The reigning Alfred Dunhill Cup team of Ernie Els, David Frost and Retief Goosen will be re-united for the first tournament of 1999, hoping that the same sponsor inspires them to the same success they enjoyed at St. Andrews last October.
Els, Frost and Goosen - champions over the famous Old Course in 1997 and 1998 - together with Nick Faldo, Mark McNulty and defending champion Tony Johnstone, will compete in the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship, which will be played at Houghton Golf Club from 14th to 17th January.
The event is part of both the European Tour and Vodacom Tour with a prize fund of £400,000.
Faldo, winner of three Masters (1989, 1990, 1996) and three Open Golf Championships (1987, 1990, 1992), brings a highly competitive edge to the 1999 Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship. Last November, his vast experience came into play as he coaxed younger partner, David Carter, to an historic first victory for England in the World Cup of Golf at Gulf Harbour, Auckland. It was an outstanding display by the English pair, and Faldo in particular hinted there, and in a prominent display in the Australian Open, that his powers are not diminishing at the age of 41.
Double US Open champion Els, Frost and Goosen are no strangers to the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship, all having previously competed in this event, and look forward to playing together for the first time since their successful defence of the £1 million Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews.
"I am delighted to be participating in the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship, which I regard as one of the three premier South African annual events. I enjoy playing at Houghton, which is one of my favourite golf courses," commented Els.
McNulty, who finished 10th in the 1998 Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship, also looks forward to competing at Houghton Golf Club, scene of numerous tremendous tussles involving past winners Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Nick Price and Els.
Johnstone returns to defend his Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship title after successfully fending off Els on his way to victory last year, his first win since the 1994 Bell's Cup in South Africa and his high-profile victory at the 1992 Volvo PGA Championship which earned him a ten-year Tour exemption. It was an emotional 21st victory world-wide for Johnstone, who won by two strokes with a 17-under-par total of 271. He had built up a five stroke lead over Els entering the final round and was still three ahead with ten holes remaining when play resumed on Monday morning after severe thunderstorms forced play to be suspended on Sunday.
Had he not lifted the title, the popular Zimbabwean was ready to consider a different career away from tournament golf. He admitted: "It was a huge win for me. I was seriously thinking of finding some other golf-related work after the way I played last year (1997). But I enjoy head-to-head situations, although they don’t come much tougher than facing Ernie down the stretch."
Sweden’s Patrik Sjoland, who finished fifth in the Volvo Order of Merit in 1998 with earnings of £500,136, makes his seasonal debut along with European Ryder Cup players Per-Ulrik Johansson, Joakim Haeggman, Peter Baker and Eamonn Darcy. Also in the field is the man who beat Sjoland in a play-off for the Canon European Masters in 1998, Sven Struver of Germany. The 1998 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, Olivier Edmond, will enter the fray for the first time in 1999 at Houghton.
The winner of the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship will be presented with a trophy, a sterling silver cup in modern style with a fluted and gilt stem and finial on a woodbase. The trophy, designed and hand made by Garrard's in London, stands at 17.5 inches.
Alfred Dunhill, the leading English luxury goods company, is today recognised as a major sponsor in the world of golf> It tournaments include the Alfred Dunhill Cup, played at St Andrews in October each year, and the Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship.
Houghton Golf Club, one of Johannesburg's premier courses, has been upgraded in preparation for the opening event of the 1999 season. One of the most significant changes to the Houghton course is that the nines will be played in reverse at the 1999 Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship.
The tee area on the third hole (previously 12th) has been raised and redesigned to incorporate a new championship tee, increasing the length by 20 meters and making this one of the longest par 5's on the Highveld. The bunker of the left hand side of the 11th fairway (previously 2nd) has been extended to the right, bringing the bunker into play when the hole is played at its maximum length.
A new, elevated championship tee has been built on the 14th (previously 5th), increasing the length of the hole by 20 meters. This new tee has changed the playability of the hole in that the water on the right hand side of the fairway is within driving distance and accuracy off the tee will now be at a premium.
The long par 3 15th hole (previously 6th) has been altered to incorporate some large mounds at the back as well as at the right hand side of the green. A new feature to this hole is a grass bunker, which has been constructed within the mounds to the right hand side of the green. The mounding has created an amphitheatre type of atmosphere.
A small cosmetic alteration has been made to the two fairway bunkers short of the green on the 16th (previously 7th). These two relatively small bunkers have been incorporated into one large bunker with a high front face.
An entirely new tee has been constructed on the 18th (previously 9th) lengthening the championship tee by 45 meters and changing the angle of the tee to face the fairway. The hole can be varied dramatically in length for all scenarios of tournament play. Large mounds have been built to the right of the tee to protect players on the 8th green from errant tee shots. The back bunker on the left side of the fairway within the driving area has been altered so that it is more visible from the tee.
The changes made to the last few holes at the Houghton course will certainly add to the excitement of a close finish for the 1999 Alfred Dunhill SA PGA Championship, with the par 5 18th bound to elicit much excitement at the close of the tournament.
Course Record: David Frost 63 (-9) 1997.