Millvale Private Retreat is a little-known championship course hidden away in the fertile bushveld between the Magaliesburg and Pilanesberg ranges and there is very limited access for golfers, which is maybe not such a bad thing considering how darn difficult it was to play on the opening day of the Chase to the Investec Cup final on Thursday.
With slick greens, numerous bunkers and a gusting, awkward wind, Millvale put the top 30 golfers on the Sunshine Tour to the test and it was no surprise the two who came out tops were class performers in Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee.
They both shot four-under-par 68s and were three shots ahead of Justin Harding and Shaun Norris, the only other golfers to break par.
Schwartzel is trying to groove his swing ahead of the Masters, which starts at Augusta on April 9, and he seems to be making rapid progress in that regard, as well as cracking the code for how to succeed at Millvale.
“For a while now I’ve been working out my swing and it’s getting better and better. It’s a matter of trusting it out on the course, because it doesn’t matter on the range. So today was a good round in hard conditions, it was challenging and anything under par was good,” Schwartzel said.
In terms of Masters preparation, the greens were also to Schwartzel’s liking, although he said Augusta would ask even more of his putter.
“The greens definitely had speed and they’re up with the best I’ve seen here. You don’t often get greens at this speed in South Africa and I was very pleased to see that. We’re not used to having that in South Africa and when I played Lost City on Tuesday, the greens there were very slow, so I hope they speed them up for our two rounds there on Saturday and Sunday.
“But today was more than good enough practice for Augusta, although the greens there have even more slope and the ball just doesn’t stop,” Schwartzel said.
While Schwartzel was fairly consistent with six birdies and just two dropped shots, Coetzee had a round which he described as “all over the show” – two bogeys, an eagle, six birdies and a double-bogey were all crammed into his wild round in the Limpopo River watershed.
“I don’t know how I shot four-under because my game was all over the show. This is not the easiest course to play in the wind and the speed of the greens was very fast and the placement of the pins meant you had to really plot your way around the course, it was hard work,” Coetzee said.
A run of eagle and four successive birdies from the par-five seventh hole was key to Coetzee’s success and, being sponsored by Investec, the owners of Millvale, he admitted some local knowledge really helped.
“The eagle on seven was a bit of local knowledge because I know there is a small gap on the left and you’re able to take it on with driver. For my second I hit a seven-iron to three feet,” Coetzee said.