the outside of this dogleg, which, of course, is where two bunkers are found.

Especially when played into the prevailing wind, carrying the left greenside bunkers can be an heroic task.

Fifth hole, 415 yards; There is nothing cluttered about Humewood’s design and indeed, its simplicity makes plenty of modern designs look like they are trying too hard. Sometimes like standing on the fifth tee, the the golfer may be lulled into a false sense of comfort by the fairway’s width. Not unlike Augusta National (at least in its initial form), Royal Melbourne and a host of other Golden Age design, there is frequently a preferred spot within the wide fairway from which to approach certain hole locations.Such is the case here with the pushed-up green pad being one of the very best on the course. Featuring sharp fall-offs left and right alongthe length of this narrow green, only approach shots that are played from the right center of the fairway (i.e. from near the only fairway bunker) enjoy a good look down the throat of the green. Approach shots played from the left side of the fairway come in at an oblique angle with a common result captured in the photograph below.

Typical of many an approach shot into the fifth, this one didn't quite reach the putting surface and rolled down to the base of the built-up green pad, leaving the golfer with several interesting recovery options. This green complex appears natural yet is man-made and is the sort that had yet to be fashioned before Hotchkin's arrival in South Africa.

Sixth hole, 145 yards; Dr. Murray was insistent that a true and proper golf course architect could make a big difference in the quality of golf in South Africa. His belief as well as the faith in the businessmen who hired Hotchkin was handsomely rewarded when it came time to build/create this hole. Set well inland from the sea and running parallel to it, the sixth also falls across level land. In short, it didn’t have much going for it. Yet, in a show of what a great architect brings to a project, Hotchkin constructed one of the continent’s great short par threes. Similar in quality to the all-world twelfth at Woodhall Spa, Hotchkin constructed a built-up green pad whereby the putting surface is some six feet above the surrounding ground and then cut four deep bunkers into its base. At thirty-two yards in depth, the green is a plenty long target but the rub is that it is narrow and the hole nearly always plays in a right to left crosswind. The yardage book claims that this hole ‘was for years regarded as the toughest par 3 on the South African Professional Tour.’ No reason to doubt the claim either!

So simple in appearance yet so elusive to hit: the tabletop sixth green at Humewood. On this particular day, the winds came off Algoa Bay, providing an unusual left to right crosswind.

As the two photographs above show, Hotchkin provided no containment mounds or any other means to help the golfer hit - and hold - the sixth green as the ground slopes away on all sides. The only good news is that once one finds the putting surface, one shouldn't three putt.

Tenth hole, 465 yards; Those who love links golf will have an immediate and strong affection for Humewood as they quickly grasp the subtle playing nuances offered by its crumpled landscape. Here at the tenth, though there are no bunkers from tee to green, the one to three foot humps and bumps that litter the length of the fairway ensure that it rarely plays the same way twice in a row. One day, one’s tee ball may finish slightly below one’s stance and the next it is just as likely to finish slightly above it. In that manner, the golfer is constantly forced to make tweaks and adjustments in his stance to compensate for the wide variety of lies.In this manner,a game remains forever fresh at Humewood, even for those members that have played it for decades.

Hotchkin was an enormous fan of The Old Course at St. Andrews, so it comes as no surprise that he made the point to capture within the tenth fairway these natural rolls which are so highly reminiscent of those from his favourite Scottish course.

Looking back down the long tenth, the golfer appreciates the rumpled landscape.

Twelfth hole, 170 yards; The benefits of building a course on a naturally sandy site are immense. In part, it is the least expensive medium on which to build a course and the grasses that can be cultivated in sandy soil are typically well suited to promoting fast and firm playing conditions. The architect is also afforded a greater range in how he builds his green sites. Appreciating that variety is the mark of all great courses, this green is in stark contrast to the elevated knob of a green that we saw at the sixth. Here a four foot tall mound running the length of the green can be used to bounce balls off its tightly mown surface and onto the putting surface. Though the shot is great fun, Hotchkin couldn’t build such a green on a site featuring clay soil as there would be nowhere for the water to drain. Given the luxury of sand, Hotchkin wisely took full advantage when he created this green complex.

