For the golf enthusiast, South Africa is a wonderful destination – and that’s an understatement. The country boasts an ideal climate for spending time out on the fairways under the bright African sun, and golfers here are blessed for choice.
If you enjoy the challenge of a coastal course, there is a stunning selection available; if you prefer playing at altitude, where the ball flies that much further, the selection is just as good.
Probably the most famous golf course in South Africa is the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City, home to the Nedbank Golf Challenge, that offers the biggest first prize of any tournament in the world.
However, there are many other world-class courses that have featured on both the European PGA Tour as well as the local Sunshine Tour, and a wealth of excellent courses besides.
South Africa has produced a number of golfers of the highest calibre, including Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman – major winners all – and once you’ve experienced some of the courses we have to offer, you’ll begin to understand why.
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SA golf course directory
SOUTH AFRICA’S TOP COURSES
Rated the best course in South Africa, Leopard Creek is situated on the border of the world-famous Kruger National Park, so it’s not unusual to come across wildlife when you play a round there.
Players are protected from the wildlife by means of innovative architectural and landscaping techniques – although water hazards might include the odd hippopotamus or crocodile!
Gary Player’s design takes advantage of the natural environment, which is home to Africa’s “big five” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo – and over 200 species of birds that make their homes in the surrounding trees, some of which are over 100 years old.
The 505 metre par-five 13th is is a standout hole and plays along the contours of the Crocodile River. The green hangs out over the edge of the river, but is 32 metres above it and provides amazing views of the Kruger National Park on the other side.
Course designer Gary Player especially likes the par-five 18th with its island green and the par-four 9th, a downhill hole surrounded by water and challenging bunkers.
The Links at Fancourt
Located in the picturesque southern Cape, The Links at Fancourt hosted a memorable 2003 Presidents Cup clash between the USA and the International Team, which ended in a thrilling tie, as well as the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf in 2005.
Never mind playing it, simply looking at it, the Links provides a dramatic, beautiful picture. Gary Player himself has often referred to it as his greatest design feat.
His design team spent months studying the classic links courses of Scotland and Ireland and then, taking the best those courses had to offer, constructed the Links on what was once an airfield with with over 700 000 cubic metres of earth being moved to create it.
Perhaps the most eye-catching hole is the over 200-metre long par-three second. It is surrounded by a dramatic, undulating landscape, allowing little room for error and features a bunker precisely where one might find some relief just off the green. Hook your shot and you’re in water.
Gary Player Country Club
Host to the Nedbank Challenge since 1981, the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City in North West province features two holes that have ranked in Golf Online’s list of the 500 best holes in golf: the 520 metre par-five ninth, and the 402 metre par- four eighteenth.
The course is one of the longest in South Africa and certainly one of the toughest. It places a premium on accurate approaches, with plenty of bunkers and water hazards sprinkled around the layout to test even the best. While the fairways are mostly wide, any wayward shots are gobbled up by very punishing rough.
Water plays a big and spectacular role on both the 9th and 18th holes, with the green on the 9th being an island, while the 18th, a dog leg hole, features a dam over which one drives to the elevated green.
The Gary Player Country Club is part of Sun City, a marvelous entertainment complex that includes the Lost City and Lost City Golf Course, also designed by Gary Player.
Bordering the largest natural lagoon in South Africa and overlooked by the Kogelberg mountain range , with the 9th, 17th, and 18th running parallel to the water, Arabella Country Club provides both a wonderful golf challenge and an eye- catching landscape.
The course was designed by Pete Matkovich, who has designed over 20 of the country’s leading courses. It was named the best new course in South Africa in 1999 by Golf Digest, and it has kept up the high standard ever since.
The beautiful 8th hole, at over 500 metres is a real tester. It has a right to left sloping fairway and the approach is well protected by bunkers on both the left and right. Some regard it as Arabella’s signature hole.
The 18th is regarded as one of the best finishing holes in South Africa. A testing par-five, it features a very long bunker down the right. Slice your shot beyond it and you could find the lagoon. Your best bet is to aim a little left. What makes the hole great is it challenges one to go for it and and end one’s round in glory.
Pearl Valley Golf Estates
Designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, Pearl Valley was named “best new golf course of the year” by Golf Digest Magazine in 2005. It went on to host the South African Open from 2007 to 2009.
The course, which is surrounded by mountains and vineyards, in true Nicklaus style features 81 white sand bunkers, including a monster bunker on the 14th, which despite the visual challenge it poses is actually the course’s stroke 18 hole. Water features and immactulately maintained fairways and greens provide an appealing contrast to the white sand of the bunkers.
