The best way to experience the wealth of golf courses South Africa has to offer is to combine visiting them with some of the most memorable road trips in this country.
So, while not all the top South African golf courses may be listed here, what you will find are the many world-class courses that are situated along some famous or worthwhile driving routes.
And the Garden Route, on the south coast, is a great place to start.
Jack Nicklaus once said the Garden Route offers up the kind of landscape upon which you could build golf course after golf course after golf course. The scenic drive from Cape Town to George is worth it already, never mind the quality golf courses you will find along the way.
Albertinia Golf Club should be on your list of courses to visit. It may not rank alongside the bigger estate courses in the area, but as the home club of 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, the history and charming atmosphere alone are worth it. Oosthuizen, in all seriousness, ranks it as his top course in South Africa. Albertinia is also famous for its aloe products, and you’ll find everything associated with this plant here.
Staying with Oosthuizen, you may also want to fit in Mossel Bay Golf Club, where he famously shot 57 and where you may even bump into the man himself, as his junior academy is based there. Their ‘weather station’ is also quite entertaining. It’s simply a rock hanging from a rope out on the course, with forecasts such as, ‘If the rock is moving, it’s windy’. You get the point.
There is so much to choose from in terms of golf on this stretch, you’ll have to be very selective on the drive from Mossel Bay to Knysna.
There is Simola (the course that Jack built – Nicklaus), Oubaai (the course that Ernie built – who Els?), and Pinnacle Point (before or after the golf, be sure to take a hike down to the beach to see the caves; their archaeological artefacts of some of the earliest human activity are all worthy of your time).
Fancourt is a must if you haven’t already experienced this magnificent resort, and is one that has made a significant impact on golf in South Africa.
The Outeniqua and Montagu are wonderful courses, and while you may feel The Links is also a must-play, be mindful of the fact it is a course that was built largely for championship golf, so it is very challenging for the average golfer.
And don’t leave without playing a round at George Golf Club. It has a magnificent layout with beautifully manicured gardens.
The KwaZulu-Natal South Coast is another golf-rich route in South Africa.
Many of the courses in its small towns remind you a bit of the links courses in Britain – not for their style of design, but rather their accessibility. There are public roads running through them as they wind their way among the homes and subtropical vegetation so typical
of this part of the country.
Southbroom is one of the treasures here. It ticks all the boxes of being right on the sea, offering a good challenge, especially in the changeable weather, and being just plain fun to play. Derek James is the PGA professional and you couldn’t be in better hands. He has won many awards and knows how to ensure you have an enjoyable day on the fairways.
Umkomaas Golf Club is another gem on this coastline. If you’re chasing your bucket list of South African golf courses that have delivered some of
the country’s top professionals, tee it up at Umkomaas, which is where Tim Clark learned the game.
Further along the coast, the Wild Coast Sun Country Club has long been a favourite of professionals and amateurs alike. There is a lot of South African golf history here, with the course having hosted some of this country’s most memorable tournaments.
It can be a true beast in the wind. But in a country where we are often protected from the elements on many of our golf courses, you need to play this course to truly appreciate how changeable it can be.
The Eastern Cape offers a lovely drive from Jeffreys Bay to Port Elizabeth, and then on to East London. Stretch yourself a little and stop over in the little seaside town of St Francis Bay. Here you will experience a remarkable golf course, St Francis Links, and a remarkable host in PGA professional Jeff Clause.
St Francis Links offers a feast for the eyes – and the soul. The course, built by that man Jack Nicklaus again, is a must-play. And don’t be intimidated, because it offers enough options to be enjoyed by the weekend hacker and the professional. Once again, wind can be a major factor, but it’s one of those courses you need to tick off.
And at the end of your road trip lies East London Golf Club, another of the country’s historic golf courses. There are many fascinating holes on this course that utilises the land so well.
Moving to the Western Cape, a road trip with good wine and good golf is a tantalising prospect. That’s what you’ll find in the Winelands.
Arabella, outside Kleinmond, should be on your list. The closing holes on both nines are truly memorable.
In the area, De Zalze is also worth a visit. The river meandering through the course, lovely trees on some of the short holes, and the views of the mountains all combine for a peaceful experience, even if your golf is not that rewarding.
And if you are going to swing into Cape Town, put Milnerton Golf Club on your list. It’s not the only good Cape Town course, but it offers a fantastic links experience, with many of the holes right on the beach. There are plenty of photo opportunities with Table Mountain in the background.
In the northern provinces, Gauteng is home to a host of world-class courses.But considering your time is probably limited, you need to be given a selection that offers the true experience. Royal Johannesburg & Kensington’s East Course boasts a magnificent championship layout and will give you a real sense of what it takes to be a professional.
Ebotse Links is such a treat in terms of the real links feel that has been created and the volume of earth that was moved to achieve this. The grasses used will also remind you of a typical links.
Pretoria Country Club offers a classic parkland experience, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find better fairways in the province. But the reality is, you could spend a month in Gauteng and still not get around to visiting all the quality golf courses on offer. The following courses might not fit neatly into your road-trip plans, but you should try to get to them.
Sun City is well worth the trip to experience two exceptional golf courses – Gary Player Country Club and Lost City Golf Course. Gary Player Country Club gets the lion’s share of the publicity as the annual host of several tournaments, most notably the Nedbank Golf Challenge. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling more in love with the Lost City Golf Course, which is as close as you can get to the true African golf experience.
You’ve also got the Pilanesberg Game Reserve nearby if you want a break.
Similarly, Leopard Creek, near Malelane in the Lowveld, also offers a magnificent experience. This course is regularly ranked in the top two in South Africa and hosts the annual Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour.
If there is only one golf course you can play in Africa, this one will surpass every expectation you have. Leopard Creek borders the Kruger National Park, so there is plenty of opportunity to do some game viewing – during your round and from the iconic 13th green overlooking the Crocodile River. You will never feel as close to the African golf experience as you do on this golf course. The beauty of South Africa as a golfing country is that world-class golf is never far from you. Don’t neglect the many quality nine-holers out there in the small towns you’ll drive through.
Even if it’s just to pop in to the local clubhouse, where you’ll no doubt see a photo of either Bobby Locke or Dale Hayes – two men who truly have taken golf to all corners of South Africa – and meet a few interesting characters.
If you want to play on perfectly manicured fairways like the professionals or have a bit of fun on sand and oil greens in a little dorpie, the only challenge you face is time because South Africa truly has every golf experience you could wish for.