The Jack Nicklaus-designed Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate is host to this week’s South African Open Championship, played just outside of South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg. The 3-year-old Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course has celebrated a number of awards in its brief history; a Five Star Service Award from Compleat Golfer and Best New Golf Course in South Africa 2010 by Golf Digest. The Golden Bear has designed six golf courses in South Africa and five of them have received the Best New Course in South Africa award, with the sixth finishing runner-up to Serengeti.
The Nicklaus layout, which can stretch to a robust 7,761 yards, will test players in the European Tour’s final stop before the race to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship is played next week in Dubai. Two-time major championship winner Rory McIlroy, who this week was named the PGA of America Player of the Year, the Vardon Trophy winner for top scoring average, and is the favorite to win the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA Tour Player of the Year, has already secured the money title on both the PGA and European Tours with two events to go, but jockeying on the European list continues. No. 4 Branden Grace and No. 5 Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, are in the 156-man field for the Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned South African Open Championship.
Others in the field gave their comments on what to expect as the tournament unfolds at the Golden Bear’s challenging design this week.
“I think they’ve prepared the course in a fantastic way,” said South Africa-native Ulrich Van Den Berg, “with the way they’ve set up the rough this year, so a loose shot this year is going to be really penalized… It’s going to be just a great test of golf and that’s all you ask for when you come to an SA Open.”
German and Ryder Cup star Martin Kaymer, who currently ranks 27th on the European Tour, gave his thoughts on the course: “Golf is very long, but it doesn’t play that long because of the altitude, the ball goes a little bit farther. I think the key is definitely to hit the fairways in order to get some spin out of the ball, and then you can be fairly aggressive for the flags.”
Ranked closely behind Kaymer on the European Tour list at No. 30 is 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel, one of more than 90 South Africans in the field. Since the event joined the European Tour in 1997, 12 of its 15 champions have been South African.
“Serengeti is one of those golf courses you need to know really well, standing on every tee box,” Schwartzel said.
“There’s a whole bunch of unbelievable players out there this week and, you know, we’re all fighting for the same thing.”