Lowdown:
The 2012 European Tour kicks off this week with the Africa Open at the East London Golf Club in South Africa. Louis Oosthuizen is defending champion as the players look to make a fast start to their Race to Dubai campaigns.
Less than a month since Luke Donald wrapped up the 2011 Race to Dubai title, the 2012 Race gets underway at East London. The Africa Open is the first of a, likely, 50 events on this year’s schedule.
This will be only the third time the Africa Open has appeared on the European Tour schedule. The tournament began life as a Sunshine Tour event in 2008 and was initially hosted by the Fish River Sun Country Club near Port Alfred. Shaun Norris took the inaugural title. In 2009 the competition moved to East London GC and carried a dramatically increased prize fund. As a result it attracted a far stronger field that led to the Africa Open being co-sanctioned by the European Tour in 2010.
So far in its European Tour life, the tournament has produced two worthy victors. 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel took the title in 2010 while 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen came out on top last year. The South African came through a playoff against England’s Chris Wood and Manuel Quiros of Spain.
Although the field is dominated by home players this week, a number of Europeans have made the journey south, particularly those who have graduated to the European Tour this year from the Challenge Tour or through Qualifying School. Tommy Fleetwood who led the 2011 Challenge Tour standings, will be amongst those teeing it up, together with fellow Englishmen Sam Hutsby, Andy Sullivan and Richard Bland – all three successful at Tour school.
Retief Goosen, who won this event in 2009, is also on the start list.

Venue:
East London Golf Club, East London, South Africa
Date: Jan 5-8
Course stats: par 73, 6,770 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €158,500
Defending Champion: Louis Oosthuizen (-16)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 5 – Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Friday 6 – Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Saturday 7 – Sky Sports 1 from 10.30am
Sunday 8 – Sky Sports 2 from 10.30am

Player Watch:
George Coetzee – The young South African progressed well through 2011, finishing the year 26th on the Race to Dubai. His next objective will be to win a maiden European Tour title. This could be the week.

Chris Wood – Runner-up here last year, Wood clearly enjoys this course. He struggled through the second half of 2011 so he’ll be looking to start 2012 on a more positive note.

Tommy Fleetwood – The 20-year-old will hope to start his first full season on the European Tour with a bang. He was fifth in last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship so has already proved he can cut it with the big boys.

Key hole: 16th. At just 319 yards this short par 4 is reachable with a tailwind. But the hole demands an extremely accurate tee shot with heavy bunkering protecting the front of the green. With the wind against, it’s a totally different prospect and becomes a tough strategic test.

Skills required: Versatility. With differing playing characteristics on the front and back nines, players will have to use all their skills to negotiate the track successfully. Accuracy is the requirement on the front side while the wider spaces of the back nine allow the players to open their shoulders a little more. If the wind gets up it will play a part.

Where next?
Equipment –
PING launches i20 range