Woodhill is one of 17 courses in the Top 100 associated with veteran course designer Peter Matkovich, and the Pretoria estate layout can be considered the most improved in the country the past year. It has gone from No 70 to No 57, its highest ever position in 20 years spent in the Top 100. It is the largest single move in this year’s rankings.
Woodhill has matured over the last two decades into an exceptionally good parkland-cum-bushveld layout, one that has flown under the radar in contrast to the older and more celebrated courses in Johannesburg and Sandton.
It also has a reputation of being one of the consistently best conditioned courses in Gauteng. It gained that mainly due to the efforts of former course superintendent Frikkie Potgieter, who delivered exceptional standards of agronomy (he was SA Greenkeeper of the Year in 2014).
The current greenkeeper Hugo van den Berg was mentored as an assistant by Potgieter before stepping up to the top job when Potgieter was head-hunted by The River Club in Sandton some years ago. At this exclusive private members preserve (not eligible for ranking in the Top 100) he presides over what many consider to be the best conditioning experience in South Africa.
Shortly after Woodhill was opened for play it became the venue for the Sunshine Tour’s PGA Championship from 2001 to 2005; however, the biggest events since then have been the SA Women’s Amateur and the SA Boys. To my mind it’s ready to take on the tour professionals again. It won’t be as easy now as it was when Alan McLean equalled a world record at the 2005 PGA with 9 consecutive birdies in a 62 which still stands as the course record.
Woodhill has experienced a metamorphosis and so has the surrounding area in the east of Pretoria where residential development has run rampant this century. When Matkovich was building the course in the late 1990s this was barren rocky veld. Not a house on the horizon. Nor much in the way of trees.
Matkovich was a particularly busy man at that time, in demand as the go-to designer for developers in the burgeoning golf estate market. He was cheap, and it is astounding to recall today that he designed and built Woodhill for just R11 million. Creating something similar today could cost 20 times that much.
Matkovich was also prolific, churning out courses with such rapidity that it seemed they were coming off an assembly line. In the last three years of the 20th century he opened Centurion, Arabella, Woodhill, De Zalze and Borrowdale Brooke in Zimbabwe. And Matkovich was not your typical course designer, leaving the construction process entirely to others. He refused to put his name to a course unless he had personally worked on it from start to finish. He liked getting his hands dirty.
Arabella and Woodhill competed against each other for the Golf Digest Best New Course Award in 1999. When they both entered the Golf Digest Top 100 rankings for the first time in 2002 Arabella came in at No 9 and Woodhill at No 66. It stayed in the 60s and 70s for the next 20 years.
Woodhill is not a particularly long course, certainly not compared to the Els Club Copperleaf, Blair Atholl or even Pecanwood, but at 6697 metres from the tips it has a Course Rating of 75.8 and Slope of 145. The longer front nine is where its teeth lies. It begins with a gradual climb up a slope to the fifth hole, and each hole on the front nine has a distinctive characteristic. Even for a low-handicap club golfer it is a daunting stretch of holes from 1 through 8, with the first breather coming at the 339-metre ninth.
The back nine would be considered the scoring nine, offering a seductively good risk-reward downhill short par 4 at 15. The par 5s are easier, yet the two par 3s, 12 and 16, are dangerous. No 16, with a green tight against a hazard on the left, is the shortest par 3 at 181 metres, and is probably a better hole played from a front tee to give some balance to the design variety. This was the hole where Alan McLean’s run of 9 straight birdies ended.
Woodhill has so many good holes that I struggle to name a favourite. But I like the par-5 fifth with its surprising twist and hidden green in the last 200 metres, and the downhill par-4 sixth, offering a stunning vista from the highest point of the property.
UP IN THE RANKINGS
Wanderers up 2 from 60 to 62
Mbombela up 1 from 60 to 59
Woodhill up 13 from 70 to 57
Modderfontein up 3 from 58 to 55
Killarney up 6 from 59 to 53
Euphoria up 4 from 55 to 51
Wingate Park up 3 from 52 to 49
Steenberg up 6 from 54 to 48
Maccauvlei up 4 from 51 to 47
Clovelly up 4 from 49 to 45
Hermanus up 2 from 45 to 43
Els Club Copperleaf no change
Ebotse Links no change
DOWN IN THE RANKINGS
Lost City down 8 from 50 to 58
Cotswold Downs down 7 from 47 to 54
Oubaai down 8 from 44 to 52
Gowrie Farm down 2 from 48 to 50
Prince’s Grant down 1 from 41 to 42
Victoria down 2 from 39 to 41
View today’s rankings here: https://satop100courses.com/