At 7281 metres, Copperleaf is the longest course in European Tour history, superseding the 7175 metres of the Ritz Carlton Golf Club which hosted the World Golf Championship Accenture Matchplay Championship from 2009-2011.
While the views of the professionals were varied, one man who is certainly not afraid of the distance is defending champion Dawie van der Walt.
“I think it’s fun to play a course like this. It’s long and everything, but it’s not tough. If it was tight, it would be a different story, but the fairways are pretty generous, so if you hit driver well, it’s not all that bad, you’ll hit a lot of mid-irons,” Van der Walt said on Wednesday.
Van der Walt claimed the first major tour title of his journeyman career in the inaugural edition of the Tshwane Open last year and has since won the Nelson Mandela Championship at Mount Edgecombe and the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, but he is far from being the top-ranked player in the field.
That honour goes to George Coetzee, number 53 on the world rankings and the winner of the Joburg Open three weeks ago. The 27-year-old from Pretoria believes the tournament will be decided off the tees and on the greens.
“I really like this golf course, it suits me. It’s kind of a bomber’s track and then a putting contest, and those are the two parts of my game that I work on the most and I’m probably best at. It should be good fun,” Coetzee said.
Darren Fichardt, the 2013 Sunshine Tour Players’ Player of the Year, and Jaco van Zyl, the 13-time local tour winner, will also be amongst the favourites, but there are many overseas golfers eager for victory.
Perhaps the most dangerous of them will be Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen.
At the end of last July, Madsen was ranked only 231st in the world but he came to these shores in the summer and won the South African Open, leading to a steady rise up the rankings to his current 115th spot.
“ This course suits my game very well, long with undulating greens. You need to be sharp with your approach shots and putt well and those long par-fives are good for me.
“It was great to get my first win in a tournament like the South African Open, you feel the fire and you want more. I’ve grown in confidence, I know the game is there and I know I can compete. If I play as well as I can, then I know I can win. That gives you a great sense of calmness and no fear,” Madsen said.
But the likes of Englishmen Ross Fisher, Chris Wood, Tommy Fleetwood, David Howell and Danny Willett, and Frenchman Romain Wattel, cannot be barred from contention either, with all of them ranked in the top 115 in the world.
As Van der Walt showed last year in cracking the Copperleaf code, finding the fairways off the tee and precise long-iron play will be key when the seventh and final co-sanctioned event of the summer gets underway.
“From all the rain over the last couple of weeks, the ball’s not rolling. It’s just pitching and stopping dead, so you’re playing very long holes. It’s going to be quite demanding on your long-iron play and also obviously on your chipping and putting,” Fichardt said.
With a heavy storm hitting Copperleaf on Wednesday afternoon, the challenge has become even tougher.