By Michael Vlismas
At just over 6 000 metres, the East London Golf Club course is the shortest on the European Tour’s 2014 schedule. But this historic South African layout still commands the respect of the professionals teeing it up in this week’s Africa Open.
With blue skies and not a breath of wind dominating Tuesday’s practice round for the Sunshine Tour and European Tour professionals, there were enough smiles on the fairways. But that can change, as it did when the wind ripped through here a few years ago and forced the suspension of the round.
Port Elizabeth professional Lyle Rowe knows this par-72 course better than most. In 2012 he achieved a career record payday of R242 550 for his finish of tied eighth in the Africa Open. He returns having challenged in a few final rounds during the winter of the 2013 Sunshine Tour, and is now looking to capitalise on some local knowledge this week.
“This course is short for the modern game, but the wind makes it interesting. That mixes up your shots quite a bit. I’ve got a two iron in the bag this week for that low ball flight you often need here.
“I’d say that’s the appeal of this course. There are so many options. You can be aggressive with a driver or three wood, or you can hit a five or six iron off the tee and lay up. It’s such a diverse course and it suits any style of play.”
Brandon Stone is also looking forward to what he describes as a “quirky” course, and another good week following his share of 16th in last week’s Joburg Open.
“This course demands a little bit of a change in gameplan. But I’ve always liked playing here because it’s not your typical get up on the tee, take driver and bash it on the fairway kind of course. You’ve got to think around this course, and there are a couple of fun tee shots out here. It’s a good way for me to learn how to play a different kind of golf, and I really enjoy it.”
Stone is revelling in the run of European Tour events in South Africa. “I think it’s really been a comfort zone for me and every week I’m feeling more confident out here. If I can get a few good results here I can hopefully set off the year and get the kind of jump start I need.”
An aggressive approach this week could reward two players looking to build on their top-10 finishes in last week’s Joburg Open.
“If there’s no wind then you’ve got to be aggressive,” said Justin Walters, who finished second last week.
“Anytime you start to feel a bit of form you want to continue, but the game is it’s own beast. This is a different course, different greens, different conditions, so you never know what’s going to happen. I’d like to get some momentum going and not just be a one-week wonder. I’d like to build towards something and put myself in a position again and hopefully this time do a better job. But when it blows, this course can become a real animal, even though it’s short.”
And Danie van Tonder’s ninth place finish last week has him full of confidence for this week.
“I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the year. I love this course. I’ve played well here before and my game wasn’t as good as it is now.”