For the first time in nearly 25 years, a matchplay tournament will feature on the Sunshine Tour programme when the South African Matchplay Championship is held at Zwartkop Country Club from Tuesday to Sunday.
Zwartkop is a short, 6,442-metre course in Centurion that is ideally suited to matchplay golf. It hosted a famous exhibition match in 1966 between Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
As Dale Hayes, the popular Yogi-Bear like figure synonymous with South African golf and the owner/director of Zwartkop, points out, the course may not be long, but the Hennops River winding through it presents a good mental challenge, especially for matchplay. Several of the smallish greens are fringed by the river, meaning shots that are either too short or too long are in danger of a watery grave.
“Top-class golfers hit the ball so far these days that Zwartkop is not long enough to be a great test of strokeplay golf. But when Handa [the sponsors] contacted me about hosting an event and they asked what format we should have, I straight away said matchplay.
“Because of the river, there’s water on 10 of the holes, with seven of those coming into play for the pros. So there’s a lot of risk or reward involved and a golfer needs to decide if he’s going to be aggressive or not. If he’s standing over a shot and is first to go, he’s got to decide whether to have a go or play it safe.
“You need a lot of thinking around this golf course – you can’t just step up and smash driver. Every shot requires a lot of thought and if you get too clever, then the water will be waiting for you,” Hayes said.
While this weekend’s HSBC Champions in China will obviously attract the biggest names in South African golf, Hayes says he is still “very pleased” with the quality of the field.
Jbe Kruger, the diminutive golfer with the heart of a Staffie who is third on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, will headline the 128-man field and can expect a stiff challenge from the likes of reigning SA Open champion Hennie Otto, former champion James Kingston, veteran Des Terblanche and three-time European Tour winner Darren Fichardt.
Hayes is expecting a highly entertaining show from these top golfers.
“Matchplay is the most popular form of golf; it’s what you play against your buddies. Spectators can come and see some special golf. The golfers will be aggressive and will go for it and there should be lots of birdies and eagles, which you don’t see in strokeplay,” Hayes said.
The prize pool is R2 million and the winner will walk away with R300,000 as well as valuable Order of Merit points, while even first-round losers take away R4,700 from the event.
The support from the sponsor’s founder, Dr Haruhisa Handa’s ISPS – the International Sports Promotion Society – means there will also be a disabled component to the tournament.
Sixteen disabled golfers, including some from the On Course Foundation, which gives seriously injured members of the British Armed Forces the opportunity to play golf, will play in a concurrent tournament. DM
Photo: Jbe Kruger of South Africa tees off on the first hole during the third round of the Malaysia’s Asia Pacific Classic golf tournament in Kuala Lumpur October 27, 2012. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad
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