Published by : Stuart McLean - 18 March 2020

Week two of my Road Trip had worrying overtones. Travelling from one town to the next at a time when South Africans are being increasingly cautious about the coronavirus crisis does seem a trifle risky. A Johannesburg friend called to say he couldn’t see me as he and his wife were self-isolating. While handshakes were freely given a week ago, now virtually everyone is declining. Fist-bumps are in, but are they safe? In Gauteng, golf clubs are actually debating whether two golfers should still share a golf cart.

And then came a severe double blow for me personally: first, news that Leopard Creek is closing this week for the “foreseeable future,” with the advice that I should visit “later in the year.” Second, postponement of a tournament I was planning to attend in East London in April.

My itinerary and route had been planned with precision to ensure I reached East London on a certain date. The postponement is unfortunate, yet now I have greater flexibility and can arrive in East London in my own time. That is if I’m not locked down somewhere before then by the authorities, and golf courses close. I now fear that each week could be my last. The traffic police in Limpopo or Mpumalanga might stop my CA vehicle and tell me to either voetsak back home or hunker down locally until the powers-that-be tell me I can move again.

To make the week even more depressing was the cancellation of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, one of my favourite PGA Tour events. I had booked in at the right accommodation to ensure I watched both the Players and Masters. Now neither tournament is likely to happen this year. Who could have foreseen that?

Kimberley Golf Club
The traditional looking members bar at Kimberley GC evokes a bygone era in South African golf.

Week two was a rainy one in the Free State. My first shower came on the hot drive from Kathu to Kimberley, where I experienced a weird phenomenon with the temperature reading inside the car. It fell from 33C to 19C in a few minutes, and once the rain had passed climbed rapidly back to over 30C.

The Free State is green and lush wherever you go. Both Bloemfontein courses were having a tough time managing their rough, which was thick around many greens. The conditioning at Bloemfontein GC was excellent otherwise. Club championships were being played at many clubs in the Free State and Gauteng on the weekend of March 14-15, and BGC had just 50 entries for theirs. In contrast I learned that Country Club Johannesburg had a record 342 entries playing over their two courses. Golf clubs outside the major centres are experiencing lean times in terms of membership and rounds.

Parys Golf Club
Magnificent boulders are a feature at the par-3 16th at Parys Golf Club.

Parys, like Bloemfontein, has two 18-holers close to each other. Both are uniquely built on large islands within the broad Vaal River, which is currently in full spate. The town itself remains an attractive one, with a surprising amount of touristy places to visit, restaurants, pubs and interesting shops. It was pleasing to see in a province where several towns are but a broken shadow of their former selves. Parys is popular over weekends when the two courses, Parys and Vaal de Grace, receive most of their rounds.

Nick Price was profligate with his bunkers when he designed Vaal de Grace. With wide fairways there are almost 80 of them, and some are enormous. Price also curiously created one of the largest greens in Africa on the par-3 sixth, not only wide but 50 metres from front to back. It would have been ideal for a double green with another hole. Since last year the estate has had a Zimbabwean golf director, Mike Baylis, to go with its Zimbabwean designer. Mike spent several years in that capacity at Royal Harare. Load shedding in SA didn’t phase him in the least. “Often in Harare we had no power during daylight hours, it only came on at 10pm,” he said. Baylis, a former tour pro, had the misfortune of recently losing the top half of his right middle finger in a workshop accident.

Crystal Cooper is the greenkeeper at Parys Golf Club
Crystal Cooper is the head greenkeeper at Parys, the only female in charge at a Top 100 course.

At Parys I met up with the rarest person in the golf industry, a female greenkeeper, Crystal Cooper. The only one at a Top 100 course. She’s a slip of a girl and just 25, but Crystal has quite the golfing pedigree. Her father Pieter is not only the course superintendent at Wingate Park in Pretoria, but also one of the top-ranked senior amateurs in South Africa. What a moment there was in January when Pieter won the Free State Senior Open in a playoff at his daughter’s golf course.

Crystal is a good golfer herself, starting out at 13, and has already won 9 club championships (Wingate Park, Mooinooi and Rustenburg) and played for provincial teams. She’s the first female to receive a degree from the African Turf Academy at Silver Lakes, and is passionate about greenkeeping. She did get practical experience with her brother JP at Rustenburg GC in 2015 while studying, but Parys is her first proper assignment. She started in October 2018, and has gained the admiration of her staff for the way she pitches in by working with them, wielding a bushcutter, raking bunkers and filling divots.

“I’m an outdoor girl and this is my passion. I love every day here,” she says. As a teenager she worked at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, mowing fairways at Kingsbarns. This summer she’s had to battle with an abundance of rain in Parys, and it was appropriate that it was again raining during our chat in the clubhouse. “We hardly saw any sun in December and had 300mm that month,” she said.

Wildlife at Goldfields West Golf Club
Lazy wildlife relaxing between fairways at Goldfields West.

From Parys it’s a relatively short drive over some beautiful hills to Goldfields West near Carletonville. The course is in the heart of gold mining country, and you wander through the mine roads to reach it. Goldfields is like Sishen in being a special golfing venue, a hidden oasis, and they share Bob Grimsdell as course designer. It’s another bushveld layout, yet at Goldfields the only residents are large herds of buck, a variety of species, and vulnerable to poaching. The only building is the clubhouse, which has been smartly upgraded by course owner Hans Vierra, a club member who rescued it from the brink of closure in 2017.

