Published by : Stuart McLean - 30 January 2023

Katberg, Orkney and Emfuleni are this year’s new entries to the Top 100 rankings. On the first day of the annual rankings countdown, which concludes on Friday with the announcement of the No 1 course, Katberg (Eastern Cape) came in at No 94, Orkney (North West Province) at No 95 and Emfuleni (Gauteng) at No 99. The three courses exiting the rankings are Beachwood (KZN), Benoni Country Club (Gauteng) and Parys (Free State).

A water hazard guards the green on the par-3 17th at Emfuleni.

Emfuleni’s appearance is the biggest surprise, as this estate course close to the Vaal River in Vanderbijlpark (an hour’s drive south of Johannesburg) has not featured in the rankings for 17 years and could almost be said to have been forgotten. Eight years ago it was in a shabby and neglected state under an absentee and uncaring owner. A decision was made to close it. Only following the owner’s departure were Timeless Golf given the task by the estate home owners of restoring the golf course back to health. That was in 2017, and it reopened early the following year. Slowly it became their pride and joy and deserves to become popular again.

Emfuleni is an original Bob Grimsdell design that celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023. It was redesigned by Sean Quinn (Golf Data) in the early years of the new millennium when the property was converted into a residential estate.

Emfuleni in Zulu means a place where there is a river. However, the Vaal, unlike at Maccauvlei Golf Club nearby, cannot be seen from the leafy parkland style course, which may come as a disappointment. The layout, though, is a terrific one, with a variety of interesting holes, notably the par 5s, and attractive greens complexes.

The surrounding area is a growing weekend golf destination where the average green fee is under R300; other 18-holers with excellent value fees being Maccauvlei, Heron Banks and Riviera.

Orkney, another flat Vaal River course, 140 kilometres south-west from Emfuleni, was a regular in the Golf Digest Top 100 from 2003 to 2014, this Grimsdell design reaching a high of No 46 in 2007-08. Here there are holes which stretch along the scenic banks of the river. This too was a club which struggled for a number of years before recovering after the Covid lockdown. It now has a substantial membership.

The par-4 18th at Orkney is a strong finishing hole.

Orkney’s course was developed in the 1940s by the local mining community (rich and deep gold mines pepper the area) and its main assets, other than the river, are cleverly designed holes with superbly shaped greens (by Golf Data in the early 1990s) and tranquil aesthetics. It’s a strong test off the back and has hosted several tournaments, including on the Sunshine Tour. Being 200 kilometres from Johannesburg means it is regarded as being somewhat remote.

Not as remote though as Katberg in the mountainous Eastern Cape interior. It’s roughly a three-hour drive from either Port Elizabeth or East London. This is a hilly modern course (2008) built as part of an eco-estate, principally a weekend getaway, owned by the Kat Leisure Group, whose portfolio includes Simola in the Garden Route.

Katberg has beautiful views. The green of the par-3 seventh.

Designed by Sean Quinn when he was at Golf Data, it’s a fun layout blessed with superbly conditioned greens and gorgeous scenery. At 5661 metres it becomes the third shortest course in the Top 100, after Southbroom and Umdoni Park on the KZN South Coast. Despite its lack of length, notably on the back nine, it’s always a challenge due to the lie of the land and a variety of hazards. It’s the only Top 100 course other than Kingswood which concludes with a par-3 18th.

A sad departure from the Top 100 is that of Beachwood, formerly one of KZN’s best layouts. Just two years ago it was ranked No 53. Previously owned by Durban Country Club as their second course, it is earmarked for a property development and living on borrowed time. It has been a pay-and-play facility in recent years and in 2022 its conditioning slumped dramatically following the April floods. Recent reviews have been scathing. With an uncertain future it was removed from the Top 100 with a heavy heart.

Beachwood is a classic seaside design, uniquely challenging, and following an upgrade to the greens by Gary Player Design in 1996 it rocketed up the Golf Digest rankings, a constant presence in the top 20 from 2004 to 2009. Its best ever ranking was No 15.

The most significant movement in the positions 81 to 100 announced today was that of Goldfields West, up 8 places to No 86. The story of the revival of this remarkable rural gem is a heartening one for SA golf. The club was bankrupt and might have closed but for Hans Vierra acquiring ownership and investing heavily in the clubhouse, course and facilities. What a transformation he has overseen. Visitors are treated with the warmest of hospitality.

Among improvements at Goldfields West is attractive stonework around the water hazard fronting the par-4 third green.

Goldfields West is a rare bushveld course close to the Gauteng metropole, an hour’s drive out of Johannesburg, and enjoys a setting as pleasant as golfers will experience in the Waterberg region of Limpopo, plus abundant wildlife. The course itself is another of the Grimsdell designs once ubiquitous in this region (at least three have closed), and remains true to his original creation. It has an old fashioned look and retains the cynodon-grass greens of yesteryear which can be puzzling to read if you’re more familiar with bent grass surfaces. In the past year the course’s condition has improved dramatically.

Ocean views enhance the Mossel Bay experience. This is the sixth green, with the third hole in the background.

Mossel Bay in the Garden Route leaps six places forward to No 83, also on the back of significant improvements to this popular member club which offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean from various parts of the course. Royal Port Alfred (Eastern Cape) is up five places to No 93.

View today’s rankings here.

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