THE 25 BEST
18th HOLES
IN SOUTH AFRICA

FROM QUIRKY AND ORIGINAL SHORT PAR 4'S
TO SCENIC AND DRAMATIC PAR 5'S,
AN ASSESSMENT OF 101 CLOSING HOLES.

Published by : Stuart McLean - 07 April 2020

One of the stated 10 keys to greatness in a golf course is having an excellent 18th to finish the round. The cherry on top of the icing.

The 18th does not necessarily have to be one of a course’s best holes, or even a particularly dramatic one, yet golfers like to walk off having played something special and challenging to climax the round.

Golfers will forgive a weak opening hole, yet a disappointing 18th may adversely affect their overall impression.

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The island green of the par-5 18th hole at Leopard Creek.

South Africa’s Top 100 courses naturally have a mixed array of finishing holes. Statistically, 55 end with a par 4 compared to 41 with a par 5. Unusually, four courses conclude with a 3. One, though, at Kingswood, is a temporary arrangement while they await a new clubhouse. The par-5 first will become the 18th.

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Houghton’s par-4 18th (left) with the uphill 17th on the right.

The 18th as a dramatic par 5 is a modern trend among course architects. At Open Championship links in Scotland and England there is an undoubted preference for a par 4 finisher.

Of the 30 Top 100 courses launched in the new millennium, as many as 18 conclude with a 5. One reason is the possibility of hosting a tournament. A par 5 is considered more dramatic, as elite golfers will nearly always take on the green with their second shots.

I have avoided ranking our best 18th; instead I have selected 25 holes which I consider deserving of 4 or 5 stars. And I have divided these 101 holes (*Leopard Creek is included although currently not in the Top 100) into five categories. You cannot compare Durban Country Club’s 250-metre par-4 18th with the 530m 18th at CCJ Woodmead. (This incidentally is SA’s longest 18th – the 563m back tee at Fancourt Links is never used.)

Seven of the 25 holes are the vision of Peter Matkovich, our foremost local course designer of the last 30 years, with three each by Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, two by Charles Hugh Allison (Bryanston and Wingate Park). Other famous names are Greg Norman (Eye of Africa), Tom Weiskopf (Zimbali) and Robert Trent Jones (Killarney).

The distances mentioned for each of the 25 holes are all from the championship tees, yet each hole plays equally superbly from the club or forward tees. They all present the same challenges.

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The par-5 closing hole at Blair Atholl.

RISK AND REWARD PAR 5
WITH WATER NEXT TO GREEN (19)

★★★★★
Blair Atholl 519 metres. An angled fairway requires a well-shaped drive, setting up a long second to a green fronted by a stream, with deep bunkers on the left.

★★★★★
*Leopard Creek 497 metres. Downhill off the tee with bunkers either side of the fairway. A rumpled island green awaits the second or third shots, which can result in balls running off the back into water.

★★★★★
Wingate Park 503 metres. A great par 5 needs to firstly test a good golfer off the tee, and this tree-lined hole does that as the fairway curves left around well-placed bunkers. Avoid them, and the second shot is played off a slight downhill lie to a green guarded by water right.

★★★★
Cotswold Downs 522 metres. Competes with Leopard Creek for being the most intimidating 18th. The drive has to be long to carry a broad water hazard. Then, a decision on the second, to lay up short of a wetland, or carry it further to another fairway leaving a short approach to an elevated green.

★★★★
Fancourt Montagu 484 metres. An uphill tee shot followed by a daunting second through an avenue of trees to a flat green with water encircling the front and sides.

★★★★
Steenberg 505 metres. Playing downhill, a stream runs across the fairway and can catch a long drive. The green has bunkers left and water right.

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Fancourt. Looking back from the green on the par-5 18th of the Montagu course.

REACHABLE PAR 5S WITHOUT WATER

★★★★★
Pinnacle Point 495 metres. As a sheer spectacle this is a magnificent closing hole. Elevated tee, and a fairway tumbling downhill to a green perched on a cliff edge. A sloping fairway means it is best to stay right off the tee. A long bunker curving sinuously along the left acts as a safety net.