Goldfields West Golf Club
Reddish sand in the bunkers at Goldfields West make for a striking contrast against green fairways.

Hans has invested time and money in the property, brought in new staff, including greenkeeper Renier de Beer, who was once the club manager at Parys, and there has been a wonderful upliftment in the look and feel of the course. You stand on every tee box and pleasingly it looked transformed from my previous visit. The cynodon greens were not at their best – a wrong application of chemicals by the former greenkeeper – and once they fully recover this will be a fabulous place to play, an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

Goldfields is a good example of what courses were like to play 30 years and more ago, before modernisation and improved manicuring changed the face of golf in South Africa. It has a charm of its own, and great value.

Magnificent trees surround the green of the par-5 ninth at Kuruman Country Club.

My discovery of the week was the 9-hole course at Kuruman, 50 kilometres north of Kathu. The town is a busy one, thankfully the country club is tucked away in a tranquil bushveld setting far from the main road. The clubhouse was the typically large ugly edifice you see in many rural towns – an attractive smaller building which reflects the landscape would be so much more sensible and aesthetically pleasing – but the golf course has been shaped through magnificent bushveld terrain, holes framed by a fair number of big trees. It’s raw and yet I was instantly encouraged to play a few holes. Certainly not easy, as I gathered from the scores posted in the 36-hole club championships, played on a Saturday. Four loops in the heat must have been tiring.

Article Search
Search for news articles
Top 100 Course News, Blog
and Feature
Recent news articles
When KZN farmer Piet Nel had finished… Read more
There are five new entries in the… Read more
The Top 100 rankings have returned to… Read more
Golf Digest South Africa has returned and… Read more
Mount Edgecombe CC in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal has… Read more
Ten years ago Gowrie Farm in the… Read more
If you follow SuperSport’s 213 channel, then… Read more
Stellenbosch Golf Club has been rated on… Read more
The seaside course at Milnerton Golf Club… Read more
1 Bosch Hoek Golf & Lodge Near… Read more
Joe Knox is not a golf pro… Read more
Louis Oosthuizen’s display at Leopard Creek is… Read more
Homeowners at the Oubaai golf estate in… Read more
The weekend of the SA Open at… Read more
Fancourt have built a new halfway house… Read more
This year is the 25th anniversary of… Read more
An attractive 9-hole course on the remote… Read more
Peter Matkovich has kept himself active as… Read more
Marco Simone was the first purpose-built golf… Read more
More than half of South Africa’s courses… Read more
On a quiet Central Drakensberg road between… Read more
Listed below are all 414 courses affiliated… Read more
Gary Player Country Club will forever be… Read more
The new millennium has seen a remarkable… Read more
Pretoria Country Club has been rated on… Read more
The US Open at Los Angeles Country… Read more
South African Open host Blair Atholl, ranked… Read more
Of all the great tournament venues that… Read more
Augusta National has Amen Corner to describe… Read more
The closure of Beachwood CC in Durban… Read more
Former Sunshine Tour commissioner Arnold Mentz has… Read more
Durban Country Club will be closing their… Read more
Casey Jarvis has become the second youngest… Read more
In South Africa, the Halfway House stop… Read more
Amanzimtoti Country Club was devastated by flooding… Read more
The Garden Route is a popular destination… Read more
Pearl Valley has been judged as having… Read more
Zwartkop Country Club, the 18-hole course owned… Read more
Does any other sport offer as many… Read more
Silver Lakes has asked to be removed… Read more
Mount Edgecombe Country Club is hosting two… Read more
KZN estate Cotswold Downs, at No 52… Read more
There was a change of the guard… Read more
Houghton and Hermanus are two clubs at… Read more
Woodhill continues its phenomenal rise up the… Read more
Having a river flowing through your course… Read more
Atlantic Beach is one of those courses… Read more
Katberg, Orkney and Emfuleni are this year’s… Read more
An exciting project in Mpumalanga is the… Read more
We’re seeing five key changes to the… Read more
The Eastern Cape has been included as… Read more
The Alfred Dunhill Championship is one of… Read more
Royal Johannesburg’s newly renovated West Course was… Read more
Durban Country Club’s iconic short par-4 18th… Read more
Composite courses could become fashionable locally in… Read more
Blair Atholl is an exciting new addition… Read more
Veteran East London Golf Club member Denis Jones… Read more
How would you react if you learned… Read more
Blair Atholl has the longest stretch of… Read more
Amanzimtoti Country Club suffered the most devastation… Read more
Durban Country Club will next year be… Read more
Bryanston Country Club head teaching professional Leigh-Jane… Read more
Work has started on the refurbishment of… Read more
Golf Digest magazine in the United States… Read more
The Sunshine Tour visited 17 of SA’s… Read more
TOP 20 GREENS 1 Fancourt Links, 2… Read more
No 1-ranked Fancourt Links claimed more honours… Read more
Links courses were the big winners in… Read more
Gauteng is endowed with wonderful golf courses,… Read more
Today’s announcement of 20 courses ranked between… Read more
Anyone who has played at Plettenberg Bay… Read more
Woodhill is one of 17 courses in… Read more
Four courses – Reading, Eagle Canyon, Centurion… Read more
Two new entrants to the Top 100… Read more
Such has been the huge amount of… Read more
blank blank