The Ranking Criteria


Golf Digest magazine began ranking South Africa’s courses in 1998 with a panel of knowledgeable course reviewers, several of whom will continue to rate for this Top 100 Courses
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We have tweaked the Golf Digest international rating criteria so it is more in tune with our unique South African landscape where we evaluate fewer than 200 courses varying enormously in terms of excellence and variety.

Quality conditioning is a feature of many of our courses, an attribute valued highly by club members and visitors. The benchmark was raised in the 1990s by new courses built in that era, and has spread throughout the country to the extent where it is a shock to experience indifferent conditioning at a
Top 100 course

Pinnacle Point Golf Estate

It’s a criteria where clubs can most influence their rating through outstanding maintenance procedures. We have thus increased the points given to the Conditioning criteria from 12.5 to 20 percent of the total mark. The 20 points for Conditioning is divided into 10 for greens, 4 for tees and fairways, 3 for bunkers, and 3 for general presentation.

Playability is another criteria which receives 20 points. Golf here is principally about enjoyment, which can be seen in the way golfers have embraced the use of forward tees under the new Course Rating and Slope system.

We have done away with one of the past criteria, Resistance to Scoring, which focused on how difficult, while still being fair, a course was from the very back tees for a scratch golfer. We believe this is an irrelevant criteria in South Africa where we are comparing a wide variety of golfing experiences, not purely championship layouts.

The other four criteria each receive 15 points. All of them involve purely the golf course, and not the clubhouse or other facilities.

Judging a golf course on the quality of its Conditioning, Playability, Aesthetics, Design Variety, Shot Values and Memorability is a highly subjective process. A hole or course that fits one person’s eye may not appeal to another. That is why we have a panel. This list is not one person’s view. It is the combined outcome of a variety of passionate and knowledgeable golfers.

Our raters play and score courses on six criteria worth a total of 100 points. Each criteria has a different value.


CONDITIONING / How would you rate the quality of tees, fairways, bunkers and greens, plus general presentation of the course? How firm yet receptive were the greens and how true were the roll of putts on the day you played the course. A great course is maintained in great playing shape, given the weather conditions it must deal with.
20 points

PLAYABILITY / How well does the course challenge low-handicaps while providing enjoyable options for high-handicaps through the use of shorter lengths, alternative routes, varied placement of hazards, and accessible portions of greens? A great course never frustrates any golfer.
20 points

AESTHETICS / How well do the scenic values of the course (including landscaping, vegetation, water features and backdrops) add to the pleasure of a round? The focus should be on scenic values within the course, not outside the course. Holes do not need to be isolated to have great scenic values. Scenic surroundings and backdrops are only relevant if the architect took advantage of them.
15 points

DESIGN VARIETY / How varied are the golf course’s holes in differing lengths (long, medium and short par 3s, 4s and 5s), configurations (straight holes, doglegs left and right), hazard placements, green shapes and green contours? The more variety a design provides, the more it tests the complete game of a player.
15 points

MEMORABILITY & CONSISTENCY / How well do the design features provide individuality to each hole yet a collective continuity to the entire 18? Is a consistent level of quality a course’s strength, or is it let down by several poor holes? To determine Memorability, first consider if each hole has some individuality. The test is not whether you can remember each hole, but whether each hole has some distinctive characteristic that sets it apart from the others. If a common thread unites 18 individual holes into a seamless golf course then it deserves a high score.
15 points

SHOT VALUES / How well do the holes provide a variety of risks and rewards, and test accuracy, length and finesse without overemphasising any one skill over the other two? A great course poses different strategies from hole to hole and requires a good player to have all the shots. A course that mixes up risks (some over water, some involving bunkers, some involving depth perception, some involving out-of-bounds) offers greater variety and deserves a high score. If a course has no short 3s, 4s or 5s then it overemphasises length. Too many undulating greens overemphasises the short game. Courses weak in Shot Values are those which are wide open and rarely test length, and those which demand pinpoint accuracy.
15 points



GREENS. Good greens are firm yet receptive to crisply played shots, and roll true at reasonably fast speeds. Exceedingly fast greens, and frustratingly slow greens, should be penalised. Tournament set-ups are not the focus of our evaluation process. We consider courses as they are set up for everyday play, so we consider exceedingly fast greens an agronomic gamble. A super-fast pace on a green make recovery shots, chipping and putting more of a guessing game than a test of skill. The green surrounds should be manicured and kept relatively short. Greens recovering from aerifying work should not be marked down as this is a normal maintenance procedure. Greens pitted with unrepaired ball marks should be marked down.

