Durban Country Club - the SA fortress
The third edition of the Volvo Golf Champions has attracted a star-studded international field to Durban Country Club this week, and defending champion Branden Grace will have an almighty task on his hands if he is to defend his title and keep the trophy on South African shores.
However, Grace and the other five South Africans in the field will be teeing it up on a course where players from the Republic have enjoyed an indomitable period of success, and it will surely provide some healthy inspiration from which to draw.
The course, which was designed in 1922, is steeped in a rich history that has seen it stage a record 17 South African Open Championships.
The Volvo Golf Champions becomes the third European Tour event to be staged at Durban Country Club, with the SA Open being co-sanctioned from 1997, and the 1996 FNB Players Championship also earning European Tour status.
It means that the par-72 Durban course has now staged five European Tour events – the SA Open (1998, 2002, 2005 and 2011) and the 1996 FNB Players Championship – and all of these have been won by a South African.
But the local dominance dates much further back. In the 13 previous SA Opens staged there, only two were won by foreigners.
One of these was in 1993 by Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone, who spent much of his career living in South Africa and playing on the Sunshine Tour. The other was in 1973 by New Zealander Bob Charles.
Gary Player won his first of 13 national Opens in the 1956 event at Durban Country Club, and the course has witnessed other great champions such as Bobby Locke, Ernie Els and Tim Clark.
Some may argue that the statistics are skewed by the high density of South African players in the field for such tournaments.
ESTEEMED INTERNATIONALS BEATEN
However, the second oldest national Open in the world has consistently attracted the top players in the game, and Durban’s local crowds have thus seen some esteemed internationals beaten by their local heroes over the years.
Louis Oosthuizen comes into the tournament as the highest ranked player in the field, and, despite coming off a three-week holiday, will be the man to beat on a course where he feels comfortable.
“I'm just going to go out and play, and, like I say, I haven't really played much golf. So I think there will be a few loose shots and a few rusty shots out there. But luckily it's a golf course where I'm familiar,” Oosthuizen said.
Els, who has twice held the SA Open trophy aloft in Durban, has similar affection for the course, and believes it will present a sterner test than it did when he last won in 2010.
“It's still a great course, and it will be nice to see the golf course in good shape,” Els said.
“In 2010, it was four days and obviously a lot of rain. I’ve played it too many times to see it that benign and that easy. So I think this week will be a little different. It all depends, if the wind blows, it's a really tough course. You’ll see what the greens are like and see what the course is like.”
The Big Easy’s local knowledge will surely stand him in good stead as he aims for more success on the course he terms “the grand old lady of South African golf.”
And while history may count for little when play gets underway on Thursday, it was during Els’s win in 2010 that the South Africans truly underlined their dominance at Durban Country Club, as second and third place went to Retief Goosen and Oosthuizen respectively.