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Top 100 Golf Courses of South Africa 2018

09 July, 2018

Top 100 Golf Courses of South Africa 2018

Ranking golf courses in South Africa is a relatively new business as Golf Digest produced its inaugural Top 50 for the country in 1998, more than thirty years after magazines in the United States had been producing state, national and international listings. Editor Stuart McLean, correspondent in South Africa, was the man who established that chart and he’s still responsible for the ongoing revision of what’s now become a Top 100 for South Africa.

We also created our own Top 50 in 2008, though it was quickly doubled in size the following edition, and we’ve since extended our coverage down to provincial level, allowing us to showcase more than a hundred and twenty-five courses across nine distinct geographical regions in the rainbow nation. Within our latest Top 100, thirteen courses remain in the same position, forty move up, forty-four fall down and three – Simbithi, Rustenburg and Hans Merensky – drop out.

The first of our chart non-movers is the Links course at Fancourt Hotel & Country Club, which retains its position as the number 1 in South Africa. The 5th staging of The Presidents Cup was held here in 2003, three years after the Gary Player-designed layout opened for play, and a reviewer described it last year as “fantastic” with “an incredibly unique feel to it” that was “unlike anything I have played before or since”. He continued: “there’s also been a real effort in the design to work with indigenous plants to encourage wildlife and support the local ecology, something I think more golf courses should try to do”.

Rising one place to number 3, we have another Gary Player design, Leopard Creek in Mpumalanga, where the layout lies on the southern fringes of the Kruger National Park. It’s just re-opened after an extensive revamp carried out by Golf Data to reposition fairway bunkers, widen landing areas, replace Kikuya fairways with Bermuda grass and replant greens with Champion bent grass. The par three 12th – featuring an unusual Redan-style green – was also redesigned during a comprehensive 8-month upgrade of the property and we’re now looking forward to receiving some reviews for the newly refurbished course in the months to come.

A couple of courses make noteworthy 3-position climbs within the Top 10 places in our new table.

Humewood, located in the sand dunes of Algoa Bay, to the south of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, is now at number four, having risen eleven places to number seven when we last re-ranked two years ago. Designed by Colonel S. V. Hotchkin in 1929, this course was the only African entry to make the True Links book authored by George Peper and Malcom Campbell in 2010. Our US Consultant Fergal O’Leary is a big fan of this place, calling it “a massively underrated layout worthy of major championships… it epitomizes the low-key nature of those sleepy golf clubs you find in GB&I, no frills, no country club, just 100% commitments to true links golf”.

Two places behind Humewood at number 6, the East course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club continues its advance towards the very top of the chart, following a wide-ranging upgrade that was completed at the start of this year. Golf Data’s Robbie Marshall worked with Royal staff and club officials on a number of reforms, such as pruning trees and installing new bunkers, with the aim of improving the overall presentation of the layout. A similar project is now planned for the West course.

Also returning to the South African Top 10, the course at Glendower Golf Club leaps eight places to number 8, only one spot lower than the position it held in our inaugural chart of 2008. The last five South African Open Championships have been held on this old C. H. Alison design, with English professionals winning three of these events. Chris Paisley was the latest person to savour victory in this competition, claiming his maiden European Tour title at the 118th attempt back in January of this year. Glendower’s no stranger to hosting this prestigious national tournament actually, as the world’s second oldest Open also took place here in 1989, 1993 and 1997.

Advancing six places to number 14, the course at East London Golf Club in the Eastern Cape is another layout which was redesigned by S.V. Hotchkin during his visit to South Africa in the late 1920s. Golf Digest SA Editor Stuart McLean says of this layout: “East London has always been one of South Africa’s classic coastal layouts, magnificently situated in big dunes overlooking the Indian Ocean. It would be no exaggeration to describe this property as the best golfing site in the country. It is close to the city, between the Buffalo and Nahoon Rivers, yet exists in a space apart that has been thankfully undisturbed by development.”

One place behind East London at number 15, the course at George Golf Club in The Garden Route soars nine places up the listings. The layout’s classic tree-lined design dates back to the 1930s, when Dr Charles Molteno Murray set out the fairways, but the property benefitted greatly from an upgrade in 1999 when an area of alien vegetation in front of the clubhouse was cleared and replaced with a lake that now borders the opening and closing holes. “George doesn’t have bells and whistles” according to one reviewer, “but it is a proper golf course which should be enjoyed whilst walking and basking in the beauty of this part of South Africa.”

The Ernie Els-designed course at Highland Gate Golf & Trout Estate was one of our highest new entries two years ago when it debuted at number 33 and it now progresses another thirteen places to the number 20 slot in our revised standings thanks to a "Better Billy Bunker" installation. Situated a relatively short two-hour drive west of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga province, the course is fast gaining fame on the tournament circuit after recently hosting the Vodacom Origins of Golf event on the Sunshine Tour and the Els for Autism Final. Corporate golf days and local fund-raisers at the club are also popular, acting as a catalyst to attract golfers from all over the country to play this new layout.

In the lower half of the Top 100, several courses make double digit jumps up the table, including the early 1990’s layout from Peter Matkovich on the San Lameer Estate in Southbroom (up eighteen to 59), the Fred Hawtree-designed Rocklands course (formerly known as Woodlands) at Country Club Johannesburg (up thirteen to 61), and the old Bob Grimsdell course which Sean Quinn of Golf Data redesigned a while back for the Wedgewood Golf & Country Estate outside Port Elizabeth (up twelve to 85).

The most impressive upward move is made by King David Mowbray in Cape Town (up twenty places to number 75). The club only formed two years ago, when King David Golf Club and Mowbray Golf Club merged, and the amalgamated club now operates from the Mowbray clubhouse, a building that was reconstructed after a devastating fire in 1993. The club replanted its putting surfaces with paspalum a decade ago but this didn’t work out as well as intended. Three years ago, course consultant Mark Muller and greenkeeper Tinus Fouche started interseeding the greens with bent and poa, which thrives in the winter and spring, allowing the paspalum to dominate during the rest of the year, and this has resulted in far better all-year putting surfaces.

The first of three new entries arrives at number 60 and it’s the course at Vulintaba Country Estate near Newcastle in Kwazulu-Natal. Stuart McLean recently visited the remote 9-hole course in the Drakensberg and he told us it was “possibly one of the best 9-holers in the world”. Stuart continued: “I had been there when it opened about eight years ago. It was a Peter Matkovich design known as Dunblane with the intention to increase to eighteen holes. New owners decided nine holes were enough, and brought in another designer, Douw van der Merwe, to change two of the holes and build additional tees”. We ‘re happy to have this course fly into our new Top 100 at a prominent position and fully expect to see it hold its own in future chart editions.

Incidentally, Stuart has also alerted us to another interesting project that is ongoing this year and that’s the rebuilding of Soweto Country Club in Johannesburg. The PGA Tour in America has donated more than a million dollars towards building eighteen new holes on the original site to uplift golf in the heart of the black community. The original course was designed by Gary Player and the Black Knight design team is leading the redesign at no cost as their contribution towards the overall upgrade of this historic club.


Click this link to see full details of our 2018 Top 100 Golf Courses in South Africa

We’re re always pleased to receive feedback after updating national listings so by all means get in touch if you’ve any strong feelings about our re-evaluated South African standings. Have we missed a course that truly deserves recognition or have we included one which really shouldn’t be there? Maybe we’re flying the flag a little too high for a particular track or there’s another layout lying too low in the chart? Whatever your thoughts, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page to share your views with us. The more informed opinions we receive the better.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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