No 1-ranked Fancourt Links claimed more honours in the Top 100 rankings when it was judged to be the Best Conditioned Course in South Africa and to also have the best quality greens.
The Links scored 16.6 out of 20 for overall Conditioning, of which 8.42 out of 10 was scored by its A4 bent grass greens. These greens were resurfaced as long ago as 2009. The runner-up in Conditioning on 16.5 was Fancourt Montagu, scoring 8.22 with its 007 bent grass greens. Third place went to Leopard Creek (16.1) which has Champion G-12 ultradwarf Bermuda grass greens.
There are five separate Conditioning categories in the ratings, and Arabella was No 1 in bunkers, The Club at Steyn City No 1 in tees, Gowrie Farm No 1 in fairways, and the Montagu No 1 in presentation. Runners-up were Leopard Creek (tees, bunkers and presentation), Bryanston (fairways) and Sishen (greens). Third were Pretoria CC (bunkers), Serengeti (tees), Montagu (fairways), Elements (greens) and The Links (presentation).
The man at Fancourt who can take the credit for their impressive Conditioning performance is Resort Superintendent Gerhard van Rooyen, who oversees all three of their courses. Fancourt in the past two decades have had just four Resort Superintendents; in 2018 Van Rooyen followed in the footsteps of Kosie Mentz, Mark Kirkby and Graham Corbett.
Van Rooyen, who grew up on a farm in the Free State, began his apprenticeship in course maintenance at Oppenheimer Park in Welkom, before becoming an assistant superintendent at Fancourt. He had a spell as superintendent at Arabella before returning to Fancourt in 2007 as Course Superintendent for the Montagu and Outeniqua courses. Newly appointed to this role is Moses Khumalo, while Jacobus Fortuin is the superintendent for The Links.
The design and construction of The Links, ranked among the World’s Greatest 100 Courses by Golf Digest (outside the United States), was conceived by Hasso Plattner in the mid-1990s, soon after he had acquired the Fancourt resort. He wanted an exclusive club and unique golf course that would not only attract international attention, but also be capable of hosting the biggest events in the game. It immediately did that with the 2003 Presidents Cup, and the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 2005.
Interestingly The Links, when it opened in 2000, like the Montagu and Outeniqua at the time, offered tee times for the public at R375 a round. Now it is a private club with a membership of 120 and a waiting list. The entrance fee is $100 000. Visitor tee times are only available for Fancourt hotel guests, and the green fee is R5 000.
The Links is entirely man-made by Gary Player Design, so it technically does not qualify as a “True Links,” yet the playing experience compares with many of the famous natural links in the UK and Ireland. Whereas those original links emerged without any shaping among windswept coastal dunes, The Links was a huge earth-moving project to create that rugged look.
The once flat terrain flows with dunes, rolling fairways, links bunkers and veld grasses. Wetlands have been created and are among the natural hazards. Your ball can get wet on several holes, including in Scottish-type burns running in front of greens. The holes have been masterfully designed, and include the quirky features common to the natural elements of links golf which bring risk and luck into play.
All that is missing is an ocean close by and consistently strong sea breezes – windy weather is considered an essential part of the links experience. The Links is several kilometres inland and thus benefits from many more calmer days than you would find at Humewood in Port Elizabeth.
The Links is uniquely different from most of the other 99 courses in the Top 100 in three different respects.
Firstly, it is the only one with a par of 73. There are five par 5s, and three of them feature in the last six holes. It began as a par 72, but it wasn’t long before the 18th was transformed from a short par 4 into a long par 5 with one of the most daunting tee shots in golf, requiring a long uphill carry over bush to the fairway. An extreme back tee of 563 metres is seldom used. The pros tee up from 485-500 metres in the Dimension Data Pro-Am.
The second distinction between The Links and other Top 100 courses is the grass on the fairways and tees, rare species by SA conventions. While the Montagu and Outeniqua have kikuyu fairways and tees, The Links has a mixture of rye grass, Chewings fescue and Creeping red fescue, which together help reproduce the firmer ground conditions asked for in links golf.
And, thirdly, The Links is one of seven Top 100 courses in South Africa with one dedicated starting tee. Others are Blair Atholl, Fancourt Outeniqua, Eye of Africa, Oubaai, The Lakes at Mount Edgecombe and Olivewood.
The Links stays true to another tenet of original links golf, that is an 18-hole routing that does not follow the customary two loops of each returning to the clubhouse. But, unlike the Old Course at St Andrews, the front nine does not extend to the furthest point from the clubhouse. The ninth green at The Links is in the middle of the property, and adjacent to that is a very South African structure, a halfway house, which you won’t find in Scotland.
The Links and the Montagu are very different championship layouts, one a links, the other parkland, yet there are discernible similarities between them. Both courses have a difficult par 3 second played from lofty tee boxes. The front nine on each course ends with a long par 5, the longest holes on either course. And each back nine is completed with a par 3 and par 5.
All three Fancourt courses begin with relatively gentle opening par 4s, then The Links and Montagu enter serious challenge mode. Three of the most difficult holes at The Links are the second to fourth. They are regularly rated among the toughest holes in the DiData Pro-Am, where the Montagu this year played to a scoring average of 72.11, while The Links was 72.25.