Sunny skies, great value for money and plenty of high quality golf courses to choose from, it is safe to say there is a lot to love about golfing in South Africa.
We have drawn up a bucket list of the ten golf courses that we think best encapsulate everything that South Africa has to offer the Today’s Golfer readers.
The search for the most historic, unique, breathtaking and memorable golf courses turned out to be quite a project, and we hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we enjoyed discovering them.
The Gary Player Golf Course at Sun City, North West Province
Probably South Africa’s most famous golf course due to the annual hosting of the annual Nedbank Golf Challenge, this is the course every diehard golfer dreams of playing. Built in 1979 in an extinct volcanic crater, the views out over the bush veld from just about every tee are spectacular. However golfers won’t have too much time to admire the scenery, as avoiding the well-placed bunkers and dams and negotiating the complex greens requires clear concentration and steady stroke play. The course has wide fairways, but golfers will live to rue straying into the thick bushveld rough. Thankfully there are multiple tee boxes, making it an enjoyable round for all level of golfers.
Just as challenging is the Lost City Golf Course, a desert style course also designed by Gary Player. With 28 000 square metres of spectacular water features on the course players can expect to lose a few golf balls, and the 38 crocodiles on hole 13 will make sure they stay lost.
Royal Cape Golf Club, Western Cape
In 1885 a meeting was held at the Cape castle to create the Cape Golf Club, the oldest golf club in Africa. Conditions were rustic at best, and eight years later the course moved to the Rondebosch common. This proved just as challenging, as the common was open to the public so golfers needed to contend with walkers, horses galloping across the greens and football being played on the fairways (the bogey score for the course was set at over 100 strokes). In 1905 the course was moved again to a more golf-friendly location, and since then the course has evolved into one of South Africa’s best, hosting the SA Open ten times.
The course is relatively flat, with the challenges coming from the many water hazards, the narrow tree-lined fairways and the near constant south easterly winds. The fourteenth hole is the signature hole on the course, a par four with a dogleg right which is protected by two lakes next to the fairway and another one next to the green.
Legend Golf & Safari Resort, Limpopo Province
Roughly 200km from the capital city Pretoria, Legend’s Signature Golf Course isn’t a classically old or historical course, but in a relatively short space of time it’s managed to work its way onto every golfers bucket list for a number of reasons. The most famous reason is the record breaking 19th hole. This par 3 hole is the world’s longest and highest; a daunting 361 metres to the Africa-shaped green and at 400 metres high it is only accessible by helicopter. However there is more to the Signature Golf Course than just the par 3: The course is the longest in South Africa, and each hole has been designed by a golfing great such as Bernard Langer, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen.
The total course length is 8500m which is a long way to have to hit a golf ball, but guests will be entertained throughout by the stunning layout of the holes. There is a chance of bumping into herds of giraffe, zebra and antelope on the course, making it a true African experience. For those not feeling energetic or after a shorter round of golf, there is also a shorter Tribute Golf Course, a 10 hole par 3 course replicating some of the best par 3’s in the world.
Kimberley Golf Club, Northern Cape
Golfers stepping onto the 1st tee at Kimberley Golf Club have the honour of playing a course steeped in history. Founded in 1890, the greens were made up of sand putting browns and later diamondiferous blue ground, while mats were used for tees and dynamite was used to clear the fairways. The first South African golf championship was held here in 1892, and the club boasted famous members such as Cecil John Rhodes as well as a champion Scottish golfer and soldier by the name of Freddie Tait, who was killed during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1949 Kimberley also hosted the first South African Non-European Open Championship; a bold move during the apartheid regime.
While it may not be South Africa’s most important city these days, it is worth remembering that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Kimberley, with its abundance of diamonds, was at the forefront of economic and political activity (evidenced by the fact that the town was the first in the country to receive electric street lights). The course itself is vastly different depending on the season, with the course looking green and lush in summer but dry in winter. Whatever the season, the course’s flat topography makes it an easier course, although it is slightly longer than average at a length of 6294 metres. However it’s not the course or its layout that gets Kimberley Golf Club onto our list, but rather the historic significance of the course (and the friendliness of the locals in the bar after the round). With green fees of under £15 per round this will be one of the better priced rounds of golf, and a fascinating walk through an important part of our country’s history.
Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, Gauteng
The Johannesburg Golf Club was formed in 1890, and during an interesting start to its existence it moved locations four times during its first twenty years. In 1895 the club began an annual Christmas Tournament with a trophy that was presented to the winning amateur, a tradition which still continues today as the Challenge Cup. The Prince of Wales played the course in 1930, resulting in the ‘royal’ being added to the name the following year, and in 1939 the course expanded into two 18-hole courses, known as the east and the west courses. The Kensington Golf Club, another club with a long and illustrious history extending back over more than 100 years, merged with the Royal Johannesburg Golf Club in 1998.
Today the east and the west course are known as the most prestigious golf courses in the province of Gauteng. Both courses are extremely long, measuring at over 7000 yards, and the 10th and 11th holes on the east course are reputed to be the longest back to back par 4 holes in the world. The east course is rated as the slightly harder of the two, although the plentiful poplar trees and the water feature which runs through the course will serve as beautiful distractions.
Leopard Creek Country Club, Mpumalanga Province
Designed by Gary Player and created by businessman Johann Rupert, this course is the “Augusta of Africa,” with no expense spared in building a course spectacular in every way. Getting onto the exclusive course is the first challenge a golfer will face, as only visitors staying in the nearby lodges can play (and then only on weekdays). However it is well worth the effort, as not only is the golf course in immaculate condition all year round but it’s also a great way to combine a safari and a round of golf into one.
