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Serenity in the Highlands – Highland Gate Golf Course
Words: Jason Mylrole. Article from the Compleat Golfer Magazine December 2015.
It may have taken many obstacle-filled years to complete, but since Highland Gate finally opened its doors, it has proven to be a unique golfing experience, only overshadowed by its magnificent vistas.
Dullstroom has always been a popular place for weekend escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life in Johannesburg and Gauteng. Known as one of the best spots for fly-fishing in the country, it is now also home to arguably one of the most serene and spectacular golf estates.
Although Highland Gate has only been open for a short time, it has already cemented its place on the bucket list of most avid golfers, who can expect an emerald-green course even in the driest of winters. Many reckon winter is actually the best time to enjoy the layout, thanks to the cooler conditions and the contrast of the perfectly manicured tees, fairways and greens against the browns and yellows of the surrounding mountains.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Highland Gate, however. Conceptualised in the early 2000s and eventually brought to life by Gate Developers in the second half of the last decade, the estate was designed to be a lifestyle vacation home estate much like Zebula and Elements in the Waterberg region. The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg made it a perfect weekend getaway and the Ernie Els-designed course was set to be a major draw card for prospective buyers.
Ernie and his team have produced a magnificent layout
Gate Developers, with the financial backing of Investec, put all basic services in place to ensure the estate would run without being dependent on the municipality. However, when the recession hit in 2009, it was these new golf estates that took a hit, and Highland Gate, being a second-home estate so far out of the city, was hit hardest, with the developers eventually going under.
Century Property Developments then acquired the ailing estate from Investec in 2012 after seeing the potential to revive this prime property in the Steenkampsberg mountain range outside Dullstroom. In the last three years, it has made big advancements in completing the clubhouse and 18-hole course, while also upgrading the access roads from gravel to tar to ensure Highland Gate takes its place as one of the top lifestyle estates in the country.
The company was fortunate to obtain the estate at a significantly lower market value and has been able to pass this on to the potential property owners, while also offering clients the option to purchase properties in a syndicate, bringing the price down further per person involved.
Century Property Developments acquired the estate with 174 of the 455 stands still available and has since managed to sell more than 20 Its focus has been on marketing Highland Gate as not just exclusively a golf estate, but a place where families can go and participate in many other outdoor activities, including hiking, fly-fishing, mountain biking, picnicking, swimming and bird watching on what has to be one of the most idyllic settings in the country.
When it comes to the design of the golf course, Ernie Els and his team have produced a magnificent layout that has utilised the rolling mountains to perfect effect There are plenty of tee boxes on each hole to make it playable yet challenging for all levels of golfer and enough risk-and- reward opportunities on both nines to make it even more exciting should you not be too distracted by the views offered on each hole.
The tees, fairways, greens and first cut of rough all remain a deep emerald green throughout the year through the planting of cool-season grass on these surfaces.
Courses such as Serengeti and Steyn City in Johannesburg also feature cool-season grass and while it is expensive to maintain, especially in summer when the temperatures soar in the Gauteng region, the rainfall pattern at Highland Gate makes it the perfect place to use this grass, which makes the course a sight to behold in winter
Ernie Els was very involved in the design of the course and says he is still taken aback by the sheer beauty of Highland Gate whenever he goes back.
“There is a grandeur to this scenery that reminds me of the Scottish Highlands, a place such as Gleneagles, for instance,” he said.
“It has that same epic scale with expansive views that seem to go on forever. And the cool-season grasses we have here bless the course with an amazing vibrancy.
“Take it from me, a world- class golf course in such a unique and special setting as this is a rare combination.”
The many risk-and-reward opportunities throughout the 18 holes – as well as the perfect manicuring of the course – has been the drawcard for many enthusiastic golfers happy to make the drive out to Highland Gate. The course has seen many of these players return, with rounds on the constant increase, having reached, and passed, the 1 000 rounds-per- month mark.
“The feedback we’ve had indicates that it is the sort of course that people want to play over and over,” commented Els. “As a golf course designer, that’s music to my ears.”
Els has also spoken about how golfers are torn between hitting shots or taking photos of the course and he couldn’t be more right. The beauty of the location really makes Highland Gate a truly special experience.
This remark is particularly relevant on the par-three 3rd hole, where you hit across a valley to a green on top of a hill that looks out towards the mountains for miles. The deafening silence envelopes you, only to be broken by the distant screech of a fish eagle and you know you are in the heart of nature.
While it is easy to wax lyrical about the beauty of Highland Gate and the lushness of the spectacular golf course, it is really a place you need to experience for yourself… and take the family and friends along.
Properties are developing on the estate at a consistent rate and more recently a golf lodge and convention centre has been completed overlooking the tough, yet magnificent par- five 14th hole, ready to host golfers and corporates for a unique, yet refreshing, escape from normal city life.
From Johannesburg, take either the N12 or N4 east towards Middleburg (N12 becomes the N4) Take Exit 190 off N4 (Carolina; Belfast and Dullstroom.) and at the bottom ot ihe off-ramp, turn let t onto the R540 towards Belfast Continue into Belfast and turn right at the fifth stop street (‘Total garage oiUhe corner) on the R540 to Lvdenburg and Dullstroom Conl inue 30km towaids Dullstroom Take Kruisfontem Road (T5.) right just before you enter the Dullstroom town Continue down Ki uisfontein Road apiproximlfceitf 14km and the entrance to Highland GgtSstate will be on your right
Course: A cross between a bushveld and links layout
Designer: Ernie Els – opened 2008
Golf director: Vincent Coetzee
Course Superintendent: Southern Turf Management
PGA Professional: Michasi Hopkins
Greenfees: R300 per person (weekdays) and R350 (weekends) R300 pel” cart all week
Contact: Tel: 037 ,308 6078
Website: wwwdrighlanclgate co za
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