Serengeti Estates in Ekurhuleni has created one of the best Par-3 courses in the world with its recent transformation of the original Jack Nicklaus design on the property. Nicklaus produced 27 holes at Serengeti, and the new estate owners converted the third nine, Whistling Thorn, into a spectacular 18-hole Par-3 layout, opened in 2019.
Designer Dino de Abreu used the same routing and all the original green sites, while adding in 9 new greens. The quality of the conditioning is remarkable. Most golfers will need a full set of golf clubs, and a golf cart, to play it. It’s not one of those mashie courses where you grab a few short irons, a lob wedge and a putter.
It’s the first of its kind in South Africa, where Par-3 courses of any description are rare (other than mashie designs), and there are few of this quality with 18 proper par-3 holes of varying lengths anywhere on the planet. Mainly due to lack of space, the historic trend among Par-3 layouts is to restrict them to 9 holes, or an unusual number, such as the 13-hole Par-3 layout at Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon.
Simbithi Eco Estate on the KZN North Coast has something similar to Whistling Thorn; however, its 18 holes by Peter Matkovich comprise 13 par 3s, four par 4s and one par 5 for a par of 60. Leopard Creek has a fabulous Par-3 Course, but it is 9 holes and measures 1236 metres (average 137 a hole).
From the pro tees Whistling Thorn is a stern championship test at 3366 metres, an average of 187 metres per hole. Two holes are more like short par 4s, the third at 280 metres and ninth at 284, and the shortest is the 115-metre 14th. The Course Rating off the pro tees is 60.8, almost seven strokes over par, indicating just how severe it is.
There are five tee markers to create enjoyable options for all, and most male golfers will prefer the middle blue tees, at 2618 metres (average 145 a hole). The Course Rating is 55.0. The front green markers are 2005 metres, with six holes under 100 metres.
The Sunshine Ladies Tour professionals played from the middle tees in the 36-hole Canon Serengeti Par-3 Challenge on February 22-23, and they found it a challenge. “Oh my goodness, it was tough out there,” said Nicole Garcia, who took individual honours with 54 and 53 for a one-under total, five shots clear of Brittney-Fay Berger (55-57) for her third career tour win. “This is a proper test of shot-making and short-game skills.”
Kim Williams said the tour pros has been hugely impressed. “Most of us played the championship course in the Serengeti Team Championship last year, but the Par-3 is new. It’s easily the toughest course we’ve faced this season. It really helps sharpen our short games,” she added. “It has all the elements of what a good Par-3 course should have – elevated greens with lots of slopes, loads of bunker protection, and it is tough to up-and-down from gorse-like grass around the greens.”
The visitor green fee for the Whistling Thorn Course is R600, which includes the use of the magnificent Serengeti practice facility before the round.