By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Durban Country Club
Ahead of the fourth edition of the Volvo Golf Champions, europeantour.com goes inside returning host venue Durban Country Club with the help of former champion and South African native Branden Grace.
Established in 1922, Durban Country Club’s proud and storied history reaches back over a rich 90 years in which it has hosted the South African Open Championship a record 17 times, including the centenary SA Open in 2010.
Overlooking the Blue Lagoon estuary and the far-reaching Indian Ocean, the course is situated just north of Durban’s ‘Golden Mile’ beachfront and sits in the heart of the city’s thriving sporting quarter which also boasts the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium – host of seven games during the 2010 FIFA World Cup – and the Kings Park Stadium, home to the Sharks rugby union team.
The course itself is a combination of lush vegetation, sand dunes and magnificent views over the Indian Ocean’s rolling surf. Many of the holes feature huge undulations and changes in elevation thanks to the sizeable sand dunes on which the layout was forged.
A shot-maker's course, driver is often unnecessary at Durban Country Club what with tight fairways, dense bush, predatory bunkers and an often swirling ocean cross-wind guarding its verdant links.
Grace, who finished tied seventh here last year behind 2013 winner and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen, has fared well in the wind before in winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2012 and said the Durban Country Club challenge is one to truly relish.
“You have to keep hitting the fairways, that is imperative at Durban Country Club,” said George native Grace. “This is a really bush-lined course so If you are going to be off from tee to fairway then you are really going to struggle and lose a couple of golf balls. It’s a good test of golf all round because they aren’t the biggest greens or targets to hit either. But if you do hit the greens then you know you are going to have a birdie putt of a makeable distance so there are scoring opportunities out there too.”
“The greens are actually one of the main challenges on this golf course. They are funny greens, funny grass; it’s one of those courses where it’s not just the speed and the line, you have to look at the grain and look at the slopes and assess so many different things before you actually make your stroke.”
“We’ve been fortunate in the build-up there has not been much of a breeze out there but as soon as the wind starts coming in off the ocean you know you are in for a brutal test at Durban Country Club. The thing about this golf course is that a lot of the holes go in and out so if there is an ocean wind – as is normal here – you are mainly going to playing against cross-winds as opposed to with the wind or into it. With a lot of trees and shrubbery a cross-wind can hurt you so you really have to trust what you are doing out there, look at your wind maps and mainly stay calm!”
The Key Holes
The second – 188-yard par three
“You have to get off to a good start. The second is a par three with a big false front so anything short from the tee there and you are going to end up 40 yards off the front and facing a real struggle to make par with your up-and-down.”
The third – 512-yard par five
“A tight par five where everything depends on your tee shot. If you get one out there and manage to find the fairway then you can be going in with four or five iron and have a chance at really taking advantage of a hole like that. But with the wind and a small spot to aim at from an elevated tee that is a big if.”
The 16th – 417-yard par four
“A brutal hole! Little dog-leg from left to right and again everything depends on the tee shot. You can take it on with a driver or three wood but if you want to play it safe then you can choose a hybrid or three iron from the tee. The problem with that is, though, if you choose that route then you are also going to be going into the green with a three iron or hybrid. So it’s about game-plans and routines out there.”
How it played last time out
Oosthuizen won last year with an aggregate total of 16 under par 272 – but that wasn’t a score which told the full story. The 2010 Open Champion, in back to back rounds on Friday and Saturday, shot 64 and then followed it up with a two over par 74 the next day – proof if you needed it that Durban Country Club can yield both a low score but still bite back.
The 480-yard par four 11th hole ranked most difficult in 2013, giving away just 11 birdies all week while there were 48 bogeys made there and eight double bogeys or worse.
Conversely, it was the previous hole – the par five tenth – that bore most fruit score-wise last year with three eagles and 68 birdies at an average of 4.51.