Thirteenth hole, 450 yards; Named by the editors of GOLF Magazine as one of the world’s five hundred greatest holes, the irony is that not one modern architect would build it today as its tiny putting surface on top of a dune would be labeled ‘unfair.’ Fortunately Hotchkin wasn’t shackled by the ill conceived notion that golf needed to be rigidly fair. All-world greens like the thirteenth at Prestwick in Scotland, the sixteenth at Deal in England and the thirteenth at Crystal Downs in the United States have had the best players gnashing their teeth for decades and this green follows suit. At only twenty yards in depth, it is easily the most shallow target on the course. Yet, a low mound that hugs the back and right of the greenhelps it play effectively larger. Judging how to scale the bank in front of this green – and perhaps use the back bank as a brake beyond – is one of the game’s great shots.

A view up the thirteenth shows a fairway full of glorious random land forms, proof positive that mother nature - and not man - creates the most enduring challenges.

Figuring out (through trial and error to be sure!) how best to find the thirteenth green is as enduring a test as is posed by any links in the United Kingdom. Note the bank beyond the green as it can be used as the golfer's friend. The superb tight turf assures the golfer that all ground game options are available to him.

Fourteenth hole, 160 yards; Like its three predecessors, the final one shotter is of such a high standard that one wonders if Hotchkin, like Harry Colt, first located the par threes when routing his courses. This green complex was effortlessly draped on top of a natural six foot tall ridge line. Either short or long and the golfer finds himself well below the putting surface with a tough recovery. A mean little pot bunker is evident left of the green from the tee but a much deeper and bigger one is hidden behind a hill to the right. All in all, this is a particularly fine green to find from the tee.

Notice how the green lies peacefully across the spine of the dune line. Its true terrors aren't revealed from the tee, namely the steep bank over the green and the deep right greenside bunker.

Eighteenth hole, 405 yards; In the August 20th, 1929 edition of South African Golf, they wrote that ‘Major Hotchkin made the interesting statement that the terrain of this course reminded him largely of the famous Prince’s links at Sandwich. As a matter of fact, he had endeavored as far as possible to follow the lay-out of Prince’s in designing the Humewood course.’ While Humewood doesn’t have the enormous sand dunes that Prince’s next door neighbor (Royal St. George’s) does, its golfing ground is nonetheless ideally suited for golf as is proven one last time with its Home hole. Generally played into the wind, the eighteenth heads away from the sea and back toward the clubhouse, which acts as a good aiming point off the tee (the exact part depends on the wind). The Home green and greenside bunkers are the largest on the course, making for a fittingly grand conclusion.

Standing on the eighteenth tee, the golfer finds one last humpy bumpy fairway with which to contend.

The two largest greenside bunkers are found at the eighteenth and leave awkward length explosion shots of twenty to fifty yards.

When the winds blow, Humewood's colonial-era clubhouse affords comfy shelter as well as great views across the course and out to sea from its second story.

Great events happen at great courses, which is one of the reasons that Dr. Murray was adamant that golf course architecture be brought up to date in South Africa. One such event took place in 1952 when Syd Brews won his eighth and final South African Open on the day before his fifty-third birthday. Though not a name familiar to many in North America as his playing career preceded Bobby Locke’s and Gary Player’s, he first put South Africa on the golfing map. In near gale force winds at Humewood that day, Brews was the only man who broke eighty in either of the last two rounds.Indeed his final nine holes was played in one under par in winds that breached 40 mphs and his closing rounds of 78 and 75 are the stuff of legends.

Hotchkin would have been proud had he been there but he never returned to South Africa after his groundbreaking 1929 trip. According to MacWood’s January, 2008 article in the very fine Golf Architecture magazine, ‘From Port Elizabeth, Hotchkin would travel to Durban, Johannesburg, the Reef coast, the Cape peninsula, East London, Port Alfred and then back to Port Elizabeth. During his two month stay he would design three new courses (Humewood, Kloof and The Strand), and propose the reconstruction of an amazing 19 others.’ This included transforming Durban and East London into world class courses as well. However, it all started here at Humewood and from his arrival in 1929 to Charles Hugh Alison’s death in Johannesburg in 1952, South Africa finally got to enjoy its own Golden Age of golf course architecture. Though big name modern golf professionals like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Els continue to leave their mark on golf design in this country, the simple pleasures of man battling nature in an environment where man’s hand was light upon the land continue to enthrall another generation of golfers. Indeed, one wonders that Bobby Locke might still stand behind his statement that Humewood isthe finest course in South Africa.

Located five minutes from Humewood Golf Club, the newly opened Singa Lodge (www.singalodge.com) comes highly recommended as a place to stay in Port Elizabeth.

The End