The South African Open has visited some special golf courses around the country in recent years, as is appropriate for a tournament of such esteem. Yet few can claim to couple a high-quality course with crucial intangibles such as history, tradition, beauty and ambience. Ekurhuleni’s Glendower Golf Club though, has well and truly ticked all of the above boxes in the last two years, and it has made for some memorable tournament golf as a result.
The club was officially opened in 1937, originally built on the farm “Glendower.” Two years later, it played host to its first major tournament, the Transvaal Open, which Bobby Locke went on to win.
In the 1980’s, Glendower underwent a major facelift, with all 18 greens being reshaped and rebuilt. New tee positions were added, while water features were extended and developed. Such changes resulted in one of the most challenging and scenic courses in the country – and one that has now also hosted the national Open on five occasions (1989, 1993, 1997, 2013 and 2015).
“We’ve got a wonderful history here at Glendower, and it really adds a unique flavour to the club,” commented General Manager Sandy Burnard. “It’s a very classic parkland golf course too. We haven’t got the best clubhouse in the world. It’s old, but yet people comment how amazing it is when they come inside, and repeatedly say how it feels like home. It’s all about the feel.”
She continued: “When you walk in that door, you hear laughter among the staff, and the members too. The staff will see you parking your car, and they’ll check you in before you walk through the door. When the waiters see you coming up the ninth, they know what you eat, so it’s ready for you when you reach the halfway house. It all just adds to the special atmosphere here at Glendower.”
Staging such a prestigious event naturally offers a course like Glendower some great exposure from a commercial point of view. It isn’t without its drawbacks though, given the lost revenues from closing the course for two weeks. However, Burnard was adamant the benefits far outweigh the costs, and was able to provide some insight as to the results behind the scene.
“An event like this is fantastic for the club,” she explained. “I could never buy that kind of marketing. We’ve had phonecalls from Denmark, Australia – people all over the world who I haven’t spoken to in 10 years – telling us how unbelievable the course looks. I know that when they travel back to South Africa, they are going to want to play here. It’s great from our perspective to get our club in the limelight like that.
“The members are itching to get onto the course when it’s closed. Also, they did battle with the rough in the prior months, and the fairways were narrowed to 80 metres wide. So they suffer right up to the tournament, and have to wait for winter until we can cut the fairways back.
“But they respect the fact that we’re having this event, and now that there is an exclusive facility for them, it’s just been amazing. We all sit on the roof, and get treated like VIP’s; and they’re absolutely loving it,” Burnard added.
The 784 members aren’t the only ones to have experienced problems with the difficulty of the course recently either, with many a seasoned professional coming undone in the rough over the last two days. Heavy rains in the Gauteng area have further intensified the thick stuff too.
However, Burnard explained that everything has been done according to the specifications laid out by the Sunshine Tour, and believes the course provides a tough but fair examination of the players given the context of it being a national Open.
“The conditioning was 100% deliberate,” she noted. “In 2013, we only had two-and-a-half months’ notice to host the tournament, and didn’t have enough time to grow the rough. Mike (Burnard), the greenkeeper, knew that Gary Todd (Tournament Director) wanted the rough at 100mm, and the fairways at 18 metres wide.
“In 2013, it wasn’t possible. But this year, with the rain we’ve had, and the preparation time which has allowed us to apply the appropriate amounts of fertiliser, we got it up to about 112. We then lowered the mowers and cut it down from there, so it’s now thick, and it holds.”
Burnard concluded: “I think the majority of players realise that that’s the way the SA Open should be played, and they aren’t doing too badly considering the rough is at that length. The greens are magnificent too, and the players have only been congratulating us.”