BIG MOVER

GLEN­DOWER ROCK­ETS UP TO NO 4 IN OUR RANK­INGS. THAT’S JUST THE START OF THE CHANGES.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean

Glen­dower rock­ets up to No 4 in our rank­ings. That’s just the start of the changes.

It has stayed in the shad­ows of its ri­vals for far too long, but a cel­e­brated golf course nally gets its just re­ward in Golf Di­gest’s bi­en­nial sur­vey of South Africa’s 100 Great­est Golf Cour­ses. That course is Glen­dower, which not only re­turns to the top 10 of the rank­ings, but leaps right in at No 4.

In our previous rank­ing, in 2014, this old Jo­han­nes­burg golf club, al­most an oc­to­ge­nar­ian, was only con­sid­ered the third best course in Gaut­eng, but three con­sec­u­tive years host­ing the SA Open at this clas­sic cham­pi­onship lay­out from late 2013 to early 2016 has turned the minds of many of the raters who con­trib­uted to our lat­est sur­vey. It is now sit­ting right be­hind the Big 3 of South African golf – Fan­court Links, Leop­ard Creek and the Gary Player Coun­try Club.

Glen­dower, a Charles Ali­son design from the late 1930s, has long had a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the more chal­leng­ing parkland tests in the coun­try, and one that vis­ually in­tim­i­dates the golfer on vir­tu­ally ev­ery hole. How­ever, its virtues of late al­ways seemed to be sec­ond best to that of a rel­a­tively close neigh­bour, the es­teemed East course at Royal Jo­han­nes­burg & Kens­ing­ton. Now, though, Glen­dower sits six places above the East course, an­nual host to the Joburg Open on the Euro­pean Tour, which took the nal spot in the top 10.

Our 2016 rank­ings are full of other sur­prises too. Dur­ban Coun­try Club re­turns to the top 5 for the rst time since 2009, while there are as many as nine new­com­ers; fresh faces are al­ways wel­come. Among those nine are two new cour­ses – High­land Gate in Mpumalanga and Wedge­wood in the East­ern Cape – which means that some fa­mil­iar names of old re­turn to the top 100 af­ter ab­sences of some length. Another course mak­ing its very rst ap­pear­ance, af­ter

years of try­ing, is Ea­gle Canyon, which has strug­gled for recog­ni­tion for var­i­ous rea­sons since be­ing opened in 2005.

If you are won­der­ing what has hap­pened to Steyn City, the ex­pan­sive new high-pro le Nick­laus Design in Gaut­eng, the an­swer is that it is not yet el­i­gi­ble. A course must be open for play for at least three years be­fore it can be con­sid­ered for in­clu­sion.

For the rst time, the Fan­court Links re­tains its ti­tle as the coun­try’s No 1 course, al­beit by a nar­row mar­gin. The Links and Leop­ard Creek have been du­el­ing closely for the ti­tle the past ve years. Leop- ard Creek was No 1 in 2010 and 2012, while the Links was rated best in 2011 and 2014. Be­ing two very dif­fer­ent golf cour­ses, cre­ated just four years apart, it has al­ways been dif cult for Golf Di­gest’s course eval­u­a­tion raters to sep­a­rate them. Their ex­clu­siv­ity as pri­vate clubs adds to the aura of play­ing the cour­ses, but that does not dis­tin­guish one from the other. For many golfers it comes down to per­sonal pref­er­ence in choos­ing be­tween op­po­sites.

Leop­ard Creek is about the warmth of the African bushveld, a truly unique South African golf­ing adventure;

The Links re­minds us of the game’s ori­gins in Scot­land, be­ing chal­lenged by the el­e­ments and the va­garies of the land­scape. Its ad­her­ence to walk­ing and hav­ing a cad­die for each player is a re­fresh­ing pol­icy at a time when cart golf, com­mon for in­stance at Leop­ard Creek, is ubiq­ui­tous. It’s re­mark­able that Gary Player de­signed both cour­ses.

One thing they have in com­mon, though, and the rea­son why they have so­lid­i­fied the top two places on our list, is that they are mas­ter­pieces of mod­ern design in breath­tak­ingly aes­thetic sur­round­ings. The Links can­not rest on its lau­rels though. Leop­ard Creek owner Jo­hann Ru­pert is con­stantly tak­ing his prop­erty to grander lev­els; a new prac­tice fa­cil­ity built last year is said by some to be even bet­ter than the one at Au­gusta Na­tional. That shouldn’t strictly have a bear­ing on our course rank­ings, but in such a close vote the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence can sway those on the fence.

