Highland Gate was a popular venue for visiting Gauteng golfers in 2020, and a key role at the Ernie Els course, ranked No 15, is that held by Course Marshall Ferdi Kukard. I’ve put his title in capital letters because Ferdi has made the position his own. He’s become a legend among regular visitors who love his calm nature, informative knowledge, and no-nonsense approach.
Highland Gate is a golf estate in Mpumalanga, yet with few permanent residents the golf course is essentially a pay-and-play facility attracting a wide diversity of golfers. After a three-hour drive there from Johannesburg or Pretoria, and a midweek green fee of R550, including a seat in a shared cart, you don’t want to have your day spoiled by inconsiderate golfers. A diligent course marshall is therefore a priority.
Ferdi, who retired some years ago to live in nearby Dullstroom, not only ensures that the field moves smoothly, but he also cracks down hard on golfers who don’t respect the rules. It’s not wise to get on the wrong side of Ferdi. He has written a Code of Conduct to explain the Highland Gate golf culture to visitors, and expects golfers to be aware of the rules before teeing off.
There have been incidents, and for the worst of these Ferdi has the delegation to call on security to haul golfers off the course. The Code of Conduct includes warnings for excessive alcohol consumption, slow play, inappropriate golf attire, fighting, bad language, damaging the course, reckless driving, or damage to a golf cart, or not heeding a warning from the Course Marshall.
“There is a fine line between being lenient and allowing disruptive individuals to spoil the experience at Highland Gate for passionate players,” says Ferdi, who everyone meets on the first tee – it’s a one-tee start from early in the morning.
Highland Gate in Mpumalanga is booming since the movement between provinces was lifted after lockdown, particularly Thursday to Sunday with groups. The course is closed on Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday are relatively quiet. In December they had 2 338 rounds, and the last six months of 2020 saw 11 542 rounds, a figure that would have been higher but for misty days shutting down the course in winter.