As the festive season gets into full swing, The European Tour will join a special South African Open Championship party this week as the second oldest tournament in the world celebrates its 100th staging at Durban Country Club.
Current Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen will be joined by Major winners Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in leading the celebrations in Durban for an event that was first played as an exhibition in 1893 before becoming a recognised professional tournament in 1903.
Since then there have been a further 98 editions of the great tournament, an event that has seen almost every great South African player lift the trophy.
Els and Goosen are among that number and Oosthuizen would dearly love to follow his fellow Major Champions to put the perfect seal on a dream season that saw him lift the 150th Anniversary Open Championship title at St Andrews.
“It’s the one title every South African player wants to win,” said Oosthuizen, who came close with a tie for third at Pearl Valley in 2007. He also sees it as a good omen that Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Els – all Open Champions – won the SA Open at Durban Country Club.
“I think it would be amazing to match Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Ernie Els. What a record that would be. But mostly, I would just like to win our country’s National Open at least once and get my name on the trophy next to theirs.”
Goosen rates his two South African Open Championship victories in the same bracket as his US Open wins.
“There is something indescribable about winning your National Open,” said Goosen, who won the South African Open in 1995 and 2005. “I was 26 years old when I won my first title and it was one of the proudest moments of my career.
“Winning two SA Open titles rates right up there with winning two Majors. The SA Open is steeped in history. Some of the greatest players of this country have won it. It’s a great feeling to see your name on that trophy next to players like Bobby Locke and Gary Player.”
The cream of South Africa’s current stars will join Oosthuizen, Els and Goosen in Durban, including Tim Clark – winner of the past two editions of the South African Open at Durban – Charl Schwartzel and Richard Sterne.
“Gary Player is the most successful player in our golfing history and I would love to match just one of his records – he won the SA Open three times at Durban Country Club and this year, I have a chance to match that,” explained Clark.
Schwartzel could only add to the wave of enthusiasm from South Africa’s finest. “The SA Open is something we all grow up with; it’s the ultimate tournament to win for any South African player,” he said. “Winning it this year would be all that more special because of its historical significance.”
Richie Ramsay will hope to defend the title he won at Pearl Valley Golf Estates last year but he will not only be battling all of those aforementioned South African powerhouses but also the weight of history.
The Scotsman became only the seventh foreign player to lift the trophy in the tournament’s illustrious history last year, following Englishman Tommy Horton (1970), New Zealand’s Bob Charles (1973), Americans Charles Bolling (1983) and Fred Wadsworth (1989), Fiji’s Vijay Singh (1997) and the Swede Mathias Gronberg (2000).
Durban Country Club is a fitting stage for the 100th edition of the South African Open Championship. The great club has hosted the tournament 16 times and is one of the country’s most iconic venues.
The naturally undulating, 18 hole par 72 layout was first shaped from the bush and dunes of the KwaZulu-Natal coast in the early 1920s under the original inspiration of Laurie Waters and George Waterman.
It has withstood the test of time and technology, requiring relatively few changes to its original design, and it remains one of the most majestic and storied layouts in South African golf.