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Jaime-Lee Gardner
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Louise Martin
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SA Top 100 Courses

How can your estate get rated as an ‘SA Top 100 Course’?

An overview of South Africa’s top golf course awards

By Esther de Villiers

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How can your estate get rated as an ‘SA Top 100 Course’?

An overview of South Africa’s top golf course awards

By Esther de Villiers

, |

4 min read

The new South Africa was in its infancy when Golf Digest magazine started ranking the country’s best courses back in 1998. Adjudicators strive to rate candidates objectively, enabling a panel of knowledgeable reviewers to democratically decide on which courses to include in the coveted Top 100 list.

Clear criteria

Weighing in most heavily in terms of criteria are the categories of Conditioning and Playability, both scored out of 20 points; the remaining four are Aesthetics, Design Variety, Memorability and Consistency, and Shot Values, counting 15 points each to make up the 100-point total.

The beginning

Golf writer Stuart McLean is the founder of and chatted to Estate Living about this definitive ranking system.

‘My coffee table book SA Golf Courses: Portrait of the Best, was published in 1993 and four years later, Golf Digest magazine tasked me with ranking the country’s top 50 courses. This had never been done on a national basis,’ says Stuart.

‘Raters comprised prominent people in the golf industry, renowned players, administrators, PGA professionals and members of the media. The first Golf Digest Top 50 was duly published in 1998, and evolved to the Top 100 in 2002, to include more courses wanting to be part of the awards. Also, Top 100 has a better ring to it!’

New format needed

‘Golf Digest SA closed three years ago, while I was editor. Having started the Top 100 rankings, I decided they were worth continuing and transferred them to their current digital platform.’

Stuart says it has now become his retirement occupation, albeit one that requires a lot of driving around the country. He visits up to 125 golf clubs, resorts and estates a year and enjoys witnessing course enhancements while catching up with the people involved.

Working from Cape Town, he annually spends four to five months on the road to assess courses.

‘I don’t play them all. More often it’s a walk around parts of the course, or I get in a golf cart and do all 18 holes. My longest trip has been nine weeks, visiting eight different regions, but sometimes it’s just a week to the Garden Route and back.

‘The furthest north I’ve been is Polokwane, furthest east Komatipoort on the Mozambique border, and to Springbok near the Namibian border. I’ve seen a lot of our beautiful country in this way.’

Brief history of the boom

The course construction explosion, mainly for golf estates, peaked between 1990 and 2010. It went into recession following the 2008 world financial crash and hasn’t really regained momentum, with only a handful of courses having opened over the last 12 years.

‘Dozens of golf estate projects were terminated by the crash – probably just as well, as the market was becoming saturated. Interestingly, only 12 golf courses were built in SA between 1960 and 1990, and 45 courses featuring in this year’s Top 100 didn’t exist in 1990,’ he says.

Overall experience

The same criteria apply to estate courses and golf club courses, but aesthetics at an estate may be enhanced or marred by the proximity of houses.

‘There are many instances of homes being pelted by wayward golf balls because they are in such close proximity to fairways. Some golf holes have had to be modified in terms of safety.

‘One could in future consider making separate categories for estates, including criteria on extras offered by a particular property. Perhaps that is something Estate Living could run by its readership to gauge opinions in this regard.’

The Top 100 website allows participants to rate facilities within the clubhouse experience, such as locker rooms, the 19th hole, pro shop, halfway house, and service.

‘It would be unfair to let these factors weigh too heavily, and so let a good course be surpassed by a mediocre one with good amenities. But there is definitely scope to look at placing additional emphasis on those things that enhance golfers’ complete experience,’ he says.

Serving the public

‘Today’s Top 100 is released at the end of January every year and, as with all things digital, our format has to be renewed constantly. Credit is due to web developer Matthew Covarr – we met three years ago, exactly when I needed someone to build a site according to my requirements.

‘Most clubs react positively to the rankings. I would say 80% of them are very supportive, since golfers in general look at the rankings and many endeavour to play all 100. A section on the site allows them to tick off the courses played.

‘Some clubs or estates are sensitive to a drop in ranking position, and a few have asked to be removed from the Top 100. However, I believe it’s better to be in than out, whatever your position.

‘I’m not prepared to exclude from the website any course that is accessible to the public, as the site is a public service platform where golfers can find out more about courses they wish to play and decide for themselves which are their favourites.

‘The vast majority regard our ranking system as credible – something they can believe in.’

Top estates

Congratulations must go to these estates for shining among this year’s Top 100 courses: 1st Fancourt The Links, 2nd Leopard Creek, 3rd Pearl Valley, 4th St Francis Links, 5th Fancourt Montagu, 8th Arabella, 9th Blair Atholl, 16th Pinnacle Point, 17th Simola, 18th Highland Gate, 20th Fancourt Outeniqua, 23rd The Club @ Steyn City, 24th Zimbali, and finally, Erinvale in 27th place.

Estate managers who want to know more about preparing their home turf to make the grade will benefit from the many pointers and reviews provided at

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