The South African Open Championship might have been a rather austere and serious occasion in its early days, but there will be no clampdown on spectator fun when the 103rd edition of this historic championship tees off at Glendower Golf Club next week.
Promoters Africa Sports Holdings and Glendower organisers have gone out of their way to ensure this year’s SA Open is a spectator-friendly event to encourage hundreds of fans to come and watch the country’s best golfers and numerous overseas stars challenge for South Africa’s most coveted title from November 21-24 in Bedfordview.
Glendower is a classic parklands course, so instead of installing metal grandstands, spectators will be able to sit on the many mounds around the course, shaded by magnificent trees.
“We want to make the tournament really spectator-friendly and encourage people to walk around the course,” Glendower marketing manager Janine Marais said. “There are beautiful mounds throughout the course where they can sit and they will be right in on the action, so close that they can smell the sweat on the guys!”
Kazi Ngqula from Matshezi Productions added that in addition to the golf, the spectators can stay at the golf course when play wraps up and catch some of the country’s hottest acts, including UK number one artist MiCASA and Ibiza regulars Goldfish in concert on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
“The 103rd SA Open will incorporate a unique lifestyle aspect,” Ngqula explained. “Our aim is to encourage more people to attend and to introduce more people to the game. But we also want to show people, especially young people and non-golfers, that golf tournaments are not boring and stuffy.
“Plenty of parking has been organised in the neighbourhood, the catering will be plentiful and the acts are lined up. We are ready to roll out the red carpet for the nation.”
On the golf course, greenkeeper Mike Burnard has led a tremendous effort to have Glendower Golf Club in tip-top shape for the SA Open, just five weeks after hosting the BMG Classic.
“It’s been quite stressful hosting two tournaments in a row, but I’m very happy with how the team has pulled together,” Burnard said.
“We started earlier with our preparations this summer and even though the rains were very late, we were able to irrigate a lot. Glendower was greener a lot earlier than most other Johannesburg courses.
“The fairways have been reshaped to 18m wide, the tee-boxes and fairways cut to 10mm, the first cut to 30mm and the rough to 100mm. And the greens are being double-cut and rolled to get them to around 12 on the stimp meter.”
According to Burnard, players that flirt with the rough will have a tough, but not impossible time recovering.
“Because the thick rough is only really in patches, the ball will just sit in it rather than go in. The rough is not as difficult as I wanted and the second cut is just bunches of grasses. The first cut is probably more consistently thick than the proper rough and the trees are also very important otherwise the course would be too easy. Accuracy is going to be the key.”
With the magnificent SA Open trophy already tucked away in the Glendower offices in anticipation of the pro-am on Tuesday, and the dedicated half-dozen bays for previous champions already allocated, painters are providing some final touches to the 78-year-old club and Burnard is applying the finishing touches to what has always been an exquisite venue, with one eye on the skies above.
“In October last year, we braved and survived an intense hailstorm centred on Bedfordview and it will take a natural disaster much worse than that to disrupt the seamless preparations that are right on track at Glendower,” said Marais.