The course is located on the edge of the Kruger National Park and nestled along the edge of the Crocodile River, so it’s not uncommon to hear, see and even play around wildlife during a round. Hippos and crocodiles on the course are a common sight, as are giraffe, baboons and plenty of buck. It’s worth noting that lions did disrupt the building of the course back in 1996, but since then the strong fence has kept them away.
The par 5 13th hole (Gary Player’s favourite) is one of the spectacular holes, finishing on a green elevated high above the Crocodile River and looking out over the bush veld of the Kruger National Park. Another beautiful hole is the par 4th 18th hole, which has a challenging island green to ensure a memorable finish to the round and a story for the clubhouse afterwards. Rates are £170 per round, which includes a golf cart and halfway snacks.
Durban Country Club, Kwazulu Natal
Ernie Els referred to it as the “Old lady” of South African golf courses, and its history and accomplishments certainly back up the claim: opened in 1922, the course has hosted SA Open Championships 17 times (more than any other course), it’s 3rd hole is rated the best third in the world and it is the only African course rated in the Top 100 by Golf Magazine USA.
The course was originally built on sand dunes, and the fairways still have large undulations which make for many interesting and challenging shots. Add in a combination of narrow fairways, lush vegetation and some tricky cross-winds from the nearby Indian Ocean and you have a course that can test the best of them. There are many iconic holes on the course, none more so than the world famous par five 3rd hole which starts from a high point with beautiful views out over the Indian Ocean, hitting out onto a narrow fairway bordered by sand and trees before finding a green also well protected by trees.
The par 3 twelfth hole is named “The Prince of Wales” after Prince Edward managed to take 16 shots here in 1924. It sounds like a bizarre accomplishment, but any mirth will soon turn to sympathy when a golfer sees the green precariously perched on a hill with steep slopes on either side of it: one pulled or pushed shot landing at the bottom of one of these slopes can very quickly escalate into a horror show of challenging chip shots and lots of traipsing up and down the same hill. The 17th hole has some large undulations on the fairway which provides a pretty good idea of what golf would be like on the moon, and the 18th hole finishes off the round on a tempting note with a short but tricky 275 yard par 4 that begs the golfer to be daring and go for the green.
The Links at Fancourt, Western Cape
The Links at Fancourt is firstly a feat of engineering, with over 700 000 cubic metric tonnes of earth moved to transform an airstrip into a links golf course. Designed by Gary Player, the course will challenges all levels of golfers with its well placed hazards, undulating fairways, tricky greens and clever pin locations. The end result is a stunning and challenging dune style landscape that could easily have its location mistaken for Scotland, if not for the large mountain range overlooking the course. The unique hole is probably the par 3 second hole, which features a bunker in the middle of a large green, although all of the holes present different and unique challenges.
The entire package at The Links at Fancourt is designed to be luxurious, with a five star clubhouse, large practise area and expert caddies all on hand to enhance the experience. The course was made famous as the host of the 2003 President’s Cup between the United States of America and the rest of the world, when the tournament was dramatically tied after Ernie Els and Tiger Woods could not be separated even after three playoff holes.
Erinvale Golf Club, Western Cape
Tucked away in the town of Somerset West and sheltered beneath the Helderberg Mountains in the Western Cape lies Erinvale Golf Estate. The history of the area dates all the way back to 1685 when the Dutch East India Company set up an outpost in the area, but to local golf fans it is better known as the site of South Africa’s more recent golfing world cup victory, when in 1996 Wayne Westner and Ernie Els won the event by a record 18 strokes.
This Gary Player designed course has two distinct sections, with the front nine flatter and requiring accurate approach shots, while the back nine offers some strenous exercise and sweeping sea and mountain vistas. The last few holes are the most memorable, as players head towards the clubhouse with a chance to finish with some long downhill drives and beautiful views. The course has hosted the SA Open twice, and has consistently been voted as one of the country’s best courses.
Umdoni Park Golf Club, Kwazulu Natal Province
Umdoni Park Golf Club has a long and interesting history. Named after the indigenous Umdoni tree, the course was built in the 1920’s along with the main residence, which was presented to the Prime Minister Louis Botha as a winter seaside residence. The second nine holes were added a few years later, and visitors today can enjoy a challenging and beautiful round surrounded by nature. Set over a spacious 150 hectares of land, the front nine offers spectacular views out over the Indian Ocean, while the back nine takes the golfer through some challenging forest terrain.
The course is short by modern standards at 5560 metres in length, but the hilly terrain means that players are often aiming at elevated greens, making distance control a challenge. The thick forest also means that golfers can’t stray far from the fairways, and there are also a few water traps to be navigated. The greens are big, well kept and great to putt on, and the round finishes on a high with the spectacular 18th hole teeing off to memorable views out over the ocean.
Just an hour along the South Coast from Durban, the course is open to visitors all year round (and at under £15 per round its good value for money). Golf carts are recommended both for the hot and humid climate as well as the hilly topography.
The hardest part to drawing up any list is deciding what to leave out, and to exclude iconic courses such as the Fish River Sun, Pezula, Simola, Arabella, St Francis Links, Pearl Valley and Pinnacle Point (to name a few) from a golfing list feels like a dreadful omission.
However all that this does is further emphasise the abundance of great golf courses available in South Africa, which can only be a good thing.
Our choice of ten golf courses has managed to criss-cross the country, taking in seven provinces and a wide array of cultural places of interest.
Historically our chosen courses also cover a wide range of events, from the earliest golfing days in our country to some of the more recent memorable moments.
Now that you’ve finished reading about them, the next step is to get out there and experience them for yourself…