The home of the PGA of South Africa nestles in the heart of Johannesburg amid Gauteng’s most powerful golf clubs, writes MARK SAMPSON in Compleat Golfer.
Symbolic of its long name, the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club comes with an equally long and interesting history. The club is the product of the 1998 amalgamation of two of the City of Gold’s most popular golfing destinations.
The reasons were primarily financial: instead of competing against each other, it was obvious that the joining of forces would create a holistic and complete service.
Kensington moved to the Johannesburg Golf Club, which was founded in 1891 and received its Royal Charter in 1931 after it hosted the Prince of Wales in 1930.
In 1933 it was decided that more space was required for a second golf course, and the pro at the time, Robert Grimsdell, began plotting the design and layout. In March 1939 the clubhouse and the ‘East’ and ‘West’ courses were officially opened.
With joint membership and a financial boost coming from the sale of the old Kensington club, the first priority was the modernising of the clubhouse to support two courses. On completion, the club became one of the best in the country.
The club has hosted a number of major tournaments, primarily on the famed East (Royal) Course. With its tough but true layout, 6 442m in length, it is much respected in professional circles and consistently ranked in the top 10 in South Africa.
One of the many reasons for its reputation is the fact the 10th and 11th are reputed to be the longest back-to-back par-fours in the world. Besides hosting the SA Open, South African PGA Championship and being used as a qualifier for The Open Championship, the East Course has also hosted the Joburg Open 11 consecutive times.
However, over time a few weaknesses have become apparent, and it is closed for a major revamp (see pages 72, 73). The greens have become riddled with POA and natural drainage has become a problem.
As a result, they have become more susceptible to diseases.
The revamp aims to create a contemporary parkland experience while increasing the enjoyment for the average golfer, and if necessary, the difficulty for the professional. The changes also aim to make maintenance cheaper, making the course more environmentally friendly.
Of the two courses, West (Kensington) is slightly easier than the East Course, but still has its challenges. The layout is best described as a traditional parkland course, with trees lining the fairways, numerous well-placed bunkers and large greens.
Although not long, its primary defence comes in the form of the many mature trees, well positioned to penalise any wayward drive, and numerous water hazards. It’s a ‘thinking course’ and you can expect to need every club in your bag, and good course management.
The West Course has a bounty of interesting holes, with a nice balance of a few challenging ones.
Notable holes include the 4th, 7th and 15th. The signature hole of this course is the par-four 4th (see the local PGA professional’s tips on page 71 to find out how to tame it).
The par-four 7th, at just over 430m in length, meanders uphill to the green, demanding distance off the tee and accuracy. From the tee box it’s easy to underestimate this seemingly innocuous, straightforward hole – until water on the left and out-of-bounds pegs on the right become apparent.
An ideal drive should be kept on the right of the fairway to avoid a huge tree and a nasty bunker front left of the green. The putting surface is made up of two tiers. Par on this fearsome stroke one is truly a good result.
The par-five 15th is a stunning hole and one of the most scenic on the course. It’s a decent length at 479m, and comes with lots of water. It has a high intimidation factor from the tee box, and finding the fairway while avoiding danger will set the tone for the rest of the hole.
An errant tee shot to the left will find a large water hazard, while a stray shot right will leave you in the trees. Finding the fairway instantly makes the green reachable in two with a medium-iron for the bigger hitters and driving-iron for the average golfer. Straying to the right side of the fairway – while trying to avoid the hazard – means another smaller body of water needs to be negotiated en route to the green.
On reaching the green, a number of subtle undulations make for an interesting read. A steep run-off on the right must be noted. This hole presents a genuine birdie opportunity, dependent entirely on the quality of the tee shot.
Off the course, the club has been heavily involved in the game of golf and helping to grow it, while also housing the Professional Golfers Association of South Africa since 2005. It was also involved in the formation of the Transvaal Golf Union in 1908, and from its members the first president of the South African Golf Union arose in 1910. It has also been the home of the Senior Golfers Society of Gauteng for more than 60 years.
Sitting in the heart of Johannesburg, the golf club is easily accessible to the greater Gauteng region.
There is no question that Royal Johannesburg & Kensington is one of the best clubs in the country.
However, over time all clubs must go through changes, which is the case here too. The changes are for the best and while massive upgrades are being undertaken, management is adamant about protecting the ‘grand old lady’ of parkland design.
With the East Course changes well on track, the West Course is next in line and work there is set to commence in July 2018.
Approximately R40-million is to be spent on the upgrades, so the courses are set to become new benchmarks not only in Gauteng, but South Africa too.
In today’s financially trying times, the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Club is not resting on its laurels, with course, club and environmental initiatives ongoing. They say you get trendsetters and then you get trend followers. This club with its rich history is clearly at the apex of the setters.
Contact the club:
Bookings and enquiries: (011) 640 3021
– This article first appeared in the November issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!