FAREWELLS

The rank­ings say farewell for the last time to King David, the Cape Town course hav­ing closed at the end of 2015. This unique Bob Grims­dell lay­out will be missed, not only for its retro looks and stand-out holes, but by Western Cape golfers who now have fewer cour­ses on which to get a

game. Many of the “af­ford­able” mem­ber cour­ses in the Cape were al­ready do­ing a high num­ber of rounds in 2015. The King David mem­bers have moved to Mow­bray, and week­end tee times are sub­se­quently at a pre­mium at the new King David Mow­bray.

Another ne lay­out to have left the Top 100, a course which was in the top 30 just eight years ago, is Hans Meren­sky, bor­der­ing the Kruger Na­tional Park at Pha­l­aborwa. It has sadly been ne­glected so badly by its cur­rent own­ers that it is hardly worth play­ing with­out feel­ing a sense of re­gret. Also a Grims­dell design, and one that was the rst in South Africa to cap­ture the

golf and wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether. Its road to ruin be­gan when a hous­ing es­tate among the holes was rst al­lowed to blight what should al­ways have been looked upon as a walk in a na­ture re­serve.

The cour­ses which have de­parted the top 100 this time around will prob­a­bly be talked about even more than those who have taken their places.

Another high ier from ear­lier days no longer con­sid­ered good enough is Sel­borne Park, on the KZN South Coast, which in 2002 was ranked at No 28. Sel­borne was the rst es­tate course in the late 1980s, and such was the rar­ity of new cour­ses in that era that it was greeted with oohs and aahs at the time. The course is on a beau­ti­ful es­tate, but no longer do we look at it through rose-tinted glasses. Los­ing the pris­tine qual­ity that was the hall­mark of the reign of former owner De­nis Barker, its ag­ing, sag­ging fea­tures are all too ap­par­ent to the crit­i­cal mod­ern eye. What were once quirky design fea­tures are now seen as aws, in­clud­ing one of Sel­borne’s weak­est holes, the short par-4 18th. Too many ap­proach shots are played to el­e­vated greens. That’s the na­ture of the hilly South Coast ter­rain – Um­doni Park next door has many sim­i­lar up-and­down holes. But at Um­doni, which re­mains in the Top 100, the nat­u­ral beauty of the holes among in­dige­nous for­est makes them some­how more ac­cept­able.

Any num­ber of good golf cour­ses have also been opened for play since Sel­borne’s early years, and about 50 of them now grace the Top 100. So it’s easy to see why our favourites of yes­ter­year have been su­per­seded. In­ter­est­ingly, 32 of the cur­rent Top 100 cour­ses didn’t ex­ist in 1997, when Golf Di­gest rst be­gan the rank­ings.

Tra­di­tional old cour­ses have re­gained favour among the Golf Di­gest rat­ing panel, who this year sat down in dis­cus­sion groups to dis­cuss the mer­its of each course in the Top 100, us­ing the Golf Di­gest rat­ing cri­te­ria as a guide­line. Back in favour are Bloem­fontein Golf Club and Port El­iz­a­beth Golf Club, both with plenty of cham­pi­onship his­tory, plus State Mines, Read­ing, ERPM and Riviera in Gaut­eng.

Among those ousted are es­tate cour­ses where the over­pow­er­ing prox­im­ity of hous­ing has re­duced the ap­peal of play­ing them for golfers who like to es­cape to more nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. Sel­borne is one, and oth­ers are Blue Val­ley, Cen­tu­rion and Lange­baan.

Two of South Africa’s four Royal clubs are no longer in the Top 100, Dur­ban and Port Al­fred fall­ing by the way­side for the rst time since the Top 100 was inau­gu­rated.

GLEN­DOWER

When Golf Di­gest started rank­ing cour­ses in 1997, Glen­dower was con­sid­ered the premier course in Gaut­eng, at No 6 in the coun­try. It had hosted a highly suc­cess­ful SA Open that year, the rst one to be part of the Euro­pean Tour. The East course at Royal Jo­han­nes­burg (this was be­fore the club’s merger with Kens­ing­ton) was only the fourth best course in Gaut­eng, also trail­ing the River Club and the old Houghton lay­out.

Glen­dower re­mained a top 10 course, and stayed ahead of Royal East, right up un­til 2008, when it was given a ma­jor up­grade by Golf Data, a com­pany which has been so suc­cess­ful in this area of course con­struc­tion. That up­grade in­cluded an en­tirely new fth hole, and this par 4, while no pushover in terms of chal­lenge or length – at 460 me­tres from the tips it was the hard­est hole in terms of scor­ing av­er­age at the re­cent SA Open – still hasn’t found univer­sal favour with our rat­ing panel. Glen­dower has so many ter­riffic holes, and this one does not quite have the same dis­tinc­tion. It will grow on us.

