Sealed with Player’s Approval
By Rick Young
Of the 300-plus golf courses Gary Player has designed worldwide, only one—South Africa’s Gary Player Country Club—features the legendary Black Knight’s name in its title. That mark of distinction is nearly impossible to put a value on.
For global golf travellers intrigued by the prospects of visiting the country’s North West province, the nearly 8,000-yard, par-72 course is a must-play on any Sun City visit.
“How the Gary Player Country Club came to fruition is quite a remarkable story,” Player explains. “Four decades ago, going out into the bushveld in the middle of nowhere in a volcanic crater—and with no water around—made designing and building this golf course a monumental task. But Sol Kerzner, the Sun International founder, was a visionary.”
Using the land
Opened in 1979, the club is built in a naturally formed amphitheatre that is nestled—as Player points out—hard against the edge of an extinct volcano. What golfers will find intriguing, along with the awe of the accompanying vistas and beauty of the landform, is the calibre of Player’s routing. Well-intentioned use of water hazards, bold and ideally positioned bunkering, smart deployment of strategic sides and angles, and well-planned green complexes are complemented throughout by gnarly kikuyu grass rough bordering the gently sloping fairways. Together they offer a stern test for highly skilled, better player types, including the world’s best touring pros, who are looking to see how they will fare on a course that is routinely ranked in Golf Digest Magazine’s top 100 in the world.
The golf course is acknowledged to be among South Africa’s top three. This absolutely should not scare more casual golfer types away from partaking in the experience. The course will provide a day’s worth of enjoyment and a ton of fun, especially when the proper set of tees is considered from the start. “Tee it forward” is a very practical approach.
Highlights among highlights
Once out on the course, highlights abound. Particularly noteworthy on the outward nine are the beguiling par-three fourth and short par-four sixth holes—each requires prudent shot-making, particularly on the tee shot. Those kidney-shaped greens, by the way, are fast and challenging, but hardly overdone. You are likely to find the kikuyu grass around the greens more difficult to negotiate. Chipping and pitching the ball are at a premium.
The ninth hole is arguably Player’s signature hole. A memorable long par-five, it traverses a beautiful setting to an island green where two putts is anything but assured. “During the Nedbank [Golf Challenge], the ninth green and the surrounding area provides one of the great amphitheatres in South African sport,” says Player. “A popular spot for spectators during the tournament, the hole is always one golfer’s look forward to reaching.”
A tough par-three-four-four finish on the course’s inner half opens up with one of the designer’s personal favourites—the dynamic 16th, measuring 193 metres. Club selection into this two-tier green is as critical as a quality strike. That same strategy should apply on the medium-length second shot at 17. The green there is positioned in the heart of famous Sun City Lake, where the occasional golf ball has been known to find a watery grave.
On the 18th hole, a 90-degree dogleg left, the golfer’s view to the clubhouse is one sure to bring a smile to your face. Often heard tapping out on that are words from golfers that every course designer wants to hear: “That was fun. Let’s go again.”
“No doubt the course has stood the test of time against the very best players in the game as well as the average weekender,” Player says. “I’m confident it will continue to do so in the future.”
Award-winning golf writer/author Rick Young is one of Canada’s most trusted voices on golf and matters related to the golf industry. A founding member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, Young’s articles have appeared in publications throughout North America.