The US Open at Los Angeles Country Club showcased a restored George C Thomas design from the 1920s. His architectural philosophy was to present a relatively gentle opening hole, usually a par 5, so that golfers could ease into their round, immediately followed, however, by a demanding par 4. One leading course that best fits that description in South Africa’s Top 100 is Parkview in Johannesburg.
Many in the US Open field were easily able to birdie the par-5 first hole on LACC’s North Course, but the par-4 second proved infinitely more difficult to even par. Dustin Johnson made an 8 there in the second round.
Parkview, an old-fashioned Laurie Waters design which dates back to 1916, is one of 20 courses in the SA Top 100 which open with a par 5. And at 473 metres from the back tees (452 from white) it is one of the simplest to par. A wide fairway, some fairway bunkers to avoid off the tee, and a large green protected by bunkers. Better golfers are disappointed if they don’t make 4.
However, then comes a 428-metre par 4 (393 white). It’s a straight hole, yet a narrow fairway guarded by trees left and the Parkview sluit right, makes for a testing drive. The green is lengthy and narrow, slightly raised and falling away on the right, so that a pinpoint approach is needed.
Parkview’s third is a par 3, and it is one of only six Top 100 courses which provide golfers with a 5-4-3 start. Another 12 courses also have a par 3, par 4 and par 5 in their opening three, but in different configurations. Among the total 18 are five Top 20 courses – Blair Atholl, Glendower, Elements Private Reserve, Royal Johannesburg East and Pezula.
Blair Atholl, a Gary Player design, is similar to Parkview in having an opening par 5 that from the club tee is not difficult to par, followed by a strong par 4 crowded with fairway bunkers and deep bunkers fronting the green. Then comes a par 3.
Umdoni Park on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast begins with possibly the most benign par 5 in South Africa, fairly short, wide fairway, the main challenge being an uphill approach to a blind green. A hole where any score worse than 5 would be deflating. The par-4 second, though, from an elevated tee back downhill towards the clubhouse, is one of Umdoni’s best. Golfers face a dangerous tee shot with tropical bush both sides of the fairway. The third is a short par 3 over water.
Pezula in the Garden Route is another 5-4-3 start, yet the par-5 first, with a fairway split by a ravine, is one of the most challenging starting holes in South Africa (confirmed by it being Stroke 1), not one that George C Thomas would have signed off. Other 5-4-3 starts are at Centurion and Benoni CC in Gauteng.
Royal East has a gentle opening par 5 where a good drive on the fairway puts many golfers within reach of the green. The approach shot plays downhill towards a long undulating green. Longer shots tend to bounce firmly on to the green, but must avoid the bunker guarding the right half of the green. The next hole on the East is a tough one, only problem it is a long par 3, not a par 4. That happens to come at the third.
A breakdown of the first hole at each of the Top 100 courses shows 80 par 4s and 20 par 5s. About 75% of the par 4s are medium length, the remaining 25% being either short or tough.
In the tough category – a lengthy well-guarded hole where the average golfer might require a hybrid or fairway metal second shot – would be the first at No 8-ranked Glendower, Steyn City (17), Erinvale (25), Pretoria CC (28), Steenberg (45), Stellenbosch (59), Atlantic Beach (62) and Mbombela (63). Opening with a par is a great result on any of these. Glendower and Mbombela follow up with a par 5, Erinvale and Steenberg with par 3s, Atlantic Beach with another tricky 4.
The best of the 12 short par 4s include those at Pearl Valley (ranked No 3), George (18), Fancourt Outeniqua (23), Houghton (32), Wild Coast (36) and King David Mowbray (78). At each there’s a risk-reward element attached to taking the driver out of the bag.
25 BEST OPENING HOLES
10 COASTAL PAR 4s
Superbly challenging links hole cresting the ridge of a dune and then plummeting down to the green.
Iconic hole with steep slope fronting a raised green. Now being lengthened in upgrade, reverting back to original tee boxes.
Impressive dogleg right hole demanding a bold carry over wetland for longer hitters. Eye-catching long and narrow green.
Water hazard edging left side of fairway, and uphill approach to sloping green, makes this a classic risk-reward short 4.
Outstanding aesthetics as you tee off towards an undulating fairway with Algoa Bay as the backdrop.
Dogleg right around or over a wetland to a well-designed green.
Steeply downhill with water hazards left and right threating long tee shots.
Fabulous looking hole from elevated tees facing abundant fairway bunkers.
St Francis Links
You could be in Ireland standing on the tee, facing a blind tee shot over a bunker-filled dune.
The Links at Fancourt
Splendid aesthetics on the tee of this shortish dogleg right 4 with the fairway bunkers and wispy vegetation. One of the quirkiest greens.
10 INLAND PAR 4s
Intimidating opener at Gary Player design. The fairway of this slight dogleg right narrows between tall trees in the driving area.
The most linksy looking hole on the Benoni estate course, the green set in a hollow against the backdrop of a dune.
Solid opener asking for a good drive slightly downhill and approach to a beautiful green guarded by two bunkers.
Visually attractive shortish par 4 with half-a-dozen Nicklaus bunkers waiting to trap a drive. Water right too.
One of the most difficult 4s in SA, long, downhill off the tee, dogleg right, with koppies and trees to avoid.
Uphill all the way around a tree-lined curving fairway to a green fronted by deep bunkers.
Dogleg right from elevated tees to an angled fairway with water and bunkers to avoid.
A long walk from clubhouse (No 10 is close), yet a special hole between tall trees to a green fronted by a stream.
Exhilarating tee shot over Jukskei River to angled fairway, then a raised green.
Unusual sharp dogleg right with bushveld trees hiding a long, raised green.
5 PAR 5s
Big bunkers right off the tee, then a sudden descent down a steep hill to a green guarded by a water hazard right.
Champagne Sports Resort
Reputedly the longest 5 in SA off seldom-used high back tee with a rolling and sloping fairway. Most play off the club tee.
Unusual looking hole with a massively undulating fairway slowly climbing to a raised green set against coastal bush.
A course which opens with back-to-back 5s. This has a boomerang shape to it between trees on both sides of the fairway.
Another unique opener from an elevated tee with a fairway left of a stream, and the green on the opposite side.