South African golf courses today are increasingly under siege from modern equipment, the golf ball, and top quality greens. These three factors have resulted in course records tumbling in recent years.
Looking back through our history of professional and amateur tournaments, the first person to score 62 was Bobby Locke on the West Course at Royal Johannesburg in the 1952 Stanley Motors Open. It was another 23 years before anyone shot 61, Allan Henning at Glendower in the 1975 Toro Classic. Over the next 25 years there were only another seven 61s, four in the 1980s and three in the 1990s. And none of them were by Gary Player or Ernie Els.
Today a 61 remains a special round, but it has become more commonplace. The new millennium brought with it big-headed titanium drivers, the Pro V1 ball, advanced wedge and putter designs, superior greens, and 49 tournament scores of 61 or lower the last 20 years. That’s six times as many as in the previous 25 years. And 16 have been scored in the last six years.
The first tournament round of 60 came in the 2002 Botswana Open (Shane Pringle), and a year later there was a 58 at State Mines by Jaco van Zyl in a mini-tour event. The Sunshine Tour had its first 59 in 2009 (Peter Karmis) at the Royal Swazi Spa.
There have now been 57 scores of 61 or lower in tournaments in Southern Africa.* And they have happened at 35 different courses.
The Wild Coast Sun, with a par of 70 and short at 5800 metres, has seen eight 61s and last year its first 60. It has also had 19 62s. Another short course, Royal Swazi Spa, has had four 61s in addition to that 59. Both courses hold pro tournaments every year, increasing the chance of low scores being posted. The West Course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington saw a plethora of low scores during the Joburg Open years – one 61 and 12 62s.
The statistics show that shooting an ultra-low round in tournament conditions is a rare phenomenon which individual golfers seldom repeat in their careers. Those who do are outliers, like Branden Grace, who has had four 62s in local tournaments, most recently in the final round of the 2020 SA Open he won at Randpark Firethorn.
Curiously, three of our greatest golfers – Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and David Frost, winners between them of 80 tournaments on the PGA Tour and European Tour – have never scored lower than 63 on the Sunshine Tour. As have Gary Player and Trevor Immelman. Only Immelman among them figures in any course record at a Top 100 layout.
Only three men in history have had multiple scores of 61 or lower on the Sunshine Tour – James Kingston, Mark McNulty and Jean Hugo. Kingston has had three 61s, two at the Wild Coast and one at Windhoek CC in Namibia. McNulty’s 61s were at Schoeman Park and Wild Coast. Hugo has had a 60 and a 61, at the Wild Coast and Royal Swazi Spa respectively. Hugo also had a 60 in the Transvaal Amateur Final at Glenvista, but it was unofficial as he was playing matchplay.
Course records at Top 100 Courses generally all belong to the modern generation, with 54 set over the last decade. Notable exceptions include Durban Country Club, where no one has yet matched the 62 by John Bland in the 1993 SA Open, and Royal Johannesburg & Kensington East, where Gary Player’s 63 in the 1977 SA Open has been equalled but not bettered (there was a 62 by Martin Maritz in the 2011 Joburg Open, but placing was allowed). Wingate Park’s record of 62 dates back to 1993.
LOWEST SUNSHINE TOUR ROUNDS BY OUR STARS
61 James Kingston (3), Wild Coast (2), Windhoek
61 Mark McNulty (2), Schoeman Park & Wild Coast
61 Thomas Aiken, Leopard Creek
61 Fulton Allem, Wanderers
61 George Coetzee, Simola
61 Simon Hobday, Royal Swazi Spa
61 Hennie Otto, Pretoria CC
61 Nick Price, Zwartkop
61 Charl Schwartzel, Royal J&K West
61 Richard Sterne, East London
62 Branden Grace (4), Wild Coast (2), Leopard Creek, Firethorn
62 Hennie Otto (2), Serengeti, Lost City
62 Louis Oosthuizen (2), East London, Bushwillow
62 John Bland, Durban CC
62 Dale Hayes, Wanderers
62 Wayne Westner, Wanderers
Geographically, it’s unsurprising to learn that 29 of these 57 scores (51%) have happened north of the Vaal River. Not only are the vast majority of tournaments held in Gauteng, but weather conditions, perfect bent grass greens, and the altitude promote low scoring. KZN have had 11 yet two were in freakish circumstances on the same day at Mount Edgecombe, and the other 9 at the Wild Coast Sun. Seven have been in neighbouring countries, 5 in the Garden Route, two each in the Eastern Cape and Free State, and just one in Cape Town and the Winelands.
It’s not just tour professionals shooting these low numbers. This year 19-year-old Christo Lamprecht became the first amateur to shoot 60 in a tournament, at Kingswood in the Cape Province Open, while there have been five 61s by amateurs.
