RETURN TO GLORY DAYS
Gary Player Country Club,
The format may have changed over the years, yet the Nedbank Golf Challenge continues to stand out as Africa’s premier golfing tournament. Brendan Barratt
Everyone has their favourite ‘Million Dollar’ memory. Mine was ducking under the legs of a cameraman to watch, from barely a metre away, Tiger Woods stripe an iron off the 17th tee as he chased Nick Price down the stretch in 1998.
One shot, and of course that sound, etched in memory for eternity.
That’s what “Africa’s Major” does to us. Embedded in our sporting culture for over 40 years, it feels imprinted on our souls and it’s hard to imagine a summer without those sweeping visuals of the Gary Player Country Club and the Pilanesberg National Park on our television sets.
From its early days as golf’s greatest spectacle through to the barren years in the mid-2010s, when money alone just wasn’t enough to lure the world’s best to the bottom of Africa, South Africans have unfailingly supported the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
And to its credit, the tournament has never failed to deliver. Even when it was a regular DP World Tour event uncomfortably positioned at the back end of a lengthy playing schedule, it continued to produce big-name champions and thrilling golf.
See how Tommy Fleetwood emerged victorious after his battle with Ryan Fox at the 2022 Nedbank Golf Challenge.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The 2023 NGC features one of its strongest international fields and there will be plenty of stars to keep an eye on.
In 2017, the organisers pulled off a bold move that breathed new life into the NGC – they turned it into a season-ending Rolex Series event.
The raised profile of the tournament attracted top players and led to the likes of Branden Grace (2017), Lee Westwood (2018) and Tommy Fleetwood (2019) all getting their names on the iconic crystal ball trophy, earning themselves a coveted Rolex star.
Just when the event seemed to be building momentum, Covid struck and we were deprived of our regular dose of the NGC for two long summers.
It’s funny; sometimes you only realise how much something means to you when it is taken away. So when the world’s top pros returned in 2022 and Tommy Fleetwood successfully defended his title in a thrilling final-round comeback, it rubber-stamped a return to former glory for the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The format may have evolved and the faces become slightly less familiar, but it remains, unequivocally, Africa’s Major.
Take par and run
The 8th at Gary Player CC generates a huge amount of respect from the players. An uphill par four of 450m, the tee shot is key here and many players will opt for a fairway wood to ensure their approach is played off the short grass. The green is a tricky one to find and par would be an acceptable score on most visits to this hole.
Statistically speaking, the 8th is not the trickiest hole on the course. That dubious honour belongs to the par-three 12th hole (above), which played some 27 shots over par at last year’s tournament. Stretching to 200m, even the best players in the world were hesitant to go flag hunting on this brutal hole and the scores reflected their conservative play. Champion Tommy Fleetwood claimed one of just two birdies the hole offered all week, yet even he succumbed to its guile in making a bogey on the final day.
Although all four par fives provide big birdie chances, it is two consecutive holes – the 9th and 10th – that provide players with the best chances to dip under par.
The 9th hole, measuring 545m, is reachable with a mid- to long-iron and is an exciting place to catch the action. Featuring a famous island-type green, this hole offers up a range of scores, from eagles to double-bogeys.
The 500m 10th is the shortest of the par fives and is a green-light special for players. Only one bogey and one double-bogey were recorded on this hole last year.
SHAUN ROY/TYRONE WINFIELD/SUNSHINE TOUR/GRANT LEVERSHA