Former South African Open champions Denis Hutchinson and Dale Hayes anticipate a fierce battle when this yearÂs national championship tees off at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate from 24-27 November 2011.
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.
ÂItÂs going to be exciting to see how the players deal with the course at Serengeti,Â said Hutchinson, who has either played or commentated on the last 50 consecutive South African Opens.
ÂItÂs a typical Nicklaus design. Wide fairways and lots of bunkers, but those wonÂt have much impact on the pros. Those small, slopey greens, though, will.
ÂThe course is in great condition. If they keep them at a decent pace, we are going to have a great championship.Â
The famed commentator backs defending champion Ernie Els to win the countryÂs flagship event for a sixth time, but he also thinks one of the young stars could deliver an upset this year.
ÂIf Ernie gets the long putter going, he will be tough to beat. If he doesnÂt, I think one of our own young boys could surprise us this year. Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee, Jaco van Zyl or JbeÂ Kruger Â they have gained a lot of experience in Europe and they are hungry to win.Â
Hayes, the winner at Houghton in 1976, considers Serengeti a perfect host for the national Open.
ÂI think Serengeti is going to host an incredible championship,Â he said. ÂThe 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.
ÂThe course will test the golfers in the best sense of the word. The greens have incredible slopes but from tee to green itÂs a terrific golf course and I think we are going to have one of our best championships yet at Serengeti.Â
Hayes believes this yearÂs championship will deliver another great battle between Els and Retief Goosen.
ÂI expect a titanic battle between Ernie and Retief,Â he said. ÂErnie 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.Â
However, Hayes agrees with Hutchinson that one of the younger players could surprise.
ÂI just think Ernie and Goose would do well to keep an eye on the players who stay at home and play the Sunshine TourÂs 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.
ÂJean 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.Â
Allan Henning, who lifted the national title at Bloemfontein Golf Club in 1963, also backs one of the young players to surprise.
ÂIÂm thrilled to see the SA Open back in Gauteng for the first time in a decade. IÂm quite sure we are going to see record numbers turn out this year, especially with Ernie Els defending.
ÂBut I would think one of our young European Tour campaigners are going to come through this year. Players like Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee and Jaco van Zyl, who have had a strong season in Europe, are going to be tough to beat.Â
Clinton Whitelaw, the champion at Glendower in 1993, also considers Serengeti a great venue and a good test.
ÂI think it will favour the long hitters. If they grow the rough, narrow the fairways and keep the pace on the greens reasonable, I think itÂs going to be a challenging but awesome venue. The greens are pretty severe but it is an Open, after all, so it should be a challenge.
ÂI think in an Open, when you shoot 72, itÂs a great score and a reflection of the standard an Open Championship should have.Â
By Lali Stander