Randpark Golf Club Firethorn Review
By Jason S. – The Dawg
It is difficult to make your course visually distinctive when situated in a dense urban environment like Johannesburg, and yet Firethorn at Randpark Golf Club certainly achieves this remarkable feat from the outset.
The clubhouse and bar sit at the top of a hill, looking down across the 18th green, whose fairway slides away downhill and across a river. Abutting that green are the 1st and 10th tees, both holes providing an ample vista of the course to come. Even the 9th green and fairway is visible from this vantage point, breaking down into the same valley. The view of these beautiful fairways and greens, running parallel each other, gives the players a heady taste of the action that Firethorn has in store.
Geographically, the majority of the course is positioned on the uphill slope towards the N1 Highway. That being said, the majority of holes run in such a fashion that they do not feature huge mountains and valleys, and play uniquely to each other. It is difficult to categorise Firethorn with sweeping statements, but one word certainly fits. Challenging. Trees and fairway bunkers are placed to force optimal tee shots, but not so much that each drive is a painful experience. The greens are almost uniformly well-guarded, running true but featuring plenty of bends. Out of compassion, the course does sprinkle in the odd forgiving hole, since everyone likes to really let rip with the Big Dog once in a while (4th fairway, you’re gorgeous). Personally, I truly appreciate the amount of care and attention given to the bunkers throughout this course – gentle soft sand, perfectly maintained, is what you can expect. Nothing is as disappointing as trying to play a bunker shot out of a rock-hard or muddy bunker, and you won’t find any of those on Firethorn.
As a player struts out onto the first teebox, he’ll immediately be greeted by a graceful downward slope, over a river and into a sharp dogleg right. This challenging hole forces most to take a long iron or hybrid off the box, as that dogleg is guarded by a large dam and bunkers on the far side, and the ball-eating slopes of the river on the inside track. That being said, a good strike with the right club will land on a manicured fairway, giving the player an uncomplicated approach into an open green. Your tee shot is certainly the most important one you’ll make on this hole, don’t try to impress your friends by taking out the number one.
Some may not know that Firethorn has recently been renovated, but they’ll certainly find that out by the time they reach the second. Previously this hole was a short and easy par 3, but that hole has now been amalgamated into the former third (the old stroke one), to make a par 5 stroke 4. Essentially, the players are now faced with a miniscule landing area for their drives, but such a distance to clear that the option of a 3 wood or hybrid would leave you with little chance of making the green in two. This hole also features a sharp dogleg right, with that inside track still protected by slopes into the ravine. If you manage to land a drive on the fairway, you’ll be rewarded with a 200m+ approach into a steeply sloped green that can punish if you aren’t within striking distance of the pin.
The remainder of this nine is sprinkled with attractive holes, most are straightforward (but certainly not easy). The 4th is a par 5 with a massive downhill fairway all the way to the green that has seen more than one player run their second strike over the back and into shrubbery. You can expect a tricky hole on the 7th, which again makes use of the ravine to tighten the landing area for drives, but also shrouds a third of the green with slopes into lost ball territory. The 9th, whose green you may have spotted at the outset, is great fun, playing with a sharp downhill for your drive into a gentle uphill to the green. There’s nothing like hitting your ball onto a great big landing pad that the whole world can see.
The back nine starts out much the same as the first, but comparatively the 10th allows for the use of a driver, and uses thick trees instead of the ravine to angle its fairway and dogleg. Most of the nine has tighter fairways and less forgiving rough and bunker positions than the front, but the difficult really ramps up when you reach the 16th, 17th and 18th.
Pouncing on weary and unsuspecting players, the 16th hides its true nature when you’re on the teebox, and appears to simply be a forthright par 4 with a curve to the left. As you stride up to your ball in the middle of the fairway (or in my case, in the right-side trees), a large dam reveals itself running up the left side of the fairway towards the green, with the narrow fairway sloping into it. This hazard is blocked from eyesight on the teebox by a copse, but thankfully is difficult to reach with a driver – no, it’s there just to eat your approach shots. Players with a tendency to draw a long iron will do well to shape their shots over the right of the remaining fairway and hope it holds its head. Generously, the back and right-side of the green slope in, so landing there might let you roll onto the dancefloor (assuming you don’t find a bunker).
If the 16th didn’t have you breaking a sweat, the 17th certainly will. A long par 3, once again making ample use of a water hazard. A sizeable dam, which you would’ve passed way back on hole 2, seeks to encircle the left side of the green, while the right side is bunker-town. The green is big, but has enough undulating slopes to chastise anyone who isn’t precise with their landing.
Most players, having now seen their ideal round falling apart before their eyes, will not be pleased by the spectacle the 18th sets before them. Previously, the 18th was a par 5, but the masterminds at Randpark decided to shorten the hole by a miniscule amount, and convert it to a par 4 – accordingly, it is now the stroke 1. The hole is long, but be wary of smashing a driver if you hit it big, since the old and faithful river is just waiting halfway up the fairway. A bunker sits, broodingly, 200m from the teebox, ready to ruin your day and steal your last attempt at par. Interestingly, many a player has escaped relatively unscathed by hitting an unintentional duck-hook onto the 1st fairway, leaving an uncomplicated (but also unconventional) approach onto the green. Ah yes, the green, at the end of 150m of fairway which runs uphill from the river. The green is packed with turns, and has a few ball-busting bunkers just to make sure that, even if you hit a good drive, your likelihood of making GIR remains slim.
Despite the challenge, all of the above will leave a player coming of this course immensely satisfied. Nobody really wants an easy win (do they?), so your result will be hard earned but worth the effort. Enjoy a beer at the executively-finished clubhouse veranda, and smirk silently as you watch ball after ball fall into the river or plug into the bunker.
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