Today’s announcement of 20 courses ranked between 60 and 41 is an eagerly awaited one for the courses usually bracketed in this section. Herein is the dividing line which separates the Top 50 from the rest.
Crossing the line back into the Top 50 on this occasion are Maccauvlei at No 47, Steenberg at No 48 and Wingate Park at No 49. Moving out are Oubaai, Cotswold Downs and Lost City.
For Wingate Park, a delightful walk east of Pretoria around a rare old Charles Hugh Alison design (this contemporary of famed course architect Harry Colt also designed Glendower and Bryanston), it has been a long wait to get there. This country club (bowls and tennis are popular sports) was last in the Top 50 back in 2005, a year when the rankings looked very different from today.
Excellent conditioning in the last five years under greenkeeper Pieter Cooper has seen Wingate Park steadily climbing back up the rankings from a low of No 82 in 2010. Their greens are consistently rated with a score of 8 out of 10 and an overall Conditioning mark in excess of 15 out of 20.
Steenberg was a regular fixture in the Top 50 for many years (in 1999 it entered the Golf Digest rankings at No 16), but complex conditioning problems thought to be caused by contaminated water arose some 10 years ago. That led to this Matkovich design’s slow slide down the rankings as the greens just wouldn’t come right despite a variety of treatments, and even after a redesign of some greens by Golf Data.
It has to be remembered that Steenberg in its early years was compared to Fancourt such was its superb conditioning. Golfers teed up there for that perfectly manicured experience. Take that distinction away and you are left with a plainer course that was to eventually fall out of the Top 50 in 2018. No one would have predicted that 10 years earlier.
The greens at Steenberg are virtually back to where they were in their prime, slick and true. Yet now Steenberg is no longer an exception when it comes to conditioning. The quality of greens at most Top 100 courses around the country has improved radically with the modern strains of bent grass, new machinery, rollers and a host of bright greenkeepers. Nowadays it’s unusual to find indifferent greens because golfers put a huge emphasis on the putting experience. They demand the best surfaces all year round. You can hear the cries of woe when hollow-tining takes place.
Maccauvlei, like Steenberg, had been embedded in the Top 50 for decades (its best position being No 28 in 2001 soon after its redesign by Matkovich), before dropping to No 51 in 2021. A significant project last winter to clean out the water hazards at 13 and 14 have enhanced the Aesthetics enough to ensure its immediate recovery to No 47.
Maccauvlei, on the banks of the Vaal River at Vereeniging, occupies a special place in the history of South African golf. In the era of its heyday between the world wars it was described as being an inland links (built on sandy soil) and considered one of the best courses and clubs in the world, not just South Africa. Maccauvlei staged four SA Opens. Its large membership consisted mostly of prominent Johannesburg residents who travelled by train to spend weekends there, lodging overnight in the Dormy House, which sadly closed around the turn of the millennium.
There remains a wonderful aura about Maccauvlei and its historic clubhouse, enhanced by the attractive drive into the property under the bridge over the river.