Boasting a field of world-class golfers and a new 18th tee, this Rolex Series event promises to be a showstopper
Louis Oosthuizen’s caddie Wynand Stander has seen first-hand what his man is capable of achieving on a golf course, and he will be hoping some of that magic emerges at Sun City in North West at this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The premier tournament, hosted by Gary Player, starts on Thursday and ends on November 11.
Stander was not only there in 2002 when Oosthuizen shot 57 on his home course of Mossel Bay Golf Club, located along the Garden Route in the Western Cape; he was actually playing with him – and playing some pretty decent golf at that.
“I shot one under off a three handicap and I still had to give him all the money in my wallet. That wasn’t fun,” said Stander during a round of social golf earlier this week as he prepared for a run of three tournaments with Oosthuizen: the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the SA Open Championship (December 6 to 9) and the Alfred Dunhill Championship (December 13 to 16).
Oosthuizen is part of a South African challenge that includes defending champion Branden Grace, fellow Major winner Charl Schwartzel, Brandon Stone, George Coetzee and the in-form Erik van Rooyen.
Branden Grace will be out to defend his Nedbank Golf Challenge trophy when he tees off at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday Picture: Gordon Arons / Gallo Images
The presence of Rory McIlroy, last year’s Masters champion Sergio Garcia and former world No 1 and double Nedbank Golf Challenge winner Lee Westwood should inspire all of them to follow Grace in keeping the famous crystal trophy on home soil. The full field will be confirmed after today’s final round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
And, while victorious European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn is not yet certain of what his future holds in terms of returning back to life as a tour professional following the highs of his team’s triumph in France, he has decided to return to a Sun City showpiece he won in 2013.
Oosthuizen’s last victory on the European Tour was in 2016. But he returns to the Gary Player Country Club having finished in the top 15 in all of his past five Nedbank Golf Challenge appearances, with three of those being top 10s.
While another 57 from Oosthuizen is highly unlikely, there will be opportunities for some low scoring this week on a course that is hard and should play fast.
“It will be a nice, fast-playing golf course, which is how the professionals like it,” said tournament director Ken Payet ahead of the Rolex Series event.
“We do everything we can throughout the year and then rely on Mother Nature to do her part. Sometimes she does, and sometimes it falls a little short in terms of the rain we wanted,”
“The rough is not as severe as in past years, but, fortunately, this golf course doesn’t rely on the rough as its only defence. We also have its length and the ability to tuck the pins in the corners of these greens. And green speed is also something we can focus on.”
A change to the course set-up this year will be the new 18th tee, which has been pushed back about 25m as part of course designer Player’s strategy to stop the professionals taking an iron off this par-four tee box.
“It’s something Gary Player has wanted to do for some time, and we’ll have this new tee box in play for all four days, which should add quite a different dimension to the way the 18th plays,” said Payet.