Ahead of the European Tour’s return to the stunning Leopard Creek Country Club, here are five key facts to consider for the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
South African dominance
Since its inception in 1995, the event has been won by a South African on 11 occasions. Former World No 1, Ernie Els, won the first staging under its former guise as the South African PGA Championship, but it was ten years before another homegrown player got his hands on the trophy when Charl Schwartzel won the first of four Championships in 2005. In addition to three-time champion Els and Schwartzel, Richard Sterne, Garth Mulroy, Branden Grace and Brandon Stone have all triumphed at Leopard Creek. There has not been a non-South African winner of the event since 2011 when Pablo Martin Benavides successfully defended his title.
Benavides is the only player to date to have successfully defended the Alfred Dunhill Championship. In the 2010 edition (played in December 2009), Benavides finished 17-under par, one shot ahead of Schwartzel, who has finished as runner-up on four separate occasions in addition to his quartet of victories. Benavides won his third and most recent European Tour title by retaining his title a year later when he finished two shots clear of Anthony Michael. Brandon Stone will this week attempt to become the first South African to defend this title.
On the tee
Defending champion Brandon Stone is one of several big-name South Africans teeing it up at Leopard Creek this week. The 25-year-old will be joined by, among others, Els, Grace, Trevor Immelman, Schwartzel, Dylan Frittelli and Haydn Porteous. Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita winner Kurt Kitayama will be in the field, as will three-time 2018 winner Matt Wallace and Ryder Cup vice-captain Robert Karlsson. Every 2018 European Challenge Tour graduate will also descend on Leopard Creek.
A picturesque setting
Located on the southern edge of the Kruger National Park in the province of Mpulamanga, Leopard Creek Country Club, designed by Gary Player, is one of the most spectacular destinations on the European Tour’s International Schedule. Surrounded by wildlife, it is not unusual to see hippos, antelope, buffalos and elephants in the bordering Kruger Park, or indeed roaming the fairways. With the aptly named Crocodile River winding through the course, the par five 13th hole offers magnificent views into Kruger Park and is one of the most picturesque holes played during the European Tour season.
History was made at the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Championship as Keith Horne entered the record books. South African Keith Horne achieved the incredible feat of making two hole-in-ones on the same hole in consecutive rounds of the same tournament. On Day Two he aced the 192-yard par three 12th using an eight iron, before remarkably repeating the feat less than 24 hours later with the same club. There was a lucky prize on offer – a BMW 6 Series Grand Coupe – for the first professional to ace the 12th hole, but only during the fourth round. Despite Horne’s two aces coming in the 48 hours preceding the prize competition, Johann Rupert, Chairman of Richemont, holding company for Dunhill London, decided Horne’s unique achievement merited a reward of this stature, as the then 41-year-old was presented with a brand new BMW ActiveHybrid 5, courtesy of Dunhill London and BMW.