Designed to be the first fully fledged golf estate in South Africa, Dainfern has stood the test of time, writes BEN KARPINSKI in the latest issue of Compleat Golfer.
A forward-thinking property development firm had a bold vision as far back as the mid-1980s, when some of the country’s finest architects designed distinctive homes there, and South Africa’s greatest golfing son, Gary Player, provided his signature to the course that would live as the heart of the estate. What does this mean for a golfer today? Well, it all translates into a golfing experience that is very much an escape from everyday life.
Back in the day when golfers were still swinging persimmon and trying to find their balatas in the rough, the Fourways Golf Course stood on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg. Meandering around the Jukskei River, the course had some wonderful natural attributes, but a storied golfing destination it was not.
Gary Player and Phil Jacobs took to the layout, and in 1991 it was officially reworked and presented as the Dainfern course we enjoy today. The main reason behind these efforts of course were to provide a major drawcard for the housing estate established the following year.
Looking back on old episodes of Top Billing from the early 1990s as the who’s who of cosmopolitan Joburg life moved into the estate, you would notice that the estate was far from the lush and densely wooded property it is today. It has matured brilliantly in all areas, though, making the golf course and surrounds every bit of the country gem it was intended to be.
The par 72 championship layout regularly hosts amateur and pro events but, as with all modern designs, it naturally caters for all golfers looking to challenge their handicaps.
The 1st hole isn’t quite the gentle opener you may have been hoping for. From the club tees it is 385m, but what adds to the 1st-tee nerves is the tight nature of the hole off the tee. Many balls have been lost out wide on either side of the fairway, with anything pushed too far right in particular getting you closer to the residents than you would care for. This opening hole is particularly tricky on a winter’s morning as the cold seems to sit in what is one of the lowest parts of the course.
The layout opens up brilliantly on the 2nd with a relatively straightforward par five. This course is incredibly good fun off the tee if you are someone who loves to let it fly. A good hit up the right of the fairway here will give you a great opportunity to attack a relatively unprotected green in two.
The grip-and-rip opportunities off the tee are also tempered somewhat by some strategic par fours that may be better approached with a hybrid or a long-iron off the tee for the longer hitters. The 3rd and 5th holes are great examples of this where placement trumps power to give you the best chance of scoring well.
Although Dainfern is a vast residential estate, the meandering layout still gets to display its unique natural character, with the veld and river terrain the consistent theme. The par-three 6th hole is a great example of this, where a slight change in elevation makes club selection a little tricky, ensuring the 159m hole is anything but a pushover.
The par-four 7th goes a little further. From the championships tee in particular you get to enjoy a driving experience where the Jukskei River runs down your right side, requiring you to play to the left half of the fairway and ideally landing as high up the valley as possible to approach the green. It sounds like quite a hefty task, and for the shorter hitter it certainly is, which naturally makes it no surprise that this is the stroke one on the card.
The Jukskei River comes directly into play on five of the holes, with the par-five 8th being where it is most prominent. From a sheltered and elevated position on the tee, you play down towards the river, now on your left side. If you find the fairway safely, this par five of modest length offers the chance to go for glory in two shots. No matter your yardage, though, you will have to carry the river as it crosses over the fairway and then runs along the right-hand side of the green as you look at it. Keeping it dry on this hole is an achievement in itself, no matter how you play it.
The front nine rounds off with a slightly easier par four. Often used for the longest drive competition during golf days, it’s another great chance to open the shoulders, so to speak, guiding you into a halfway house with a definite country club feel. Dainfern’s clubhouse is a central point for many activities on the estate, so whether you are dressing up for a private function, or easing into a pie and gravy with the back nine ahead of you, you just feel like you are in the right place for it.
The 10th offers a friendly start to the back nine. Provided you don’t go too far off line and ideally keep your drive right of centre, this hole, measuring 339m in length, is a real scoring opportunity. Which will be needed before tackling the far more daunting par-three 11th. Here you are reunited with the Jukskei River on the left side and a deceptively sloping green where two putts are also greatly appreciated.
Gary Player referenced how there are some qualities of the Gary Player Country Club at Dainfern. Something he clearly noted when playing the par-five 12th: a long hole with natural bush, elevation changes and rocky outcrops guiding you to the green. You know you are in Johannesburg, but while watching a towering shot moving towards your target here, you could easily be far, far away.
Getting back to our earlier point about Dainfern providing some great driving holes, if you have the length and sense for adventure line-wise, you can take advantage of the par-four 13th and 14th holes. Especially in the winter months where the longer hitters could get pretty close to the greens on these holes.
In contrast, the par-four 15th is to be approached with a whole lot more respect. The fairway bunkers need to be avoided at all costs, as the approach to a rather narrow green with water all the way down the left side is tricky, even from a perfect lie in the fairway. Par here is always a great score, with some devilish pin placements often on show to make this extra difficult at the business end of the course.
Back to another substantial elevation change, the par-three 16h often requires a bit of hit and hope as your ball seems to stay in the air for an eternity before finding the target. It is certainly one of the easier greens to putt on, which should give you some confidence as you hit the home straight.
The short par-four 17th is not a place to be a hero off the tee. You want to find safety up the right side, and do so without entertaining any other strategy. The green is semi-blind from the fairway for most players, with everything falling away on the left. It’s precision over power here as you then cross the road to the final hole.
The 18th hole provides a truly brilliant finish. Though back to taking on the Jukskei River all the way along the right side of the dogleg par five, your elevated tee position allows you one more big crack with the driver. The line of this tee shot is key. The temptation is to try to cut a bit off the corner but overdoing this can lead to a watery grave. At 476m, it certainly isn’t the longest par five you will encounter on the Highveld, so the decent players are more than capable on reaching this green in two. Water crosses the fairway en route, but it is well short of the green so it shouldn’t come into play. With the vibrant clubhouse overlooking the 18th green, you have the perfect place to finish with a flourish.