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Pictures by David Scaletti

South Africa is a country of incredible geographical diversity, from the fertile plains of its high veldt and the subtropical coastline of KwaZulu Natal to the wide, unbroken savannahs of the Eastern Transvaal and the soaring peaks of the Drakensberg Mountain Range. The golf industry here is no less varied but had modest beginnings back in 1885 when the Cape Golf Club was formed by British General Sir Henry Torrens, who laid out a course in front of his military camp. There is now a golf course in virtually every town in South Africa but, like most of the golfing world, it was not until the 1920’s and 30’s that quality design first reached these shores. Colonel S.V. Hotchkin and the well-traveled Charles H. Alison made the long journey from Britain to design gems such as Glendower in Geuteng and East London and Humewood along the Eastern Cape. Strangely the giant of this period, Durban Country Club, was designed by little known locals who were given a terrific site and managed to create Africa’s first world-class golf course.

Today South Africa is most significant as the birthplace of multiple major champions such as Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen as well as the venue of golf’s first million-dollar tournament. This event is still played annually at Sun City, a Vegas-style resort built within a province that was separated from the country during the dark days of apartheid and thus avoided boycotts and sanctions. Golf in post-apartheid South Africa has boomed with new developments popping up all over the country. While classics such as Durban and Humewood remain the nation’s premier layouts, modern golfing highlights include the Leopard Creek/Kruger National Park double, the ambitious ‘Links’ project at the Fancourt resort and the stunning scenery at Pezula, Oubaii and Atlantic Beach. Disappointments include highly rated estate courses at Pecanwood and Erinvale, the old courses in Cape Town and poor design efforts on beautiful land at Arabella and Fish River Sun.

The strongest golf regions here are Johannesburg, which houses a number of fine private members clubs, the increasingly popular Garden Route and the KwaZulu Natal coastline that includes Durban, its smaller sister course Beachwood and a surprising find called Prince’s Grant by Peter Matkovich. For a quirky treat Umdoni Park south of Durban is worth a look, its wild coastal land sure to please the adventurous golfer who can tolerate the odd bad bounce or uneven lie and put up with a few poor holes in exchange for some really fun stuff.

South Africa is an extraordinary country and a terrific place to visit, the warmth of the hospitality and the standard of accommodation at resorts like Pezula, Fancourt, Sun City and Leopard Creek is truly remarkable. While the quality and diversity of modern golf sites here is also impressive, sadly there is little design variety as most of the contracts are given to a select few established names. Were the golf courses themselves as interesting as the wildlife, the national parks, the hotels or even the land most are built on, South Africa would be unrivalled anywhere as a golf destination.