‘Terrific’ Serengeti hosts South African Open

Field to include major champions Els and Goosen

The South African Open kicks off this week at Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate, less than a year after the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course was named the Best New Course in South Africa by Golf Digest. The event will be the first major tournament hosted by Serengeti, with the Nicklaus Course sure to make as much of an impression on the professionals as it has on the South African golf landscape.

“It is an incredible honor for us to mark our first hosting of a major professional tournament with the South African Open,” said Serengeti CEO and developer, Leon van der Vyver. “There is so much history and tradition in this tournament, and we are proud to follow a long list of some of South Africa’s finest golf courses in being the host. It has always been our vision to stage a tournament of this stature and the golf course was designed with the spectator in mind. It came earlier than anticipated, but we are delighted. Jack Nicklaus set a benchmark in the game of golf during his playing career, and we believe that Serengeti will also set a new standard in terms of hosting the SA Open.”

Since it opened in June 2009, the Masai Mara championship course at Serengeti has received a slew of awards, including 2010 Best Superintendent in South Africa, a Five Star Service Award from Compleat Golfer in the same year, and Best New Golf Course in South Africa by Golf Digest. Jack Nicklaus 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 a Nicklaus course.

This week’s spotlight on Serengeti helps underline a year in which Nicklaus courses played host to some of golf’s most significant events. In 2011, Nicklaus courses will have hosted 15 PGA Tour-sanctioned events—eight on the PGA Tour, five on the Champions Tour, and two on the Nationwide Tour. Two of the Champions Tour majors in 2011 were played on Nicklaus courses. Another three Nicklaus layouts played host to events on the LPGA Tour; two hosted European Tour events; and two more on the Asian Tour. Over an 11-week period this summer and fall, there were 10 events played on six different tours and five countries that were all hosted by Nicklaus Design courses. Overall, more than 90 Nicklaus Design courses have hosted a professional tournament worldwide.

Although the host venue for the South African Open is close to a bustling city, Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate manages to create a sense of tranquility, and that feeling of wide, open space is echoed in the Nicklaus design. The rugged grassland and dunescape look of the par-72 championship layout, combined with the cool grasses that provide green vistas all year round, make for a spectacular golf experience.

Serengeti provides the perfect backdrop for what former South African Open champions Denis Hutchinson and Dale Hayes anticipate being a field of fierce battle of top talent.

Hayes, the winner at Houghton in 1976, considers Serengeti a perfect host for the national Open.

“I think Serengeti is going to host an incredible championship,” he said. “The access is brilliant with the buses they are going to have from the Gautrain station. It certainly has all the space in the world to accommodate players, spectators, hospitality and everything else associated with the national Open.

“The course will test the golfers in the best sense of the word. The greens have incredible slopes but from tee to green it’s a terrific golf course and I think we are going to have one of our best championships yet at Serengeti.”

Hutchinson, who became the last amateur to lift the national title when he won the 1959 edition at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, said the Jack Nicklaus-designed course will deliver a good challenge.

“It’s going to be exciting to see how the players deal with the course at Serengeti,” said Hutchinson, who has either played or commentated on the last 50 consecutive South African Opens. “The course is in great condition. If they keep them at a decent pace, we are going to have a great championship.”

The famed commentator backs defending champion Ernie Els to win the country’s flagship event

The South African Open is the second oldest national open championship in the world, behind only the British Open, and was first held in 1903. Among current players, defending champion Ernie Els, leads the way in victories with five South African Open wins to his name. Retief Goosen, Tim Clark and Trevor Immelman have all won it twice.

Hayes believes this year’s championship will deliver another great battle between Els and Retief Goosen.

“I expect a titanic battle between Ernie and Retief,” he said. “Ernie is from the area, he grew up here in Ekurhuleni and it will certainly be a motivation for him to perform. He also gets lifted by the crowds and I think they will turn out in droves to support him. But every time Retief plays, he either wins or comes close. If they get it going, it could be an epic tussle.”

However, Hayes agrees with Hutchinson that one of the younger players could surprise.

“I just think Ernie and Goose would do well to keep an eye on the players who stay at home and play the Sunshine Tour’s winter section. The South African Open is the ultimate title every golfer wants to win. The local pros have played this course before, they know the demands it will throw up and they will bring their best games.

“Jean Hugo has been in top form, James Kamte recently showed he is back to his winning ways and Darren Fichardt is always dangerous. I think we are in for one of the most thrilling Opens in years.”

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