Published by : Stuart McLean - 08 December 2022

Royal Johannesburg’s newly renovated West Course was re-opened for play to members on November 30, thus completing a six-year cycle of upgrades to the 36-hole facility which began with the East Course’s extensive makeover by Golf Data in 2017.

And the re-opening coincides with the club confirming they are no longer Royal Johannesburg & Kensington. The signs will remain up for a while, but the Kensington is being removed.

Royal member Denis Hutchinson, who won the SA Open on the East Course in 1959, officially opened the new West Course on November 30. He is pictured far right with Royal J&K CEO Chris Bentley.

The rebuilding of the West Course greens, the reshaping of bunkers (filled with USGA spec silica sand) and other changes, was this time done by Agrano Turf, a company specialising in golf course renovation, construction and grow-in. It is owned by former Royal Johannesburg course manager Shaun Brits, who also managed the East Course upgrade in 2017. Landscape architect Dino De Abreu consulted on recommended design changes.

Other than having new greens, with 777 bent grass, and superior bunkers, the big change for members is the switching of the two nines on the West. The new first hole is the previous No 10. What this means is a much tougher finishing stretch of holes on the back nine, beginning with the 450m par-4 16th, followed by the intimidating 200-metre plus par-3 17th, and 507m par-5 18th.

“It’s great to have both courses fully operational again,” said Royal CEO Chris Bentley. “We had temporary greens on the West for six months. The positive feedback has been overwhelming and the renovation has exceeded expectations. As expected, the first bounce on the greens is reasonably firm, but still receptive. Naturally, it will take a full season to settle.

“Both our courses have been redefined and brought back to their very best. I’m biased, but there might not be a better, more unique facility or prettier place to play in Gauteng.”

The nines have been reversed on the West Course, with the old No 10 now the No 1.

Royal recently received three awards, notably the Best Luxury Golf Club in SA, from the global Luxury Lifestyle Awards, which additionally named Royal’s new restaurant, The Old Oak, as the best family restaurant in SA. Royal was also one of five clubs in SA awarded the Pillars of Distinction award at the CMASA annual conference, in recognition of the club’s professional standards.

Bentley confirmed that the club will revert to its original title of Royal Johannesburg in April 2023, with the Kensington name falling away plus the words Golf Club. Kensington was added when the two clubs merged in 1999. The name change was approved by a vote of members at the club’s 131st annual meeting in September.

“The name change is official but hasn’t launched yet. That will wait until April,” said Bentley. “Following the AGM we had to get all the approvals and requirements within our Royal Charter. This meant dealing with the Cabinet office in the UK. We received the final go-ahead last week. In January our graphic designers will finalise the new corporate identity and branding.”

“The reason for the change was our name being too long. The logo was complex. We’ve omitted the “golf club” description to align with the fact Royal is now a lifestyle offering with its variety of facilities, more than just golf. And we are looking how to retain and respect the Kensington name in some way, perhaps our new lodge.”

Another switch on the course has been that of tee boxes between the par-5 sixth (the former 15th) and par-4 13th (formerly No 4), which are close to each other. No construction was required, just a change of the tee cutting lines.

“We believe this is a better solution for both holes, bringing the water on the left into play on No 6 and the sluit left of the 13th fairway,” said Bentley. “The flow is better, which improves the customer journey. Some of the club’s longer hitters are now considering going for the greens with their tee shots on 13. Our teaching professional, Gavan Levenson, recalled to me that this is how these two holes were played in the 1970s.”

The par-4 second hole on the West Course, formerly No 11.
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