Lowdown:
The 2011 European Tour gets underway this week with the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa. Pablo Martin of Spain defends the title.
Just two weeks after the 2010 European Tour season reached its climax at the Dubai World Championship the 2011 circuit starts this Thursday.
The field for the Alfred Dunhill Championship may be heavily dominated by home players but the tournament provides an opportunity for some of the European Tour’s lesser-lights and graduates of the Challenge Tour to kick-start their 2011 campaign.
Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is on the start list as is his countryman Charl Schwartzel – the winner of this event in 2005. Among the entrants from the UK are: Golf Monthly columnist David Howell, 2000 tournament winner Anthony Wall, Robert Rock, Oliver Fisher and Michael Hoey.
Last season Schwartzel narrowly missed out on a second victory at Leopard Creek as Pablo Martin pipped him to the title by a single stroke.
Designed by Gary Player, the course at Leopard Creek is in a stunning setting on the edge of Kruger National Park. Winding through the bush and grasslands past natural water hazards, the layout is famed for its plentiful and diverse wildlife. There’s a hippopotamus living in the lake by the 16th hole and waterbuck, impala, giraffes, crocodiles and leopards have all been seen on and around the course.
Back in 1995 the championship was the first European Tour event to be co-sanctioned with another tour.
This tournament begins a run of four straight European Tour events to be contested in South Africa. Next week the South African Open Championship will visit Durban Country Club then, in the New Year, the Africa Open at East London will be followed by the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC.

Venue: Leopard Creek Country Club, South Africa
Date: Dec 9-12
Course stats: par 72, 7,249 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €158,000
Defending Champion: Pablo Martin (-17)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 9 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 8.30am
Friday 10 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 8.30am
Saturday 11 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 10.30am
Sunday 12 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 10.30am

Player Watch:
Charl Schartzel – He has a fantastic record in this event. He was the winner in 2005 and has three times been a runner-up.

Robert Rock – The Englishman was fourth here last season and tied second the year before. He’ll be looking for another solid performance.

Matt Haines – After graduating from the Challenge Tour, Haines begins his first full season on the European Tour. Look for him to get off to a flyer.

Key hole:
18th. A 541 yard par 5 that can be reached in two. Water comes into play on the approach – Ernie Els found it twice during the final round of 2007 and lost the tournament by a shot.

Skills required: Beating Charl Schwartzel. Since winning the tournament in 2005, the South African finished tied for second in 2006 and second on his own in both 2007 and last year.