• The heat of battle

    Nedbank Golf Challenge
    It gets hot out there

    For years we have come to know the annual Sun City showpiece as ‘Africa’s Major’ and this year’s tournament shouldn’t disappoint, writes GARY LEMKE in Compleat Golfer.

    Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet used to be something of an anthem in South Africa back in the day. Chevrolet, however, has packed its wagons and left the country, and while some cynics might reckon that many of our best rugby players have done the same thing, there’s always braaivleis and sunny skies to unite the nation. And, in a sporting sense, we also have the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

    Sun City, the gaming and entertainment resort nestled in the Pilanesberg, plays host to one of the iconic annual sporting events on the South African calendar. Last year Branden Grace fulfilled a childhood dream when he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player Country Club. That made him the first local winner since Trevor Immelman in a gap that had stretched to 10 years. But, thanks to Grace, golf was coming home.

    The week is usually played out in blazing sunshine around a beast of a golf course. It has, however, also produced its fair share of thunderstorms in the past, with one writer penning the newspaper intro, ‘First there was sunshine, then thunder, then rain and finally there was Frost’, in reference to the weather and the arrival of David Frost, who was winning the first of his three Million Dollar Challenge titles (as it was known then) in 1989.

    Much has changed over the decades, including the event becoming a fully-fledged European Tour fixture – a far cry from when it started out as a hand-picked, invitation-only gathering in the homeland of Bophuthatswana, created by an apartheid South African government in the 1980s. It is commonly called ‘Africa’s Major’ and while that might be stretching things a bit, it’s still a unique tournament that every golfer who tees up dearly wants to win.

    The crowds, you have been warned, can get a bit boisterous, pickling in the sun as the consumption of beer starts to take its toll, and as much as we like to point fingers at the boorish American spectators, some of who scream ‘get in the hole’ the moment a golfer tees off on a par five, South Africa does also have its share of men behaving badly.

    It was on the 16th green last year that Louis Oosthuizen was lining up an uphill birdie putt on the 193m stroke-18 par three, that was playing tougher than its rating – only four players out of 70, including Grace, birdied it in the final round – that a booming voice came from the marquee tent next to the green.

    ‘Everyone has been leaving it short today,’ came the shout. Whether it affected him we don’t know, but the South African raced the ball past the hole on his way to a closing 70 and a tie for eighth.

    This year there will be a number of Major champions in the field, including the return of the 2010 Open winner Oosthuizen, along with Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and a star-studded cast of European Tour players looking for more points in the lucrative Rolex Series and Race to Dubai.

    – This article first appeared in the November issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!

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