With seemingly endless mountain ranges and the largest natural lagoon in South Africa as a backdrop, there could be no better setting to crown Volkswagen?s World Champions for 2007 than the Arabella Western Cape Hotel and Spa. After the success of the 2006 World Final, Volkswagen returned to the Arabella Resort for the eagerly anticipated climax to this year?s event. More than 20,000 golfers had competed throughout 2007 in regional and national events all over the globe, looking to secure a place in the grand final. With temperatures rising to 30°C on an immaculate golf course, the scene was set for another great finish to the Volkswagen series.
Peter Matkovich was the man lucky enough to be given the task of designing this golf course in the Western Cape and his masterpiece was opened in 1999. The South African architect utilised the undulating land that overlooks the lagoon and put the water to use brilliantly on a number of holes. The large, immaculate greens are also extremely tricky to read. The magnificent hotel and spa only helps add to the already awe-inspiring setting.
The World Final took place on a warm and breezy day ? the format was nett medal play for Groups A and B, while Group C was decided by 18 holes of Stableford. Thirty-eight competitors from 14 nations arrived in South Africa representing countries as varied as South Korea and Chile, with Coventry Hearsall member Sam Foster, Neath Golf Club?s Ross Hazel and Daniel Johnson from Seacroft representing the UK. These three UK Final winners had qualified in tough conditions on the new Ryder Cup Course at Celtic Manor. Foster, a +1-handicapper, began as one of the favourites in Group A. Unfortunately the Exeter University player was struck down with a virus hours before the final and, despite his best efforts to recover, was forced to pull out on the morning of the event.
?This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am gutted that I have come all this way to an amazing place and have been unable to compete,? he said.
Things looked more promising for the UK?s two other competitors during impressive practice rounds, where they showed exactly how both managed to win their regional and UK finals. Johnson had claimed victory in his regional round early in the year at Woodhall Spa by nine shots, while Hazel had come through impressively in a tough regional qualifier at St Pierre.
On the day, however, it was not to be for the men from the UK, as both players struggled to perform to their full potential.
?It is frustrating to shoot a score in the practice round that would have been good enough to finish in the top-three and to then have a bad round in the final but that doesn?t take away from an amazing trip,? said Hazel.
Despite their disappointment, all three of the UK competitors represented their country with pride and made the most of their South African adventure. ?This has been a fantastic trip that Volkswagen has organised and to compete in a World Final in such an incredible setting is really something special,? said Johnson.
It was Argentina and Korea that dominated the top end of the leaderboard. A 28-hour trip for the South Korean team members did not stop them from making the most of the event. It was 6-handicapper Sang Wonn Lee who claimed victory in Group A, with a round of nett 71 to claim victory by four shots. The South Korean was particularly impressive on and around the greens, holing a number of long-range putts to keep his round going.
Noberto Maria De Elizalde of Argentina finished second in the group with a nett 75 playing off 9, and he also claimed the nearest the pin prize. Italy?s Roberto Marcolongo claimed third place, playing off a 9 handicap and shooting a nett 76.
The Argentinian contingent were celebrating once again with victory in Group B for Enrique Carlos Cornejo ? with the lowest round of the tournament. The 18-handicapper shot a fantastic nett 64 to win his group by eight shots. To add to his triumph, the Argentinian also claimed the longest-drive prize with a monster hit on the difficult 18th hole. Positions were reversed from Group A with second place going to South Korean competitor Ok Su Park, who finished with a level-handicap round of nett 72, playing off 18. Taiwan?s Kuo-Wie Chang finished in third place.
There was also a clear winner in Group C, but this time it was two neighbouring Baltic countries that were celebrating. With a score of 41 Stableford points it was Latvian Evins Fogts who claimed the title playing off a handicap of 21. Second place went to Lithuania?s Edmundas Kaveckas who finished with 28pts. South African Alistair Chalmers claimed third place on home soil playing off 21 and scoring 20pts. The low points tallies of the second and third-placed players merely served to underline the difficulty of the course.
Since the Volkswagen Masters began in 2003 it has been clear that the World Final is about so much more than just great quality golf and 2007 was no exception. The spirit between competitors was plain, and such a variety of people brought together thanks to their love of the game helped create a tremendous atmosphere. At the final presentation competitors were greeted by local school children who gave a beautiful rendition of the South African national anthem and a number of other traditional songs.
Away from the golf, the players and their loved ones experienced the sights and excitement that this special part of South Africa has to offer. Volkswagen provided an itinerary that made the most of every minute of the trip, which included whale watching at nearby Hermanus, wine tasting at local vineyards and a trip to the breathtaking Cape Point.
The combination of a stunning venue, excellent food and a friendly atmosphere resulted in another fantastic Volkswagen Masters World Final and a trip that none of the competitors will ever forget.