The Ranking Criteria

HOW WE JUDGE THE FINEST GOLF COURSES IN SOUTH AFRICA

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

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, 4 for bunkers, and 2 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.

OUR RATERS PLAY AND SCORE COURSES ON 6 CRITERIA

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?
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?
15 points

DESIGN VARIETY / How varied are the golf course’s holes in differing lengths, configurations, hazard placements, green shapes and green contours?
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?
15 points

SHOT VALUES / How well does the course pose risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse?
15 points

RANKING CRITERIA FOR CONDITIONING

GREENS. Good greens are firm yet receptive, and roll true at reasonably fast speeds. Slow greens should be penalised. The green surrounds should be manicured and kept short. Greens recovering from hollowtining should not be rated.

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
Excellent
Good
Tolerable
Poor
RANKING CRITERIA FOR FACILITIES
Key to Ranking Scales
World Class
Excellent
Good
Tolerable
Poor
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 Range

Ranges vary from course to course, mainly because of space restrictions. A top-class range should have bays with both mats and grass, space both long and wide to hit a driver, and quality range balls. Ranges should also be safe for not only those on the range but on neighbouring fairways. If balls keep straying on to the course then it’s not perfect.

Halfway House

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

On-course shops have improved markedly. What do you think of the quality of stock on display, service levels, and is there a club pro you can turn to for advice? How do prices compare with the big retailers?

Service

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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