The European Tour begins 2011 in South Africa with the co-sanctioned Africa Open at The East London Golf Club in Eastern Cape. Home player Charl Schwartzel defends the title.
This will be the third of four consecutive European Tour events contested in South Africa. Before Christmas Pablo Martin took victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship then Ernie Els won his fifth South African Open Championship. The week after this tournament, the Tour travels to Johannesburg for the Joburg Open.
This will be only the second 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 last year.
In that event Charl Schwartzel came through the field with a final round of 67 to win by a single stroke from Thomas Aiken.
The course at the East London Golf Club is set among coastal dunes overlooking Nahoon Beach. It’s a layout with a split personality, the front nine characterised by tight fairways and small greens, the run for home featuring wider landing areas and large, undulating putting surfaces. It’s a track that generally produces low scoring – Schwartzel won last year with a 20-under-par total. At just under 6,800 yards, it’s not a long course by modern standards and with four reachable par 5s, prepare to see plenty of birdies and the odd eagle.
Venue: East London Golf Club, South Africa
Date: Jan 6-9
Course stats: par 73, 6,770 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €158,000
Defending Champion: Charl Schwartzel (-20)
Thursday 6 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Friday 7 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 8.30am
Saturday 8 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 10.30am
Sunday 9 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 10.30am
Retief Goosen – He pushed Ernie Els all the way to the finish line in December’s South African Open Championship and will look to continue that form in this first event of 2011. If he can manage it he’ll be tough to beat. He won this event in 2009.
Louis Oosthuizen – After winning the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews, Oosthuizen suffered something of a dip in form. But he looked to be back close to his best in the South African Open where he finished an excellent third after posting a fine closing round of 63.
Romain Wattel – The young Frenchman who came through Qualifying School last December will look to build on his fifth place finish at the South African Open Championship. He looks to possess all the necessary skills to make a significant impact on the 2011 European Tour.
Key hole: 16th. At just 319 yards this short par 4 is reachable in two 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.