Wind plays a big role in the challenge the course provides. On a calm day it can be inviting, but on a windy it can be a monster.
The scenic 13th hole, a par-three, is the signature hole on the course. Water cuts in on the right, along the length of the fairway, while a greenside bunker awaits those whose approach is right of the green. Holding one’s nerve is one of the keys to playing the hole.
A newer course, Blair Atholl opened to rave reviews in April 2007 and was immediately rated as one of the top courses in the country. Another Gary Player design, it is the course that Player, who lived at Blair Atholl for over 25 years, says is closest to his heart.
Located not far from the Lanseria Airport, it is characterised by rolling hills and ravines sloping down to same Crocodile River that can also be found alongside Leopard Creek far away in Mpumalanga.
It’s a very long course, with some seriously challenging holes, and the Crocodile River comes into play on a number of holes. Blair Atholl is designed as a single loop, and, very unusually, there are no holes that run parallel to others, barring the 1st and the 18th.
The 15th hole, at 464 metres, is a daunting par-four, but the 16th, also a par- four, is even longer. It runs alongside the river and requires two big shots to reach the green, so best you make full use of the high altitude or lay up.
The Montagu course at Fancourt
The Montagu course, at the centre of Fancourt, lies on rolling land and offers a different challenge to The Links. It is a Parklands course and provides an exciting, tree-lined test beneath the majestic, overlooking Outeniqua Mountains.
Water plays a part on 12 of the holes and the most obvious challenge it provides is on the par-three 17th, which has some features similar to the 12th at Augusta, but is longer. One has to approach the green, which is guarded by a bunker in the front and two at the back, over a dam. It can be intimidating, but it makes for a picture-perfect par-three.
The 18th, if one hits a good drive, presents a nice opportunity for one to finish with a birdie. Don’t be short with your approach, however, as a horseshoe of water protects the front of the green. It’s a fine finishing hole, capable of asking questions or, with good play, of seeming simple and a gentle finish to an enjoyable round of golf.
Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East Course
The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East Course has hosted seven South African Open Championships and has been part of the Joburg Open, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine and European Tours, since the tournament began in 2007.
Tougher and longer than the club’s West Course, the East Course was designed in 1935 by the then club professional Robert Grimsdell. It was revamped in 1998 by golf course architect Mark Muller, whose primary work went into improving the greens, which he achieved with great success.
The East Course’s signature hole is the 11th, a par-four, which is lined with towering poplar tree. It’s a downhill hole, with a slight dog leg to the right and water protecting the front of the green. It can be difficult to choose the right club and the hole’s difficulty is clear in that it is stroke one.
St Francis Links
The St Francis Links course was designed by the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus. It was voted South Africa’s best new golf course by Golf Digest in 2007.
When it was built, the course was just the second links course in South Africa, following on in the footsteps of The Links at Fancourt. It lies in the dunes above beautiful St Francis Bay and includes a wetland area.
The signature hole is undoubtedly the par-three 4th, which has two greens! One has an option of playing from the back tee to the front green or from the front tee to the back green.The wind tends to affect the bottom green, while an extra club is recommended for the second green, which is more elevated.
Wild Coast Sun Country Club
Designed by the world-renowned Robert Trent Jones, the course is set against the background of the Indian Ocean, making it beautiful – but punishing for those that stray into the rough.
When the wind gets up, as it does from time to time on the coast, the Wild Coast Country Club can present a very difficult challenge. Club selection, even in calm conditions, can be tricky.
The course isn’t long, but it presents interesting and testing changes in elevation, and while the fairways are wide, it is important not to stray from them at all.
The club’s signature hole is the par-three thirteenth, which can be a significant challenge if one has to play into the wind. Played over a ravine, with a waterfall to the right, it’s beautiful, but it bites.
Durban Country Club
The Durban Country Club has hosted more South African Open Championships than any other in the country, with a list of winners that includes Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Bob Charles, Ernie Els and Tim Clark. It has also been rated among the top 100 golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine USA.
Built on old swampland surrounded by high dunes, the course blends into its surroundings as it undulates along the coastline a short distance from the Indian Ocean. The channels created by the dunes mean that the wind – depending on whether one is sheltered by a channel or not – is a very testing factor.
The course features massively undulating fairways and tropical vegetation, which severely punishes poorly directed shots.
The signature hole is the par-five 3rd, rated by some as the best 3rd hole in the world, by others as the best par-five.
The tee is elevated and the fairway is narrow, with bush along the length of the fairway waiting for any wayward drives; there will be some when the wind gets up. It’s shortish for a par-five, but it would take two long shots to hit the green in two. Both the drive and approach need to be accurate otherwise two strategically placed bunkers could come into play.
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