The European Tour remains in South Africa this week for the Africa Open at the East London Golf Club. The home nation will be well represented and Darren Fichardt returns as defending champion.

With a number of the European Tour’s best over in the US, or taking a week off, in preparation for next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, this event provides a chance for some of the circuit’s up-and-coming talents to show their worth.

This will be only the fifth 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.

Charl Schwartzel was champion in 2010, then Louis Oosthuizen took back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012. Last season another South African, Darren Fichardt, took the title. He finished two ahead of his countryman Jaco Van Zyl and Gregory Bourdy of France.

Designed by Colonel SV Hotchkin, the course at East London dates from 1893. It’s a historic and traditional layout, winding through sand hills and coastal bush land. The course blends both links and parkland playing characteristics. It’s an excellent test of skill and one that generally discovers a quality winner.

There are thunderstorms forecast for Thursday and Friday this week so don’t be surprised to see a delay to play at some point before the weekend.

Venue: East London Golf Club, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Date: Feb 13-16
Course stats: par 72, 6,632 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €158,500
Defending Champion: Darren Fichardt (-16)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 13 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Friday 14 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Saturday 15 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 16 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am

Player Watch:

Gregory Bourdy – Runner-up in this event last year, the Frenchman hasn’t missed a cut on the European Tour since the U.S. Open last June. He was tied 16th last week in Johannesburg.

Jaco Van Zyl – The other runner-up here in 2013, Van Zyl should have won, but faded in the final round. He’s on reasonable form and is yet to miss a cut on the 2014 European Tour.

David Horsey – After struggling a little in the Desert Swing, the talented Englishman was tied 10th in last week’s Joburg Open. That included a superb second round of 63. If he can find that sort of form, he could well contend this week.

Key hole: 16th. At just 318 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?
PGA Tour –
Northern Trust Open preview