BUNKERS. How consistent is the sand for recovery shots, and is there an adequate covering of sand so that you don’t hit hard dirt underneath with an explosion shot. Stones can be removed from bunkers under the new rules, yet too many stones in a bunker should be penalised. The surrounds of bunkers are preferably closely mown so that balls don’t catch up in thick grass on a bunker’s edge, making for an even more difficult shot.

TEES. These should be level, closely mown with good grass cover, firm enough that a high tee peg can be inserted with an easy push into the turf, and not lean over. Tee markers should be frequently moved to avoid wear and tear, and divots repaired

FAIRWAYS. Firm, fast and rolling, with generally playable lies so that placing is unnecessary at most times of the year. It is preferable to have one type of fairway grass, but a mixture is permissible at courses which have budget constraints, as long as they are all sustainable grasses in our climate. Good fairways are properly defined with a distinctive second cut. Fairways thick with thatch are tolerable but not good.

GENERAL PRESENTATION. A course should look neat and manicured throughout, and the rough adjoining fairways should be fair and consistent. Thick isolated pockets of rough in the playing area result in lost balls and slow play. Penalty areas should have attractive natural aesthetics, and be free of litter and debris.

Key to Ranking Scales
World Class
Key to Ranking Scales
World Class
Pace of Play

If this is a course where you start on time, play moves at a brisk pace, and you’re not waiting on every tee box, then give it a good mark. But if a round takes 5 hours or longer, there’s not a marshall to be seen all day, and queues in the halfway house, vote accordingly

Practice Facility

This measures all practice areas, from a range to hit balls, to a short-game area and practice putting green. Having all three would be the ideal. Those courses with space-restricted ranges (or even no range) should still receive a good mark if other facilities are excellent. Ranges should also be measured for safety. A weakness would be a range where balls stray on to the course.

Halfway House

How did you find the standard of catering and service? And is it an attractive and comfortable area in which to sit and relax? Appetising food served promptly is what a golfer wants. It doesn’t have to be cordon bleu cooking, just a basic menu catering for a golfer’s known preferences. Tasty pies, a healthy salad, sandwiches, and a hot breakfast.

Pro Shop

What do you think of the quality of stock, plus how it is displayed, and levels of service and helpfulness? Are there knowledgeable staff who can offer advice? How do prices compare with off-course retailers?


What was the level of service, friendliness and personal attention at the golf club on the day you visited? Evaluate your overall experience and how memorable it was, from the security entrance, the welcome in the club, pro shop or starter on the first tee, service on the course and in the locker room, to the round of drinks afterwards.

Locker Rooms

Again, like the halfway house, basic requirements are all that are needed. Showers with hot water and good pressure. Plenty of towels, mirrors, benches to sit on, and lockers for members and visitors. Space is important. Cramped, steamy locker rooms which feel like being in a rugby scrum are the pits.

Course Etiquette

Clubs rely on golfers to rake bunkers, repair divots, mend pitch marks, and generally keep the place pristine. If it’s looking a mess in this regard, there’s a problem. Are there enough rakes and are the flagsticks in good condition? Litter can damage a course’s Aesthetics. Are there ample bins around the course, and is the war on litter working?

19th Hole

A warm, friendly, inviting clubhouse or pub can soothe away the worst day on the golf course. What’s the ambience like, the view, the service, the furniture, coldness of the beers, quality of the wine cellar? Pizza oven? Good menu? The 19th hole is all about matching or improving on the golf course experience

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