★★★★★
Royal J&K East 504 metres. Old-school parkland hole with an impressive raised extended tee. A straight long drive is crucial to find a tree-lined fairway and avoid well-placed bunkers. An uphill second shot to a raised green. Great finishing hole at the Joburg Open.

★★★★
Arabella 502 metres. Scenic beauty alongside Bot River lagoon. The tee shot is straightforward; the main trouble lies within a winding bunker that borders the right side of the fairway.

★★★★
CCJ Woodmead 530 metres. Nine courses finish with an uphill par 5 and this is a classic. The climb is gradual and fairway bunkers are conspicuous hazards. Avoid them and you are left with a pitch to a raised green with a challenging putting surface.

★★★★
Umdoni Park 502 metres. The highest elevation of any 18th makes for an exhilarating tee shot with extra hang time. What a view!

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A water hazard is the first obstacle to be avoided on 18 at St Francis Links.

ULTRA-LONG PAR 4S

★★★★★
Eye of Africa 496 metres. Definitely one for the driver. The fairway runs slightly downhill, with bunkers centre and left. There’s a wetland left of a well-bunkered green. For shorter hitters it remains a great hole from the 403m club tee.

★★★★★
Pearl Valley 427 metres. A row of deep bunkers to be carried with a long drive. Then water guards the left side of fairway all the way past the green.

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Scenic backdrop to the par-4 18th at Champagne Sports Resort.

★★★★★
The Club at Steyn City 471 metres.  Wide fairway with a centre bunker. A large water hazard fronts the green, with a bailout area right.

★★★★★
Zimbali 442 metres. Superb driving hole curving left with fairway bunkers guarding the corner. A long green falls off on both sides.

MEDIUM PAR 4S

★★★★★
East London 376 metres. Singularly unique dogleg left where the drive must find a “chute” down a steep fairway slope, leaving a downhill approach to a well-guarded green falling steeply away at the back and right.

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The clubhouse overlooks the 18th at East London.

★★★★★
Houghton 408 metres. Great culmination to a fabulous closing stretch of holes starting at No 15. Downhill fairway curving left around tall trees, bunkers right, water guarding the left of the green.

★★★★★
St Francis Links 400 metres. Strategic risk-and-reward closer where an aggressive tiger-line drive skirting as close as possible to a water hazard on the left is needed to have a shorter approach to an exacting greens complex both raised and tightly bunkered.

★★★★
Bryanston 424 metres. Dogleg right and turning downhill off the tee, with an elevated green angled parallel to a waterway which must be carried.

★★★★
Champagne Sports Resort 401 metres. Picturesque beauty where you drive to the corner of a dogleg left fairway, to face a long uphill second over water to a raised green.

★★★★
Killarney 367 metres. Classic old-fashioned hole through an avenue of tall trees, with the green angled in left against a water hazard.

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Killarney’s attractive par-4 18th.

SHORT & QUIRKY PAR 4S

★★★★★
De Zalze 312 metres. One of our finest holes. Best enjoyed from high back tee among the vineyards. Long hitters have a narrow alley over a river to the green, while a layup must avoid two enormous oaks standing sentry in the fairway short of the river. The green has tricky slopes.

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De Zalze’s short par-4 closer in the Cape Winelands.

★★★★★
Durban CC 250 metres. Iconic hole, unique for SA, which today for many is a long par 3. Danger lurks everywhere, and the undulating fairway can produce unpredictable bounces.

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Golfers putt out on the 18th green at Durban Country Club.

★★★★
Centurion 277 metres. Design originality makes this hole. It only became No 18 recently to spice up the finish. Two options: Play safe left to an adjoining fairway, leaving a short iron approach, or attempt a 200-metre carry over water directly towards the green. There have been 4 aces here.

★★★★
San Lameer 334 metres. Huge intimidation factor. For the tee shot, out-of-bounds left and water right. Find the fairway and the target is a dauntingly narrow and steep-faced green projecting into the hazard.

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San Lameer’s 18th is intimidating from start to finish.
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