November, 2003. After a comfortable win in their singles match on the final day of the Presidents Cup, a newly-engaged Tiger Woods is facing Ernie Els again, as the battle between America and the Internationals comes down to a play-off between the game’s two biggest stars. In gathering gloom on the third extra hole, some extraordinary putting sees a third successive hole halved, and after much discussion team captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agree to share the trophy. It’s a dramatic end to a captivating week of golf – and brings to an end my first encounter with Fancourt.
That week is still my defining memory of Fancourt, but I’ve accumulated many more since, from playing the three magnificent courses at the resort, to eating some seriously good food, to watching former Springbok Justin Swart sprint out of a corporate function at the appearance of a snake charmer with an albino python. (I wasn’t far behind.) But over the last five years, it’s an annual visit to the Garden Route that’s top of the list of Fancourt encounters: the Dimension Data Pro-am.
Each year the tournament brings together an assortment of business people, celebrities and professional golfers; it’s a sought after invitation, and for good reason. You play three rounds of golf on a trio of exceptional courses, alongside a top professional – in my case Yubin Yung, the young Korean South African, who pointed me in the direction of Johannesburg’s best Korean food. (For the record, it’s Banchan in Parkmore.) You also play with three different amateurs – I had a round with Nick Mallett, which largely consisted of talking about wine. (I did most of the listening…) And you get some brilliant entertainment. This year’s line-up included the impossibly cool Rubber Duc, and the blaze of colour and energy that is the Ndlovu Youth Choir.
And amongst the bad golf and good times, there’s the wine.
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The deck at Fancourt looks down across the 18th green at the Montagu course; it’s an intimidating place to finish when a crowd has assembled, but a great crowd to be part of afterwards, with a chilled glass of Chardonnay celebrating the end of a round on a beautiful, manicured course that can be downright nasty if your golf’s off-colour.
Swapping stories of miracle putts and driving woes while enjoying a glass of wine is part of the fabric of golf, and Fancourt’s deck, on a blue-skied Garden Route day, is a delightful place to do so.
And once the sun’s gone down and the evening’s entertainment takes hold, there’s just as much fun to be had over dinner. Schalk Burger Senior recounting tales of old school rugby misadventure, articulated by the largest hands on earth. (Schalk denies he played Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, but I’m not convinced.) Thandi Ntuli, the rising star of South African jazz, holding the crowd spellbound with a talent that’s destined for the world stage. Nervous glances at Derek Watts to ensure there’s no Carte Blanche camera crew in tow. And an excellent measure to ensure you know you’ve had your fill of wine at the end of the night: if you can start to understand the Scottish dialect of Liverpool great Sir Kenny Dalglish, it’s time to go to bed. There’ll be many more wine-drinking days to be had at Fancourt.
This week I’m drinking:
Unsurprisingly, Waterford – Dimension Data chairman Jeremy Ord is also the man behind the Stellenbosch estate, along with Kevin Arnold, who lends his name to this week’s wine of choice. Give my wife the choice of any bottle on the planet, and without hesitation she’ll take the Kevin Arnold Shiraz. It’s a fine example of a big, strong Stellenbosch red, but with an elegance that makes it a consistent delight to drink. And there’s a lovely family touch to the wine: each vintage has the name of one of the Arnold or Ord children on the label, adding a personal feel to a wine Kevin and Jeremy clearly feel is something special. You’d struggle to disagree.