Golf Digest magazine in the United States has recognised the quality of South Africa’s two leading courses, Fancourt Links and Leopard Creek, by including both of them among the 50 Best Courses in the World for the first time.
Fancourt Links is ranked No 28 and Leopard Creek No 47 in Golf Digest’s 2022-23 biennial list of the World’s 100 Greatest Courses outside the US. Durban Country Club also features at No 97.
Since the rankings were first published in 2014, Fancourt had never previously been higher than No 34, and Leopard Creek No 65.
The rankings are remarkably diverse in the number of countries featured. The Top 10 includes courses from Scotland (3), Ireland (2), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France and Japan (1 each).
The No 1 course is again Royal County Down in Northern Ireland ahead of Tara Iti (New Zealand) and Royal Dornoch (Scotland). A modern seaside sensation on the Pacific Ocean is sandwiched between two natural seaside links credited to Old Tom Morris in the 19th century.
Tara Iti is a Tom Doak design, opened for play in 2015, owned by American billionaire financier Ric Kayne, and a round there if you can gain access sets a new benchmark for exclusivity and expense because it entails overnight accommodation. It can be viewed on YouTube in the new Golf Digest series on famous courses where they do a flyover of every hole with narration by celebrities.
That same year also saw the unveiling of two other modern masterpieces, at No 10 Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Canada, and at No 12 Cape Wickham Links on Australia’s King Island, rated ahead of Turnberry in Scotland.
Significantly, Australia & New Zealand contribute 20% of the courses in the Top 50, making Down Under one of the leading golf destinations on the planet. They have eight courses in the Top 25, just four fewer than the entire United Kingdom and Ireland with all their revered links. There are 16 representatives in the Top 100, one fewer than Scotland, the country with the most courses.
In a ranking of the best courses in the Southern Hemisphere, Fancourt Links would rank No 9 in a stellar list, and Leopard Creek No 12.
This would be: 1 Tara Iti, 2 Royal Melbourne West, 3 Kingston Heath, 4 Cape Wickham, 5 New South Wales, 6 Barnbougle Dunes (Tasmania), 7 Royal Melbourne East, 8 Cape Kidnappers (NZ), 9 Fancourt Links, 10 Kauri Cliffs (NZ), 11 Barnbougle Lost Farm, 12 Leopard Creek, 13 Victoria, 14 Metropolitan, 15 Jack’s Point (NZ).
Durban CC’s inclusion is a surprise considering its struggles with conditioning in recent years which has seen it fall out of the SA Top 10. It was No 96 in the 2018 World 100, then was omitted in 2020.
There are 25 countries with courses in the World’s 100 Greatest, headed by Scotland (17), England (13), Canada (12), Australia (11) and Ireland/Northern Ireland (9). For anyone wanting to play all 100, the best place to begin ticking them off would be the UK and Ireland which has 40. Six countries in Europe have 7 courses. Asia has 13 courses in six countries.
Six courses are on small islands, two in Tasmania, two in the Dominican Republic, and one each in Bermuda and King Island (Australia).
The most remote course on the list is a newcomer at No 44: Lofoten Links is located four degrees latitude north of Iceland on Norway’s Lofoten archipelago that branches deep into the Norwegian Sea. It is only open five months a year, from May to October, and from May to July it is possible to play 24 hours a day. The green fee is R2 500 in high season for a non-resort guest, a second round is half the price, and a third round is free. Later in August golfers can experience the Northern Lights while playing.
For the full list: Ranking: World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses | Courses | Golf Digest