Of the 97 Top 100 Courses which have supplied course records, 72 boast a record of 63 or lower. There are four courses where the record is between 57 and 59 – Bosch Hoek, Gowrie Farm and Victoria (all in the KZN Midlands) and State Mines. Five courses have 60 as the record, 20 have 61, 23 have 62, and 20 have 63.
On the evidence of course records, five of the most challenging courses in SA to score low would be Fancourt Links, Pearl Valley, San Lameer, St Francis Links and Zimbali, where 64 remains the lowest tournament score.
*These include the Sunshine Tour, IGT Tour, Big Easy Tour, Diner’s Club Tour, Senior Tour and all amateur tournaments.
TOURNAMENT ROUNDS OF 61 AND LOWER
58 – ONE
2003 Jaco van Zyl, State Mines, Diner’s Club Tour
59 – THREE
2009 Peter Karmis, Royal Swazi Spa, Lombard Classic
2013 Jorge Campillo, Colin Nel, The Woods at Mount Edgecombe,
Nelson Mandela Champs
60 – SEVEN
2002 Shane Pringle, Gabarone GC, Botswana Open
2003 Ernie Els, Fancourt Outeniqua, Ernie Els Invitational
2005 Bobby Lincoln, Leopard Park, Mafikeng Senior Open
2009 Gary Clark (England), Devonvale, SA Open Qualifier
2017 Matias Calderon (Chile), Waterkloof, IGT Tour
2019 Jean Hugo, Wild Coast, WC Sun Challenge
2020 Christo Lamprecht, Kingswood, Cape Province Open*
61 – FORTY SIX
1975 Allan Henning, Glendower, Toro Classic
1982 Denis Watson, Killarney, Sharp Classic
1987 Simon Hobday, Royal Swazi Spa, Holiday Inns
1988 Mark McNulty, Schoeman Park, Bloemfontein Classic
1989 Fulton Allem, Wanderers, Lexington PGA
1993 Rett Crowder, Wanderers, Lexington PGA
1994 Nick Price, Zwartkop, ICL International
1999 Justin Hobday, Oppenheimer Park, SA Masters
2000 Doug McGuigan & Mark McNulty, Wild Coast, Stenham Open
2001 Padraig Harrington, Gary Player CC, Nedbank Challenge
2002 James Kingston, Wild Coast, Nashua Masters
2003 Thabang Simon, Dainfern, Seekers Pro-Am
2004 Jake Roos, Potchefstroom CC, North West Open*
2005 James Kingston, Wild Coast, Nashua Masters; Marc Cayeux, CCJ Woodmead, Vodacom Champs; Wynand Dingle, Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni U-23*
2006 James Kingston, Windhoek CC, Namibia PGA; Matthew Carvell, Polokwane, Limpopo Open*
2007 Grant Muller, Royal Swazi Spa, Royal Swazi Sun Open
2008 Thomas Aiken, Leopard Creek, Alfred Dunhill; Jean Hugo, Royal Swazi Spa, Royal Swazi Sun Open
2009 Richard Sterne, East London, Africa Open
2010 David Hewan, Wild Coast, Nashua Masters; Hennie Otto, Pretoria CC, Vodacom Champs
2011 Charl Schwartzel, Royal J&K West, Joburg Open
2012 Paul Shields, Pecanwood, Gauteng North Open*
2013 Laurie Canter, Irene CC, Tshwane Open Pre-Q; Jacques van Tonder, CMR, IGT Tour
2014 John Hahn, East London, Africa Open
2015 Jacques Blaauw, Pretoria CC, Tshwane Open; Darren Fichardt, Zebula, Vodacom Origins; Jason Froneman, Kempton Park, Big Easy Tour
2016 Ockie Strydom, Simola, Vodacom Origins; Jaco Ahlers, Wild Coast, WC Sun Challenge
2017 Shubhankar Sharma, Randpark Bushwillow, Joburg Open; Justin Turner, Waterkloof, IGT Tour
2018 Vaughn Groenewald, Wild Coast, WC Sun Challenge; Casey Jarvis, State Mines, Ekurhuleni Open*; Francois Coetzee, CMR, SA Open Qualifier; Otto van Buynder, Randpark Firethorn, IGT Tour
2019 Ruan Conradie, Royal Swazi Spa, Royal Swazi Sun Challenge: Callum Mowat, Wild Coast, WC Sun Challenge; George Coetzee, Simola, Vodacom Origins Final
2020 Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Fancourt Outeniqua, Dimension Data Pro-Am; Kevin Stone, CCJ Rocklands, Senior Tour