Keenan Davidse had just shot 63 on Randpark’s Bushwillow course to claim the lead, so it was understandable that he would rail against suggestions the shorter of the two courses in use for the Joburg Open was ‘easy’.
Davidse’s brilliant eight-under-par round was enough to give him a one-stroke lead at the end of the first round on Thursday, and he said it was largely down to him keeping on the straight and narrow on the 7114-yard former Windsor Park course.
“Some people say Bushwillow is easy, but to be fair, it’s not. You can’t say any golf course is easy. You’ve still got to hit the ball straight and the flags were pretty good. The rough is not as up as it is on Firethorn, but it’s still a good test. You’ve still got to hit the ball in the right areas and then you have to make the putts,” Davidse said.
Fellow South African Ockie Strydom was in the group of golfers one shot back on seven-under, and he agreed that hitting the ball straight was still vital on Bushwillow.
“Bushwillow is short, you’re hitting Driver and wedges to the greens, but you’ve still got to hit it straight. The greens were a little bit soft, you get a lot of spin on them, but there are some greens where you still get a big bounce and then it stops,” Strydom said.
Bushwillow is certainly not a bomber’s track but requires a more strategic approach, which Englishman James Morrison, another of those who shot 64 on Thursday, appreciated.
“I hit the ball an average length so Bushwillow suits me down to the ground. You’ve got to keep it on the fairway, and then hit it good with the short irons and wedges. I’m a good chipper and putter, so this golf course sets up well for me. If you can keep it in play, you have a chance to score,” Morrison said.
Jared Harvey was another South African who shot 64 and he said Bushwillow provided a “really good” test.
“There was a bit of a swirling breeze the last couple of holes, but if you play nicely then you’re going to score well, and if you’re going to be off-line then you’re going to struggle. A lot of the holes are doglegs and the rough is quite up, so if you’re missing it at bad angles off the tee, you can be blocked out by trees,” Harvey said.
Englishman Matthew Baldwin was another who prospered on Bushwillow with a 64.
“The small greens on Bushwillow tested my game most. Second shots are important and off the tees, it’s quite narrow in places. It’s more of a tactical course, it’s not Driver everywhere, but I think the fact that the greens are small means that if you hit a lot of greens then you’ve got a lot of birdie chances,” Baldwin said.
And what of the ‘tougher’ 7595-yard Firethorn course?
South Africans Oliver Bekker and Dean Burmester, Finns Mikko Korhonen and Oliver Lindell, Denmark’s Joachim Hansen and Englishman Richard McEvoy led the way on the northern side of Randpark and all managed to shoot six-under-par 66s on Thursday.
“The course was unbelievable, it’s drained incredibly well and I think it’s absolutely flawless. I went bogey-free, so that helps, and everything was pretty much solid. I have to say the putter has come alive again because I missed a couple of greens and got some good up-and-downs,” Burmester said.
Bekker agreed with the Tshwane Open champion.
“The course is in great shape considering how much rain they’ve had and the greens are unbelievable. I hit my irons really well so I didn’t really miss a lot of greens, the couple I did miss were long and straight over them and then I managed to up-and-down. But there’s long rough and if you find yourself in there then you could be in a lot of trouble,” Bekker said.