St Francis Links might just be Jack Nicklaus’ best design work outside of North America

St Francis Links

Jack Nicklaus himself believes that St Francis Links might be some of his finest work – even if he admits that a stunning canvas was already in place.

The course is frequently touted as a true links course but has not been recognised as such by George Peper and Malcolm Campbell who curate the quasi-official ‘True Links’ list which features just one course in all of Africa, that being Humewood in Gqeberha.

The absence of bent and fescue grasses on the course layout is the stated reason for the course’s exclusion.

It hosts the first of six events co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the DP World Tour in the $1.5million SDC Championship.

St Francis Links property may not have been used for sheep and rabbit grazing, but it is a natural ‘Linksland’ between the coastline and arable land.

Nicklaus had the pleasure of taking one of the finest pieces of Linksland and putting his name on something very special which immediately established itself as a premier golfing destination.

The layout incorporates every aspect of shot creation with its undulating topography, greens, and surrounds, as well as variations in length and direction that bring the prevailing wind into play in challenging ways.

Since it opened in 2007, St Francis Links has featured consistently in the top ten of the best golf courses in South Africa.

The setting is established with an impressive opening hole that requires a bold drive to clear a bunker on a dune that guards a hidden fairway.

Four distinct sets of tees make the course fun for everyone, and forward tees are also a good choice for low handicappers on a windy day.

Some bunkers are deep and severe, although the course has grown more playable in recent years, with the fairways becoming wider over time.

Some purists may dislike the water hazards on a course claiming to be real links, but they were inevitable owing to the Sand River running through the property.

Holes 13-15 are framed by a massive dam in the top half of the course. It protects the left side of 13, the shortest of the par-fives.

And at the dramatic par-4 18th, played from an elevated tee, another large hazard to the left of the fairway sets up a scary first shot.

The shape of the greens was ultimately determined by the natural flow of the land that Nicklaus carefully tracked in his design.

The greens have simply been placed on top of the sand, changing shape in construction as the wind changed its mind. Some are more undulating than others. All putting surfaces and green surrounds present a mental and physical test.

St Francis Links probably isn’t Jack Nicklaus’ most spectacular course outside of North America only because of the Golden Bear’s hand in the design of Kinloch Golf Club in Taupo, New Zealand. That course also has a magnificent natural canvas rendered by the land resting on a volcanic base.

However, St Francis Links deserves to be in that discussion and as a purpose-built golf resort delivers an excellent service to back up a great design executed by one of the greatest golfing minds ever.