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Ken Borland


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First matchplay championship in 25 years on Sunshine Tour 0

Posted on September 11, 2017 by Ken

 

For the first time in nearly 25 years, a matchplay tournament will feature on the Sunshine Tour programme when the South African Matchplay Championship is held at Zwartkop Country Club from Tuesday to Sunday.

Zwartkop is a short, 6,442-metre course in Centurion that is ideally suited to matchplay golf. It hosted a famous exhibition match in 1966 between Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

As Dale Hayes, the popular Yogi-Bear like figure synonymous with South African golf and the owner/director of Zwartkop, points out, the course may not be long, but the Hennops River winding through it presents a good mental challenge, especially for matchplay. Several of the smallish greens are fringed by the river, meaning shots that are either too short or too long are in danger of a watery grave.

“Top-class golfers hit the ball so far these days that Zwartkop is not long enough to be a great test of strokeplay golf. But when Handa [the sponsors] contacted me about hosting an event and they asked what format we should have, I straight away said matchplay.

Full report – https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-10-29-golf-first-matchplay-championship-in-25-years-on-sunshine-tour/#.WbZ5CbIjHIU

Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

Leopard Creek 0

Posted on July 05, 2017 by Ken

 

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

Leopard Creek has recently been rated amongst the top 100 golf courses in the world by the prestigious Golf Digest magazine and it is surely the wildest top-class golf course in the world, situated as it is alongside the Kruger National Park.

The Crocodile River forms the northern boundary between Leopard Creek and the Kruger National Park and the back nine runs along the river, offering tremendous sightings of all the animals and birds made famous by one of the largest game reserves in the world.

A channel runs off the Crocodile River and flows right in front of the clubhouse, making the verandah of this opulent building an ideal spot for bird and animal spotting. Unfortunately the clubhouse is also extremely hard to access for the rank and file visitor to Leopard Creek, but the good news is that there is a little service road that runs along this channel for a hundred metres or so, before turning up the hill to the 10th tee.

Shaded by luxuriant riverine trees, the road passes right by the water and I always make a point of taking a quiet stroll along this area. It has always seemed to me to be a perfect spot for African Finfoot – which Roberts describes as favouring “quiet, wooded streams and rivers flanked by thick riparian vegetation and overhanging trees” – the very description of my favourite part of Leopard Creek.

And so, on my eighth visit to this special place outside Malelane for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I finally got my Finfoot.

There in this shady channel I saw the bright orange legs first as the bird stood on the bank and then went into the water, gliding stealthily to the other side of the river.

A hippopotamus was contentedly passing the day between this channel and the main Crocodile River, while a Brownhooded Kingfisher called from high up in the trees and a Malachite Kingfisher hunted from low down on fallen branches close to the water.

Heuglin’s Robin, one of my favourites, also hangs around this area.

Coming back up out on to the golf course, a series of dams is in front of you between the ninth, 18th and 10th holes, with Lesser Striped Swallow flying over and African Pied Wagtail patrolling the banks.

Heading backwards through the front nine, Blackbacked Puffback is calling away and Blue Waxbill are in a sapling on the side of the ninth fairway.

The seventh hole, a par-three, shares a dam with the fifth hole, fringed by Fever Trees, and Spottedbacked, Southern Masked and Thickbilled Weavers were all nesting in the same specimen of this archetypal tree of tropical wetlands, from which gin and tonics (no doubt consumed in large quantities on the verandah of the clubhouse) originated.

Along the stream feeding this dam, a Giant Kingfisher was eating a good-sized fish, while a Greenbacked Heron was flying upstream.

Anywhere on the course, you are likely to see Whitebacked Vultures soaring overhead and Purplecrested Louries flying between patches of thicker bush. Whitefaced Duck are also often flying over.

But the 13th is the signature hole of Leopard Creek, not just because of its great design but mostly because of the dazzling vista it provides over the Crocodile River just beneath the elevated green and Kruger Park just across the way.

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

While sitting there on the final day and watching Charl Schwartzel’s challenge implode in the face of young Brandon Stone’s brilliance, I was able to admire Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Crake, Egyptian Goose, Whitefronted Bee-Eater, African Elephant and Nile Crocodile along the river.

Away from the golf course, Leopard Creek is in an area of typical dense bushveld savanna with Forktailed Drongos, sometimes even perching on low aloes, ruling the day and Spotted Dikkops, marching around the parking lot, at night.

 

 

 

 

Where is Leopard Creek?

 

Sightings list

Forktailed Drongo

Spotted Dikkop

Impala

Bushbuck

Whitefaced Duck

Blackeyed Bulbul

Little Swift

Hippopotamus

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Finfoot

Heuglin’s Robin

Whitebacked Vulture

Lesser Striped Swallow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbacked Puffback

Blue Waxbill

Spottedbacked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Giant Kingfisher

Grey Lourie

Greenbacked Heron

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Nile Monitor

Purplecrested Lourie

Great White Egret

Purple Heron

Grey Heron

Black Crake

Egyptian Goose

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

African Elephant

Nile Crocodile

Sombre Bulbul

Pintailed Whydah

 

The delights of Rory killed all cynicism 0

Posted on January 25, 2017 by Ken

 

I am a bit too cynical about these things, so I did predict gloomily that Rory McIlroy would probably miss the cut in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club last weekend, for which the world number two was the star attraction.

But I am delighted to report that the Northen Irishman lived up to his billing both on and off the course, behaving every bit the much-loved superstar with his tremendous performance and his dealings with the large galleries that followed him around, scores of autograph seekers and the media.

No, McIlroy did not win the second oldest national open title as expected, but that had more to do with the splendid performance of Graeme Storm, who just made no mistakes, than any failings on Rory’s part.

The crowds, the largest seen at the SA Open in a decade, certainly got their money’s worth though as the thrilling McIlroy v Storm contest went all the way to three playoff holes. There is also surely no better driver of the ball in world golf than McIlroy, and those booming hits down the middle of the fairway have huge spectator value.

And, to make McIlroy’s entire performance even more impressive, he was struggling with a bad back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture of a rib. He must have played through considerable discomfort, so kudos to the man. The seriousness of the injury is shown by his withdrawal from this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he could have regained the number one world ranking.

The current speculation is that he will be out of action for a month but let’s hope McIlroy gets better soon.

Of course, having such a wonderful guest at the SA Open was largely due to the efforts of tournament ambassador Ernie Els. Is there a better South African sporting patriot?

The respect that Els, a member of the Hall of Fame since 2011, enjoys in international golf is clearly about far more than just his golf game and the four major titles he was won. McIlroy made it clear that his presence in South Africa was as a favour to Els.

And the Big Easy has not only been a tremendous supporter of South African golf: If the Springboks or Proteas play in London, more often than not, Els will be there and usually gives of his time to hand out the jerseys or give a motivational speech to the team.

And the good news is, it looks like you may get the chance to see McIlroy again in South Africa in the near future.

“I had a fantastic time in South Africa, it was an incredible 10 days, and my fiancée and I are already planning to return at the end of the year,” McIlroy said after the disappointment of his playoff defeat.

If McIlroy genuinely meant the end of 2017 then you would think his eye is on the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, which is the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai and part of the lucrative Finals Series, or else he may have meant returning to the SA Open in a year’s time.

Either way, it is wonderful news for South African golf.

 



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