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South Africa

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Words: John Botha. Article from the Compleat Golfer Magazine September 2015.

Rustenburg Golf Club is a social hub of this town in the North West Province, and when it comes to classic parkland layouts, its course is one of the most underrated in the country.

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The town of Rustenburg has a long and interesting history, founded in 1851 by the earliest white settlers long before the shantytown that was to become Johannesburg sprung up when the rich gold deposits on the Witwatersrand were discovered.

Setswana-speaking tribes had occupied this area in the foothills of the Magaliesberg Mountains for centuries prior to this, having colonised the Khoikhoi people. Before the Boers arrived, the marauding Matabele impis had conquered the local Tswana tribes, and because the Boers had fought fierce battles against the Zulu and their offshoot Matabele, they and the Tswana people had a common enemy, and formed an alliance to defeat the invaders.

Compleat GolferWith an excellent climate and no shortage of water, the prospects for farming were good, and getting on well with their neighbours, the Boers called their town ‘Rustenburg’ or ‘town of rest’. The town would become an important agricultural centre with vast citrus estates, with other crops including tobacco, sunflowers and maize thriving, as well as establishing itself as a successful cattle-breeding area.

A major development in the town’s fortunes was when the famous geologist Hans Merensky discovered a reef yielding large quantities of platinum, and the mining of the precious metal began in 1929. What had been a sleepy country dorp grew at a frenetic pace, and Rustenburg was, for a brief time, the fastest- growing town in South Africa.

Even before the mining boom began, around 1925, six holes were laid out for the locals to play golf, although the course was a somewhat primitive affair. The earliest records of the club tell us that herds of cattle were allowed onto the course to graze, and where the clubhouse then stood, local residents were allowed to fetch water from the borehole, at the time the only water source in the area.

Compleat GolferIt was during the post-World War II golf boom in 1950, when many golf courses were being built, that the town’s course was extended to a full nine holes, and the clubhouse was moved. A further three holes were added 10 years later, a gift from the United Tobacco Corporation, and in the early ’70s the 18-hole layout was completed. Rustenburg could then not only boast a ‘proper’ 18-hole course, but one that was made up of some superb holes. It was Frank Keeny,a member of the club and knowledgeable golfer, who can claim to have designed the layout, and what an excellent job he did.

A man who has played an important role at the club for more than 40 years is Sam Stone, father of professional Kevin and grandfather of Brandon. Stone Senior first served as club captain in 1978 and has completed a few stints as head of the committee since. He was also elected as the club’s president, and during one period, even took over as the club’s manager.

“I have been just about everything at the club except the lady captain,” he says. He has seen the club expand to the point where it had around a thousand members, although this has since been reduced to 700, mainly because of the volatile platinum price, and the well-publicised labour unrest on the mines. The club’s membership, and indeed the town of Rustenburg, depends very much on the well-being of the mining industry, which has endured some tough times over the past few years. But despite its ups and downs, which included a burst dam that supplies the course with water flooding the course, and issues with the new bent greens (constructed three years ago), the Rustenburgers are made of stern stuff, and the course has bounced back from these setbacks, while the enthusiasm of the club members remains high.

The first-time visitor will immediately be struck by the magnificent mature trees that frame the holes, trees that thrive in the subtropical climate. Although the rough is kept at a manageable length, the trees – and the water features – ensure that any attempt to overpower the course is likely to be foiled.

Compleat GolferFortunately when Top Turf constructed the new greens, the temptation to create modern, roller-coaster type surfaces was resisted, and the subtle breaks on the putting surfaces are not always obvious. This course is quite simply a very playable, yet interesting challenge that few players will be able to master – unless they appreciate that it requires canny strategy rather than brute force to score well here.

‘This is very much a thinking golfer’s layout,” says Sam Stone, who points out that his club has produced a number of excellent players, including Valerie Holland and Coen Dreyer. He modestly points out that his son Kevin, who was awarded full provincial colours at the age of 16, wasn’t too shabby a player either, and of course his grandson (who began playing his golf at this club) earned the distinction of being not only the No 1-ranked amateur in South Africa, but was also the highest-ranked player on the US college circuit before turning professional.

One of the honorary members here is former SA Open champion James Kingston, and with the club’s state-of-the-art academy run by Henry Kruger, it will not be surprising to see more top golfers produced here. At Rustenburg there is that wonderful feel unique to traditional golf clubs and the large, functional clubhouse (built in 1993) has everything one might expert: Honours boards, framed photographs of important office bearers, trophies, and a great atmosphere in the large 19th hole that looks out onto the course.

The pro shop is as well stocked as any one would find at a bigger, ‘city’club, and the friendly, efficient staff members led by manager Jenny Zimmerman are a credit to the club.

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This club is an excellent example of a facility that has taken whatever challenges were presented and bounced back, which says a lot about the astute leadership and good management. It may not have all the bells and whistles of a modern resort or estate club, but there is a lot to like about the place. On a limited budget, the maintenance contractor does a fine job Of keeping the course in good shape, and in terms of value for money, (membership fees, visitor greenfees and food and beverage), it doesn’t come better than this.

In the days when this was little more than a fledgling club with a handful of holes, the local community was always quick to help with whatever had to be done. The farmers would not hesitate to send equipment to help with bush clearing, and when it was decided that the course required something more efficient than cattle to ‘mow’ the fairways, they again happily stepped in and made their equipment available. In the 90 years that have since passed, the same attitude prevails, and today when any specialised equipment is needed, the mines are happy to oblige.

Since the completion of the N4 highway, golfers en route to Sun City bypass Rustenburg, but we can recommend making a detour and finding the time for a round on one of our most endearing classic golf courses – they just don’t make them like this any more.

Fact File

Getting There: From Johannesburg or Pretoria, proceed on the N4 (Platinum Highway) until the third Rustenburg off-ramp. At the T-junction turn right, travel for one kilometre until another T-junction, turn right into Watsonia Road. Two kilometres later turn into Bethlehem Street. The club entrance is on the left.

Opened: 1925. The 18-hole layout was completed in 1970.

Course: Par 72, classic parkland, 6 281 metres. Designed by Frank Keeny

Club manager: Jenny Zimmerman

Club captain: Gary Church

Director of golf: Cedric Brummer

Teaching Pro: Henry Kruger

Greenfees: R230 (affiliated rate)

Contact: Tel-014 597184 website. 

Likes:

■ The layout – an ageless classic that requires strategy and shot- making where the magnificent trees are the most obvious hazards.

■ Value for money – well-priced food, drinks and greenfees. (The hamburgers here are ‘world-beaters’.)

Dislikes:

■ The club is 160km from Johannesburg – a long way to travel for a round of golf, but a great stop on the way to Sun City.

■ The fact that the course is rated outside the top 80 in South Africa – which proves that this system has its failings.

More on the quaint town of Rustenburg More on the Bojanala Platinum area

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