Named after the game reserve in Kenya, the Masai Mara course at the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate was designed by the Golden Bear and opened for play in June 2009. The main Masai Mara championship layout is accompanied by the 9-hole Whistling Thorn course and both combine to make the first 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature facility in South Africa.
The endless plains of the Serengeti region that stretch upward through Tanzania and Kenya may be a thousand miles further north than the Serengeti Golf Club in Gauteng, but the landscape is remarkably similar, comprising of open grassland and plains which form the essence of the course design.
Undulating fairways and prolific, rugged, distressed bunkering combine with large, multi-tiered greens to make the Masai Mara course a serious challenge. Routed in a figure of eight with each hole pointing in a different compass direction and each loop returning to the clubhouse, the Serengeti has been developed with tournament play in mind. The 7,761-yard championship tips should be left for the pros to endure unless you’re on top of your game or feeling lucky.
The 8th is the Masai Mara signature hole. It’s an ostentatious short par five with water running all the way down the right hand side of the hole. The green is a Sawgrass-like island that might tempt the big hitters but very few mere mortals will reach the sanctuary of this green in two shots. That said, during the 2011 Open, nine eagles were recorded on this hole (more than any other) and the 8th ended up as one of the easiest holes on the tournament card.
In November 2011 the Masai Mara course hosted the South African Open and the event was hyped as a battle between Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. The battle was on after the first two rounds but fizzled out after the Big Easy carded 76 and 79 for the final two rounds. The Goose finished creditably in 6th place but the 2011 title went to fellow countryman Hennie Otto, who overcame a nervous back nine to win the national title at the fledgling Serengeti.
Henrik Stenson then won the South African Open here the following year, winning by three strokes from nearest challenger George Coetzee. It marked a remarkable turn in form and fortune for the Swede as he had tumbled to number 230 in the world rankings earlier in 2012.