More than just a picturesque parkland course in the heart of Johannesburg suburbia, Bryanston Country Club is a shining example golf’s popularity and resilience in a post-Covid world, where a sense of community is alive and well.
To be fair, Bryanston was a thriving facility before the lockdown measures were implemented in 2020. With a healthy base of members enjoying a top-class golfing experience, along with the club being the meeting place of choice across the multitude of facilities among social members and guests, it has been going from strength to strength in the past 10 years.
In recent years the talk of the golf industry has been to become more inclusive and lifestyle-orientated, and we have certainly seen golf estates gaining in popularity by focusing on the latter in particular. With their sheer range of member benefits and attractions, Bryanston is a benchmark of country club success. This is no accident, as from the beginning it was always designed to be more than just a golf course.
Back in 1940, 301 acres were set aside for its creation, and the first ad hoc committee made up of Bryanston residents set out to make this a country club of distinction. In 1951 the first nine holes were officially opened by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the club’s first president. The remaining nine holes came into play in the February 1955, with a fittingly historic exhibition match featuring Bobby Locke, Otway Hayes, George Farmers and Jimmy Bullock.
Though not seen as a particularly demanding championship test today when compared to some of the nearby courses in and around Johannesburg, it is charming and playable for all levels of golfer. One of the course’s great defences is water. This of course is not all bad news as in many cases the aesthetic value created far outweighs the potential of punishing errant shots.
The course gets off to an unusual start with two par fives, but with a stroke index of 18 and 14, it’s friendly enough. The 2nd hole does pose a decent challenge as you approach the putting surface, though, with water guarding the left side and some undulations that will get the putter twitching early on.
With the first couple of holes under the belt, one of the features that’s hard to ignore is the course’s natural parkland charm. Taking a nice deep breath and looking up at any stage of your round here will bring views of vibrant bird life, leafy canopies and picturesque horizons.
The view from the 3rd tee illustrates this well, but this demanding par four will need your full attention to the task at hand of trying to navigate your way to a tricky fairway that sits slightly below you. At 6 323m from the club tee, this is not a long course, especially on the Highveld. But as the front nine meanders its way around the property you get a brilliant reminder that solid course architecture and great use of undulation can provide a terrific golfing test and experience. Longer players could try and overpower the course in places, but a bit of local knowledge goes a long way in knowing where to leave it around the greens.
The front nine comes to a thrilling climax with the par-three 9th hole playing over water directly back to the clubhouse from an elevated position. At just over 130m in length a lofted club will be aimed at a large putting surface, but the characteristic slopes of the course come into play brilliantly, placing a great deal of importance on accuracy to give yourself the best chance of making par.
In 1955 the club logo was designed. The Phoenix you see on your scorecard is significant in that the original clubhouse burned to the ground in 1953. In 1976 another fire broke out in the change rooms, but thanks to a prompt response from the local fire department the damage was contained. These two events naturally led to the club rising from the ashes, so to speak, but Bryanston Country Club has always strived to move with the times, facility-wise. The contemporary and well-appointed halfway house provides evidence of this as you ready yourself for the second half of the golfing experiencing.
The back nine starts with what some members affectionately call ‘The Boeing’. This is because the three holes in front of you can easily produce a score of 7-4-7. The 10th is a daunting 412m par-four stroke-one hole, where water is in play all down the left side and cutting across the fairway, making it very tricky.
The par-three 11th has water on the right side to catch any long-iron or hybrid shot that is leaked out. Like many holes on the Bryanston layout, though, even when you do successfully reach the green the undulations still require a great deal of concentration.
The final hole of this tough trio, the par-four 12th, is as demanding as it is beautiful from tee to green. But from there the course provides a bit of scoring respite and another chance for you to take in the beautiful surrounds and treelined fairways.
All great courses pride themselves on providing a strong finish. At Bryanston you certainly get that over the last three holes. The par-four 16th may not appear too taxing on the scorecard at 383m, but as it sits in front of you, it is well-deserving of its stroke-five index. A precision tee shot is required to a narrow area which sits below a raised area where an undulating green awaits. If you get through a round here without a three-putt you have done particularly well, but if there is one green for that dreaded score with the flat stick, it’s probably here.
The par-five 17th presents a genuine birdie opportunity with a fairway that runs down a small valley allowing you to let fly with your tee shot and approach a green that is well in reach with two strong shots for most. With that navigated and a short walk up the final hill for the day, the 18th tee box points you back to the clubhouse with a tremendous par four ahead. Again with a fairway sloping away from you, you can look to gain a little more distance on your drive. Favouring the right-centre you are then required to hit an approach over water to another sprawling green. With a stroke index of three this hole is a tough ask, but no better place to finish with a flourish. Par is a great score, no matter how many times you play the course.
As we all may appreciate more nowadays after lockdown periods, golf is so much more than just the 18 holes on the scorecard. It really is about enjoying the outdoors and the full experience the game presents. And with a post-round refreshment at Bryanston’s welcoming main clubhouse patio area, you are reminded of what makes golf such an attraction at any stage of life.
The game has never been more relevant and inviting, and looking ahead Bryanston is continually working on how these stages can draw more from the club and member experience. Not only that its community focus also carries through to doing more for their staff, with the caddie programme being one in the finest in the country. Not only were significant measures put in place to assist those in need during the lockdown periods, skills programmes have also been created to offer greater opportunities for individuals.