“This is probably the trickiest golf course we play all year,” Lucas Bjerregaard, the in-form Dane, said after his pro-am round on the eve of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club on Wednesday.
Bjerregaard is playing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge for the third successive year, so he knows what he is talking about.
“The winds are … well, nobody knows what the winds are doing. Ball is going really far most of the times, and it’s just a tricky course. The bushes and the wild animals are out there, and you want to stay in the fairway. It’s quite difficult. The ninth hole, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit that drive downwind, and then you hit your second shot, it’s into the wind and over water and you have to trust it, and it’s just a really hard place to play good golf,” Bjerregaard, the world number 51 and 12th in the Race to Dubai, said.
And a legend like Sergio Garcia, the winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2001 and 2003, was also stressing just how tough a challenge the Gary Player Country Club course is, even with the rough not as long as in some years.
“It’s a tricky golf course. The wind is very tricky and it moves a lot throughout the round, you’ve just got to have one of those weeks where obviously the game is on, but you’re precise with what you choose with your club selection, and knowing how tight some of these pin positions are.
“Obviously it’s important to drive the ball well and there’s a few holes that are quite tight. Then there’s a lot of holes that gives you a little bit more room and because there’s not a lot of rough you can manage. But like I said, going into the greens is the most challenging,” 2017 Masters champion Garcia said.
At an altitude of more than 1100 metres and with the weather generally scorchingly hot, the ball does fly a lot further at Sun City, but that can also mean more trouble for the golfers.
“You have all the clover greens, with the altitude it makes it really difficult to be precise with your iron play, and saying that, that is the key to playing well here. Your iron play has really got to be on point to make birdies,” South African Major champion Charl Schwartzel said.
“We all know the storms come in late afternoon and when the wind starts blowing around here, it gets tough. Especially being in between these mountains and things, it really swirls around quite a bit. Obviously it is a tree-lined golf course as well, so there is that aspect and places that you have to be on top of your game, but the thing about this place is that you have to keep it in the fairways,” defending champion Branden Grace said.
With a prize fund of $7.5 million though, the Nedbank Golf Challenge remains one of the most popular events for South African golfers.
“Obviously as a South African, this tournament is really close to us, and it’s the first tournament that I came to watch live and watch your heroes play. For us, I think it’s probably more special, and for the foreigners, it’s a great tournament; Sun City is a great venue. It’s always really good to be back here,” Schwartzel, the 2012 runner-up, said.