Golfers in the greater Gauteng region are spoiled for choice when it comes to playing Top 100 courses. There are 36 of them in the rankings, and 12 of those can be found in the grouping announced today between No 40 and No 21.
Gauteng is home to the greatest collection of parkland courses outside the United States. Their undeniable quality is underlined by the fact that 16 are ranked in the SA Top 50. Illustrious designers include the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Charles Hugh Alison, Bob Grimsdell, Greg Norman, Fred and Martin Hawtree, and Gary Player.
And there’s another magnificent parkland course in Sandton, The River Club, which does not feature in the Top 100 at all. The most private of clubs in the region, The River Club asked to be removed from the Top 100 after its last appearance in 2012. Having been privileged to play the course in December, I can confirm that it remains as stunning as ever, setting Conditioning standards the equal of the best. It would at the very least be a Top 20 contender, possibly Top 10.
Several of the older courses have benefitted in recent years from extensive redesigns or what some might call plastic surgery. Creative greens complexes often transform a tired-looking layout into an exceptional beauty. Golf Data have proved the leaders in this field, and three of their redesigns feature today – Randpark Firethorn, Country Club Johannesburg’s Rocklands, and Parkview. The three of them have moved up a cumulative 27 places, and each of them have achieved personal best rankings.
Firethorn, which has hosted four European Tour events since 2017, had more than just a makeover. Several new holes were built on Randpark’s flagship course, designed by Sean Quinn, who now works for Nicklaus Design, and the golf course is an exceptional one, both a championship layout and a fun course for the club golfer. Firethorn’s new ranking of No 21 is the best it has ever achieved.
PARKVIEW LINK TO ST ANDREWS
Rocklands was once the shy younger sibling of the Woodmead course at CCJ. It was such an understated layout – kept in the background – that it only entered the Top 100 rankings for the first time in 2002. Over the years it has evolved into such an exciting, scenic and enjoyable course to play – also extremely challenging from the tips (6831 metres) – that it’s now considered the equal of Woodmead.
The Rocklands climbs 16 places from No 52 to 36, which still leaves it 12 places behind Woodmead, but who knows where it can go from here. Remarkably this is the first time the Rocklands has been in the Top 50.
The other course attaining its best ever ranking, Parkview (at No 34), is one of the oldest in Gauteng, having celebrated its centenary in 2016. Parkview is renowned for its connection to the late maestro Bobby Locke, whose statue stands outside the clubhouse. But it also has a link to Old Tom Morris and St Andrews. The original layout was designed by Laurie Waters, who was an apprentice under Old Tom. The work at his pro shop did not appeal to Waters – “Five years of toil for five shillings a week” – and once his apprenticeship was over he sailed for South Africa in 1894.
When Parkview opened in 1916 it was on the edge of the bushveld. Johannesburg’s suburbia ended there. Waters laid out the course on Scottish lines, one hole following another alongside the principal hazard. At Parkview this was a sluit which runs through the middle of the course, dividing it into two clear parts. Its narrowness is a feature and the routing unusual for South Africa.
It has been nearly 20 years since Golf Data rebuilt the old greens, and they were received with such acclaim that the course overnight catapulted to No 37 in the 2003 rankings. Parkview has been trying ever since to recapture that position, and have finally succeeded. It’s a club not only with an interesting history, and a beautifully preserved clubhouse, but one that can boast having some of the slickest greens in Gauteng.
Today’s rankings are not all about Gauteng courses. Victoria CC in KZN, another oldie redesigned by Golf Data (2007), has achieved its highest placing (No 39) in the last 20 years. Superb greens are a feature of this undulating Grimsdell classic in the hills above Maritzburg, and under the supervision of head greenkeeper Kriben Gounder it was judged the No 1 course in KZN in quality of Greens. Its mark of 8.3/10 placed it in the Top 10 in South Africa.