When Branden Grace won the South African Open at Randpark in January his aggregate was 21-under-par 263 with both Bushwillow and Firethorn used for the tournament and both reduced from par-72s to par-71.
Grace’s back nines in his three rounds on Firethorn were 31, 31 and 32 – pretty stunning.
And when 16-year-old Casey Jarvis won amateur golf’s South African Stroke Play Championship, with all four rounds on Firethorn, his total for the 72 holes was also 263 but in this case he was 25-under-par as the course was playing to its usual par of 72. His back nines were 34, 31, 36 and 32. Also very special.
So where is all this going? Well, it’s a roundabout way of saying congratulations to Randpark’s own hot-shot Erwee Botha who blitzed Firethorn’s back nine in a club competition last Wednesday in just 30 strokes, with birdies at holes 11, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 (that’s five in a row to end his day!). Take a bow Erwee and, as for Grace and Jarvis, you can’t win ‘em all guys! Erwee’s the back nine champ.
Erwee, an equity trader who plays in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland every year, used to play provincial golf “about 15 years ago” but is now, in his own words, really just a “social golfer”.
His hot inward loop came to light during a snap survey among Randpark members, asking them what they think of Firethorn’s demanding, well-bunkered par-3 17th, with water left, trees right, a green full of slope and measuring a hefty 204 metres off the championship yellow back markers.
“I love it,” says five-times club champion Erwee of the 17th, “I see it as the best hole on the course. There’s really no bail out and if you’re off target you’re not going to up-and-down very easily. It’s a great golf hole,” he explained after rolling in a 15-footer for his birdie two in that inward half of 30 in the company of his buddies and teammates Barry Stegmann, Melt van der Spuy and Rinus van Niekerk.
Koos Loots, a Randpark member for 41 years, a committee member for 14 of these, a former vice-chairman and chairman, and vice-president and president, and a good golfer himself, has an intimate knowledge of both courses and he too rates Firethorn’s 17th highly. “Besides the water and the bunkers and the considerable distance off the back markers, the green – with all its undulations – is shaped in such a way that it’s a real challenge to read it correctly. That all adds up to an excellent hole. And as an aside, I think the short holes – all eight of them – at Randpark are very good. It is such a great club and I’m pleased and proud to be a member.”
On the practice green we spoke to 19-year-old Richard Spagnolo and Lebo Mathabela (22), who were working on their putting ahead of IGT Tour assignments, as they are both eyeing a possible career in the pro ranks one day. “The 17th is tricky,” says Richard, “it’s long, the water’s on your mind and when they tuck the pins in the back left or right corners of the green, which isn’t an easy green for starters – well, it’s tough to make a birdie and it’s easy to make a drop.”
Lebo agreed, but he’s a big, strong guy who plays off scratch and the length doesn’t really phase him as it’s usually an eight-iron off the tee whereas most of us mortals are looking more towards a two or three-iron or a hybrid. Oh to be young and powerful!
Talking of hybrids, Tom Buckle used a No 3 hybrid, from 183 metres, to ace the 17th on October 28, 2017. “I guess making a one there is one of the reasons I have such a liking for that hole,” he says with a chuckle. “But, seriously, the water, the strategic bunkering, the slope and shape of what is a very good green all add up to a superb hole.” Tom, who was the project manager when Firethorn was remodelled, is a golf nut who invariable plays over 350 rounds in any given year, mostly on Randpark. So does he know what he’s talking about with all that experience of our two courses? You bet he does. The 17th definitely gets a thumbs up from him.
Rocco de Kock, a real estate developer who plays off 17 and hits left-handed, has also had a hole-in-one at 17. “Fortunately it was on a quiet Sunday afternoon and there was hardly anybody in the bar so it didn’t cost me much,” he laughs. So, for a southpaw, how does 17 play?
“It doesn’t make any difference to me, because I’m such a bad golfer,” he replies. Well, he didn’t look all that bad when we watched him. Fine tee-shot to the middle of the green, and two putts, hit right-handed, for a neat par-3. Easy game.
Elca Faure, a Western Province gymnast in her young days and an all-round sportswoman, took up golf six years ago after her husband passed away. She’s made rapid progress in the game and today she is a feisty competitor, extremely hard to beat in league or any match play situation. The 17th for her? “I’ve made a few birdies there but, yes, it’s pretty difficult with all the trouble around. It’s a real challenge but I so love a challenge.”
Competition partners last Wednesday Phillip Kotze and Chris van der Burgh described 17 as Firethorn’s “signature hole” with “no margin for error”.
So, to conclude: The 17th on Firethorn is a great hole. We know that because Randpark’s members have spoken.
Written by Randpark Member Grant Winter.