There’s much to recommend about Wingate Park as it approaches 70 years of golfers gracing its fairways, writes BEN KARPINSKI in the latest issue of Compleat Golfer.
Living in Gauteng brings access to a multitude of great golf courses, all of which can be played in favourable weather conditions all year round. As a result, many of the courses have become particularly well known to South Africans and tourists, but one that may rate as one of the more ‘best kept secrets’ is Wingate Park Country Club.
Situated in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, this gem is an old-school country club in the truest sense. Officially established in 1947, with their first social event being a picnic for 1 000 people, it became a much sought-after recreational venue offering horse riding, tennis, bowls, cricket and swimming, with the golf course opening for play in 1951.
Though the offerings have changed somewhat, as has the general appetite for the country club life in South Africa, Wingate Park still retains much its original charm and hospitality.
The same can be said for the golf course. Blessed with well-established trees across the property, flowering shrubs and an abundance of bird life, the layout sits proudly in a picturesque little valley. It’s a year-round escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Never getting too hard and dry in the winter, compared to other courses in the region, while also draining superbly in the wetter summer months to ensure members and guests have a superb golf experience whenever they wish to tee it up.
The front nine gets under way with the short par-four 1st hole. A mere 321m from the club tee, it’s far from a little loosener, though. The tree-lined path to the green introduces you to the experience ahead where a premium is placed on accuracy. Even though the longer hitters certainly can take advantage of the course in various places, errant drives can quickly be punished.
The par-five 2nd hole and par-four 3rd allow you to settle into your round, being no major tests in the distance stakes and having generous landing areas. The nature of the course takes a turn with the par-four 4th hole, though. Out of bounds down the right-hand side, the fairway slopes from right to left which draws the ball to more trouble with the trees on the left-hand side.
As the front nine progresses, the chances of you having to play a creative type of approach shot from the trees are very high. So your short game is certainly tested in more ways than one. This is where the course’s conditioning really gets noticed. The chipping surfaces are wonderfully consistent around the greens, while the putting surfaces always give you a good chance to put a consistent roll on the ball.
The first half of the course has an exciting finish with a classic risk-and-reward short par four played toward the clubhouse. It also presents only the second time you will encounter water on the front nine, collecting any approach on the left of the short side of the green.
The back nine is a full 535m longer from the club tee, and with that the course opens up a little more with three par fives. Holes 10 and 11 stick to the Wingate script of being a course known for some tight par fours, with the stroke-three 12th completing a trio of holes you will be most happy with taking par on. The par-five 13th presents a great driving hole with just a bunker on the right to avoid. The left in general is the side to favour as the green is guarded by water on the right, and the unique two-tiered green providing additional defence to a hole that presents a real scoring opportunity.
Like many courses in South Africa, Wingate Park sold off a small portion of its land on the back nine a few years back to make room for a property development. Peter Matkovich was called in to ensure the natural flow of the course was retained through this process. That is certainly noticeable as you play the par-three 14th hole, then move on to the brilliant dogleg par-five 15th. Shorter hitters keep their drives down the left, finishing short of the hazard at the corner of the dogleg. The longer hitters, though, especially in the drier winter months, can have a crack at the corner and with it a significantly shorter approach to the green in two.
The closing three holes at Wingate are certainly memorable. The 16th is a short par three, but finding this green is certainly easier said than done. Following that is the stroke-one par four. Characteristically tree-lined, you need to hit a good drive up the left side as the hole bends to the right. Anything offline is punished, even the semi-rough on the right will prevent you from going directly at the green.
The 18th hole is a cliffhanger of a par five. The shorter hitters need to favour the right-hand side to avoid a big bunker on the left. As the holes turns to the left as you reach the green, this angle also allows for an easier lay-up as you get to see your landing area that leads up to water on the right that much better. For the longer hitter who can take on the fairway bunker for length, they have an opportunity to take advantage of a downhill slope which takes them closer to the green. From here, providing you have avoided the trees, you have the ultimate chance to finish with a flourish with an approach to a sloping green well-protected by a bunker on the left and water to the right.
Regardless of the outcome with either approach, or your score in general, the warm bustle of those relaxing at the clubhouse bar just off from the 18th green provides the perfect setting to recollect your time on a most enjoyable layout. Making this all the more special is an afternoon round in early summer when the jacaranda trees are in bloom to round off the perfect Wingate Park Country Club experience.