The “new look” Glen­dower also su ered from bad tim­ing in terms of the rank­ings. El­e­ments and St Fran­cis Links burst into the top 10 at that time (2009-10), and Glen­dower un­ex­pect­edly found it­self on the out­side look­ing in at No 12. In many ways the up­grade at Glen­dower mir­rored the even more sub­stan­tial one, in both mag­ni­tude and cost, to the Mon­tagu course at Fan­court by David McLay Kidd in 2004. The old Gary Player-de­signed Mon­tagu hit No 1 on the rank­ings at the turn of the mil­len­nium, but fol­low­ing the much hyped makeover by McLay Kidd it had fallen to No 10 by 2008. To­day it has re­cov­ered to No 6, and it is de nitely a bet­ter course than the orig­i­nal.

The re­spec­tive mer­its of Glen­dower and Royal East came un­der closer ob­ser­va­tion the last three years when they both be­gan host­ing Euro­pean Tour events. Sim­i­lar in their parkland cloaks, they nev­er­the­less have di er­ent design at­tributes which clearly dis­tin­guish them. Glen­dower more

of­ten pun­ishes way­ward or care­less shots, and in the SA Open has shown it­self to be al­most a shot tougher than the East when you com­pare the week­end scor­ing av­er­age of the tour pro­fes­sion­als.

Glen­dower also trumps the East when it comes to the con­sis­tency of its con­di­tion­ing. Course su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Burnard not only gets the course in great shape for the Open, but main­tains that qual­ity most of the year. The East course, mean­while, of­ten seems to be in­fe­rior in con­di­tion­ing to its sib­ling, the West course. And the West has ac­cord­ingly gone up in the rank­ings, while the East has fallen.

DUR­BAN CC

Sev­eral South African cour­ses have fea­tured promi­nently in re­cent world top 100 rank­ings, and many gol ng purists will be pleased to see that Dur­ban Coun­try Club, highly re­spected by in­ter­na­tional raters who are fre­quent vis­i­tors, is back in our top ve at No 5. The cu­ri­ous thing is that South Africans don’t seem to love Coun­try Club as much as those vis­i­tors to our shores. Why are we so dis­mis­sive of our older cour­ses? Just three cour­ses built be­fore the Sec­ond World War grace our top 10, and DCC is the old­est of them. It is not far o its cen­te­nary, and we should ap­plaud its con­tin­ued em­i­nence in the greater gol ng world.

Dur­ban CC was ranked as high as No 4 in 2009, but then fell from there to 6 to 9 to 11, be­fore re­cov­er­ing to No 10 in our 2014 rank­ing. The course strug­gled for sev­eral years with the er­ratic con­di­tion­ing and slow­ness of its pas­palum greens, be­fore in 2010 the de­ci­sion was made to re­place them with another warm sea­son grass, mini verde, never pre­vi­ously tried in South Africa. This was done in the months pre­ced­ing the club’s host­ing of the 100th SA Open, and Golf Data took the op­por­tu­nity at the same time to ren­o­vate the greens com­plexes.

The mini verde greens took longer than ex­pected to set­tle, but a de­ci­sion to in­volve lo­cal turf ex­pert Mark Walling­ton at the

club paid div­i­dends. With his knowl­edge and in­put the grass has de­vel­oped into a su­perb putting sur­face, ad­di­tion­ally bring­ing the much needed ex­tra pace to the greens which they had promised.

Coun­try Club also em­barked on a long-term plan to open up as many of the holes as pos­si­ble. By re­mov­ing as much of the in­va­sive trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion and trees as they could, they have opened up new vis­tas and started to repli­cate the more links-like look of the course from years gone by.You only have to stand on the tee of the par-5 third, one of DCC’s sig­na­ture holes, to ap­pre­ci­ate the clean lines of de ni­tion all the way to the green, par­tic­u­larly around the sec­ond fair­way bunker nearer the green.

Another old clas­sic, Hume­wood, which is also revered by in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, didn’t quite make the top 10 this time, but its re­nais­sance con­tin­ues. It has risen to No 11 in the rank­ings, hav­ing been No 20 in 2011. The 2009 up­grade to the greens by Golf Data’s Sean Quinn has done won­ders to our one and only nat­u­ral links course. Hume­wood so im­pressed Aus­tralian Dar­ius Oliver, an au­thor­i­ta­tive voice in golf course design who spent ve years study­ing 1 200 cour­ses in 45 coun­tries, that he in­cluded it at No 94 in his Planet Golf rank­ing of the world’s top 100 cour­ses. It is the only South African course on his cur­rent list.

