Lowdown:
The European Tour begins 2010 in South Africa with the, co-sanctioned, €1 million Africa Open at The East London Golf Club in Eastern Cape. Nick Dougherty and Darren Clarke are in the field as is Golf Monthly’s Sam Hutsby.
This will be the third of four consecutive European Tour events held in South Africa and the first 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. Last season the competition moved to East London GC and carried a dramatically increased prize fund. As a result it attracted a far stronger field that has led to the Africa Open being co-sanctioned by the European Tour this year.
In 2009 Retief Goosen narrowly claimed the title, he finished one clear of four players – South Africans Branden Grace and Darren Fichardt and Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey and Darren Clarke.
The course at the East London 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.
A drought in the Eastern Cape has left the course dry and firm and course superintendent Cameron van Niekerk expects it to provide a considerable challenge for the players. “The drought has undoubtedly left its mark,” he said. “But the overall condition of the course and the greens are better than last year and the course will provide a stern test, whether or not we have windy conditions.”

Venue:
East London GC, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Date: Jan 7-10
Course stats: par 72, 6,847 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €158,000
Defending Champion: Retief Goosen (-21)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 7 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Friday 8 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 8.30am
Saturday 9 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 10.30am
Sunday 10 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 10.30am

Player Watch:
Darren Clarke – Runner-up here last season, the Ulsterman will be looking for a solid start to 2010 and to rack up some, much needed, Ryder Cup points.
Richard Sterne – He fired a course record 61 in the third round of last year’s tournament so can clearly deal with the nuances of the layout. If he finds that sort of form he’ll be tough to beat.
Danny Lee – The Kiwi has not enjoyed huge success on the European Tour since winning the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic as an amateur. But, he may well take confidence from Pablo Martin’s recent tour victory – another player who won a tour event as an amateur and has now found his footing in the paid ranks.

Key hole: 16th. At just 312 yards this is the shortest par 4 on the course. With a tailwind it’s reachable in two but it demands an extremely accurate tee shot. With the wind against, it’s a totally different prospect and becomes a tough strategic test.

Skills required: Versatility. With greatly 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 factor, demanding good control over ball flight.