The 2017 European Tour gets underway this week with the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek CC in South Africa. Charl Schwartzel is the defending champion and is going for a fifth title.

Charl Schwartzel seeks a fifth Alfred Dunhill Championship this week at Leopard Creek Country Club in his native South Africa. The 2011 Masters champion won here back in 2005 and has also enjoyed success at the venue in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

But Schwartzel will face strong competition in Malelane from a field including Branden Grace (also a former winner,) Richard Sterne, Kristoffer Broberg and Pablo Larrazabal.

The event also provides the first chance for those players who made it through European Tour qualifying school to make their mark on the main circuit. Among those who have made it into the tournament through that route are: Eddie Pepperell, John Parry, Matthew Nixon and Rafa Echenique.

This tournament began life as the South African PGA, but since 2000 it’s been known as either the Alfred Dunhill Championship or the Dunhill Championship. Since 2005 it’s been played at Leopard Creek Country Club.

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.

Back in 1995 the championship was the first European Tour event to be co-sanctioned with another tour. Since then there have been some notable winners. Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Branden Grace have all been winners.

Last year, Charl Schwartzel picked up a fourth title. He finished four clear of Gregory Bourdy from France and there were three more Frenchman – Benjamin Hebert, Sebastian Gros and Thomas Linard in the top-five. Schwartzel seeks a fifth Alfred Dunhill Championship this time out.

The weather forecast for the week is good but it could be very hot with temperatures reaching the high 30s centigrade.

Venue: Leopard Creek CC, Malelane, South Africa
Date: Dec 1-4
Course stats: par 72, 6,951 yards
Purse: €1,200,000
Defending Champion: Charl Schwartzel (-15)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 1 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Friday 2 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Saturday 3 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am
Sunday 4 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am

Player watch:
Schwartzel will be the player to beat. Who has the credentials to do it?

Branden Grace – He won this event in 2014 and was eighth last year. He’s been playing well and was tied third in his last outing in South Africa – The Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Branden Grace putting challenge:

George Coetzee – Another South African with bags of talent, Coetzee has showed good form in recent weeks, particularly in the Turkish Airlines Open where he was fifth. He hasn’t played well in this event in recent years but was third in the tournament back in 2011.

Gregory Bourdy – Last year’s runner-up, Bourdy has been in supremely solid form on the European Tour. He hasn’t missed a cut since the Scottish Open and he only missed three cuts in the 28 events he played through the 2016 season.

Key hole: 18th: A 553-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.