Published by : Stuart McLean - 14 March 2024

Ten years ago Gowrie Farm in the KZN Midlands was rated by Golf Digest USA as being among the very best “Short Courses” in the world outside the United States. A tremendous accolade for this unique hybrid layout with 12 greens and a new take on what you can do to zhush up a 9-hole layout and imbue it with style and character.

The designer was Guy Smith, and Gowrie Farm was his first foray into the art of golf course architecture, although he was involved with the development of Prince’s Grant on the KZN North Coast. He built it on a low budget, using push-up greens. Now he’s taken Gowrie into a different realm of being an 18-hole course where he goes up against the big boys in the Top 100 rankings. As a hybrid Gowrie was good enough to feature as high as No 48.

Having extra capacity for bigger fields will make it a prime destination at Nottingham Road in a beautiful farmland region as it offers magnificent 5-star lodging upstairs in the clubhouse and behind the 18th green.

Anticipation awaits golfers teeing off in front of the Gowrie Farm clubhouse.

Smith is a lover of old-fashioned golf course architecture, an amateur comparable to men a century ago who built such masterpieces as Pine Valley, Pebble Beach and National Golf Links of America. He grasps ideas for holes from visits to Scotland’s great links and he’s brave enough to recreate them in this country where his kind of penal bunkering and sloping greens is not universally admired.

Now that it has 18 holes (opened to the public on March 13), Gowrie may have more bunkers than any other course in South Africa. The count is around 160, and they lurk everywhere. One of the new holes is appropriately called Sahara. But these are not just bunkers. They sprout grass and reeds too. And the texture of the sand varies, as does the depth and steep faces. As they say about the Old Course at St Andrews, if you can avoid going into a bunker for 18 holes you’ve played exceptionally. The same rule applies at Gowrie Farm.

A bunker guards the front of fourth green (Sahara) and a wall the right side.

Gowrie was a successful “9-holer” for 17 years, but it was always Smith’s ambition to explore further possibilities, as long as any new holes would complement the existing ones into a seamless 18-holer. And he has done that magnificently, even though golfers who play for the first time at Gowrie this year will immediately detect where the old end and the new begin. Essentially that’s after the second hole, a long par 3 over a wetland that is one of the jewels in the crown of this layout.

The new holes, from No 3 to No 9, even with their superb greens complexes, are still rough and ready to the eye as the fairway grasses knit and the mounding takes shape and blends in with the surroundings. There’s some unsightly long kikuyu grass bordering fairways which you don’t see on the old section of the course. When they take on a more natural links look they will be spectacular.

Smith has been bold and inventive with his new holes, making a statement of intent on each. He’s an admirer of Charles Blair Macdonald, known as the grandfather of American golf who replicated design features from the greatest holes in the British Isles on his courses, notably the National Golf Links. CB Macdonald identified what he termed “template holes” that would test a player’s game. He didn’t duplicate what he had seen in the British Isles, but designed his own variations with a unique twist.

The green of the “Road Hole” third, with pot bunker left and wall right.

As an example, at Gowrie Farm the par-4 third is a “template” of the Road Hole on the Old Course. You would not make that assumption standing on the tee, but a closer appraisal is revealing. Instead of the high railway sheds alongside the Old Course Hotel over which to drive the ball, he has used a deep hollow and a wide fairway bunker that a player has to carry for the tiger line from tee to green. There is ample fairway left for the shorter hitter, but that leaves a longer approach to a narrow green sandwiched between a pot bunker and an attractive rockwall buttressing the tee for No 4.

Another “template” is of the Postage Stamp green at Royal Troon. But it’s used on a short 4 (No 9) rather than a short 3. The raised green, bordered by bunkers, is near identical in size, but in square metres instead of yards. It’s a hole many will attempt to drive, and will require a fortunate bounce for the ball to run on to the green.

A narrow, raised Postage Stamp green at the short par-4 ninth, above and below.

Smith’s favourite hole, though, is the par-4 fifth, where he gathered hundreds of big rocks from the veld to form a low long wall flanking the left side of the fairway which curves right at the end to enclose the right edge of the green from the fairway. It’s a “template” of a hole at North Berwick’s West Links called the “Pit” and the best angle of approach is from as close to the wall as possible

The par-3 sixth at Gowrie, played uphill over a narrow ravine, has a Redan-style green, and the green at No 8, a sharp dogleg left par 4, is modelled on the 18th at Muirfield.

Gowrie’s version of the “Pit” hole with a stone wall separating fairway and green.

A new halfway house has been built alongside the ninth green in the middle of the course, making this an out-and-back layout where you don’t return to the clubhouse, and the second nine has a combination of three 5s, three 4s and three 3s. The par is 71 due to there being five 3s.

No 10, a par 5, uses the fairway and green of what used to be the old No 2 & 12, but additional bunkers have been added on the right, opposite those on the left. As if the bunkers are not enough of an obstacle, there now stand stumps of “Ou Hout” between them. These quickly grow into small trees with dense crowns. A South African version of Scotland’s gorse bushes?

Bunkers on the par-5 tenth are framed by the stumps of “Ou Hout” trees.

Gowrie Farm has one dilemma still to solve in its changeover, and that’s the finishing hole. There used to be separate tees and greens using the same fairway for No 9 (short par 4) and No 18 (par 5). The lower tee boxes for No 9 are handily situated at the back of the par-3 17th green, and 18 can be played as a par 5 from those. Yet the elevated high tees are more impressive and demanding. The issue is that to reach them you have to walk nearly 150 metres back up a steep hill. Fine if you have a golf cart, but tiring at the end of a long round. Both sets of tees should be retained, and a compromise arrived at.

The par-5 seventh green has a beautiful backdrop of water and hills.
Article Search
Search for news articles
Top 100 Course News, Blog
and Feature
Recent news articles
The Top 100 rankings have returned to… Read more
There are five new entries in the… 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
The new year ushered in great excitement… Read more
blank blank