HIGH­LAND GATE

Ernie Els has a pas­sion for golf course design, and his new en­try into the Top 100, High­land Gate, at No 21, is a course that is thrilling those golfers who have vis­ited this re­mote gem in the moun­tain­ous re­gion of Mpumalanga. Els now has three cour­ses in the best 50 – the oth­ers be­ing Oubaai and Copperleaf. Of mod­ern de­sign­ers, Peter Matkovich has nine en­tries in the best 50, Gary Player eight, and Jack Nick­laus ve.

High­land Gate, near the get­away des­ti­na­tion of Dull­stroom, was orig­i­nally a Mat- kovich project in the boom days of golf es­tates ear­lier in the mil­len­nium. It’s re­garded as the premier flyfish­ing area in the coun­try, and a golf es­tate seemed a nat­u­ral t. (High­land Gate is re­ferred to as a golf and trout es­tate.) How­ever, it went through nan­cial set­backs be­fore be­ing re­vived with Els as the course de­signer. He rst vis­ited the site in 2005. Even when the course was com­pleted al­most ve years ago, it couldn’t be opened to the pub­lic for play un­til Cen­tury Prop­erty De­vel­op­ments had per­formed a res­cue act in terms of in­vest­ment, which in­cluded tar­ring the ac­cess road.

High­land Gate, with its brac­ing moun­tain air and scenic coun­try­side, is a mag­i­cal place for golf. It’s an ex­pan­sive and cre­ative design, with con­tin­u­ous changes in el­e­va­tion, pro­vid­ing a rich va­ri­ety of holes to en­joy. The to­pog­ra­phy means it is di cult to walk, and a golf cart is the sen­si­ble op­tion, but that does not de­tract from the ex­pe­ri­ence. Els and his design team al­ways keep the av­er­age golfer in mind, and High­land Gate o ers gen­er­ous width and playa­bil­ity, with one ex­cep­tion, the par-5 14th hole, sit­u­ated in a river val­ley. This is hope­fully still a work in progress, as it is a jar­ring note in an oth­er­wise su­perb lay­out.

Golf Data have trans­formed the for­tunes of many a golf course in South Africa since Rob­bie Mar­shall’s com­pany rst started out some 25 years ago do­ing mi­nor up­grades. By giv­ing a mod­ern facelift to plain old greens and out­moded bunkers, Mar­shall and de­signer Mark Muller spe­cialised in turn­ing hith­erto dowdy lay­outs into beauty con­tes­tants. They pro­gressed from lesser tracks to fa­mous ones, and build­ing cour­ses in South Africa for Nick­laus and Els.

Two of our big­gest golf clubs, Coun­try Club Jo­han­nes­burg and Rand­park, have en­trusted Golf Data with the com­plete ren­o­va­tion of their 36-hole fa­cil­i­ties. The Firethorn course at Rand­park, com­pleted a year ago, was per­haps the ul­ti­mate in their

ren­o­va­tion work. Mar­shall’s cur­rent de­signer, Sean Quinn, who took over from Muller, turned the rout­ing around in places and built seven new holes. A big im­prove­ment on the old lay­out.

Golf Data have not just con­fined them­selves to re­mod­elling work, but also de­signed and built their own cour­ses from scratch. One of the rst, by Muller, was At­lantic Beach in the Cape. In 2014 Quinn’s Kat­berg design en­tered the Top 100, and this year it is the turn of another new East­ern Cape lay­out he did, Wedge­wood, at No 88.

Wedge­wood is the rein­car­na­tion of a Bob Grims­dell course that pre­vi­ously ex­isted out­side the Port El­iz­a­beth city lim­its, built on pretty much the same in­ter­est­ing site. It has been an enor­mous suc­cess with lo­cal golfers, be­cause it o ers pay-and-play golf on a fun and short­ish course at a very rea­son­able price. That’s a good for­mula to em­ploy in this day and age if you want to grow rounds. Golf Data own the course, which is part of a golf es­tate that is in the early stages of de­vel­op­ment.

Wedge­wood also pos­sesses greens which must rank among the nest in golf. A com­bi­na­tion of A1/A4 bent grass, they are so pure, and of a per­fect rm tex­ture, that good put­ters start sali­vat­ing at the prospect of play­ing there.

SA OPEN VENUE The par-4 11th hole at Glen­dower, which has hosted the last

three SA Opens.

HIGH CLIMBER

Ge­orge Golf Club re­turns to the top 20, not sur­pris­ing with views like this from the green of the par-5 sec­ond hole.

RIVER VIEWS

The Jack Nick­laus design of Si­mola, at Knysna, of­fers golfers sen­sa­tional views, in­clud­ing this one on the

par-3 sixth hole.

NAT­U­RAL LINKS

The 1st hole at Hume­wood.

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