By Michael Vlismas
The Tshwane Open will make history this week when the €1.5-million tournament is played on the longest golf course in European Tour history, and also featuring the longest par five in the tour’s history.
To say that The Els Club, Copperleaf (left) will be a big test for a quality international field is an understatement.
At 7 281 metres, the golf course designed by Ernie Els is the longest used in the history of the European Tour.
And at 626 metres, the par-five fourth hole is the longest in European Tour history. In fact, this is the first golf course on the Tour where all four par fives are each over 550 metres long.
It’s enough to make even the Pretoria golfers nervous about what lies ahead.
“Last year the course was long but this year it’s ridiculous. It’s almost crazy. It’s going to be demanding on your long iron play, and it’s going to put pressure on your chipping and putting,” said Darren Fichardt, who finished second behind Dawie van der Walt here last year, and who is hungry for a win in his home city.
“I like this course and I’ve been pretty consistent this year. I play here a lot, and I’m hitting it a bit longer, which helps around here.”
Fichardt may feel he has a point to prove this week. After being beaten by Van Der Walt to this title last year, Fichardt led the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit right up until the final tournament of the 2013 season – the Nelson Mandela Championship. And then another victory by Van der Walt in that event saw him overtake Fichardt to win the Order of Merit.
“It’s never nice finishing second. Right until the final tournament I thought I’d done enough to win the Order of Merit, and then the worst thing that could’ve happened happened in that last event. But obviously I’m very happy for Dawie.”
There was some consolation for Fichardt in that he was voted by his peers as the Sunshine Tour Players’ Player of the Year for 2013. “That was pretty awesome, although it was quite unexpected.”
This week’s field includes South Africa’s other European Tour stars in George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Hennie Otto, Jbe' Kruger and Jaco van Zyl, as well as a European contingent featuring Mortun Ørum Madsen, Simon Dyson, Niclas Fasth, David Howell and Michael Hoey.
But the South Africans are traditionally tough to beat on home fairways, and Van Zyl in particular hopes to keep it that way.
“As South Africans we always feel a bit more pressure playing European Tour events at home. But we’ve always done well in these events. We’re very competitive and we like marking our territory and won’t give it up that easily. It would be nice if it’s my turn this week,” said the man who hopes to make amends for missing the cut here last year.
And then there is the question of home pride from the Pretoria-based professionals, led by Fichardt and Coetzee.
“It’s always great playing in Pretoria. This is such a big event – one of our biggest actually. So yes, myself and George would love to win one for Pretoria,” said Fichardt.