With a history dating back to 1893, the South African Open Championship has long been held in high esteem here at home.
However, this year’s record entry of nearly 600 players not only emphasises the standing and prestige of South Africa’s flagship on the international calendar, but truly elevates the world’s second oldest national open to the status of the most significant tournament in Africa.
The 103rd edition at Glendower from 21-24 November drew a total of 581 entries from 29 countries across the globe and the vast number of qualifiers compelled the tournament custodians, South African Golf Association (SAGA), and the Sunshine Tour to book three venues for the qualifying round.
The chosen battle grounds will be Kempton Park Golf Club, Irene Country Club and Wingate Golf Club, where 361 hopeful contenders will battle it out on Tuesday, 19 November, for the 15 spots on offer.
The first event on the 2014 European Tour schedule certainly provides a big incentive – the winner secures immediate playing privileges in Europe – and consequently, the championship has drawn immense interest from the international ranks.
Three-time European Tour winner Johan Edfors (above) from Sweden and two-time winner Ignacio Garrido from Spain are among the Irene hopefuls, while Czech Open winner Oliver Fisher from England will tee it up at Wingate and Swedish three-time European Tour winner Peter Hedblom is one of those in the last-chance saloon at Kempton Park.
From a local perspective, Challenge Tour champion Dylan Frittelli, former number one amateur Haydn Porteous and former Sunshine Tour winners Bradford Vaughan, Andre Cruse, Kevin Stone, Mark Murless and 2007 Johnnie Walker champion Anton Haig will all be banking on home ground advantage to book their berths at Glendower.
And the country’s top amateurs are also lining up for a stake in this year’s championship.
While reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion Thriston Lawrence, current South African number one Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Zander Lombard, NJ Arnoldi and Louis Taylor avoided the crush with automatic exemptions from SAGA, Taylor’s twin brother Eddie will lead the 127 amateur candidates gunning for a shot in the big leagues.
“With five spots to play for and 119 opponents to beat, the odds are pretty much stacked against us amateurs, especially when you consider the professionals we are going up against,” said Taylor.
“But lifting the South African Open trophy just once in your lifetime is something every amateur dreams of, so you have to take a shot. This year you have guys like Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel, David Duval and Retief Goosen in the field. You want to be there too, and all you need is just one good round.”