The Gary Player Country Club celebrates its 40th anniversary this year as the iconic venue once again hosts the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player – the penultimate Rolex Series event on the 2019 Race to Dubai.
Ever since the par-72 golf course opened at Sun City in the late Seventies, the Gary Player Country Club has been a timeless test of golf at the highest level and some of the world’s best golfers have walked its fairways.
As the course prepares for the Nedbank Golf Challenge from November 14-17, 2019, tournament host and course designer Gary Player reflects back on his masterpiece.
“When Sol Kerzner, the hotel magnate, and I first visited the volcanic crater that is now Sun City, his vision was almost unbelievable. But he had an imagination of what it could become – a world-class resort with extraordinary entertainment, sport and golf courses. I look back on Sun City and the Gary Player Country Club’s evolution over the past 40 years, and it’s quite remarkable,” said Player, who also designed the resort’s second course, the Lost City Golf Course.
The Gary Player Country Club has always been recogniZed by the world’s leading professionals as a tough but fair challenge, and it is a golf course that certainly has the respect of four former Nedbank Golf Challenge champions in Retief Goosen, Martin Kaymer, Branden Grace and Henrik Stenson.
“This golf course is often set up like a Major championship during the Nedbank Golf Challenge,” said double U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen. “The fairways are narrow and the rough is sometimes four inches deep. With the wind that blows it becomes very tricky.”
“On a golf course like this you have to hit fairways,” added Kaymer. “They can make it tight here and once you miss fairways it’s very difficult to hit the greens because the ball sits down in the rough. Even then, to get it back on the fairway you can struggle. So driving is key. The greens are also very small and they can protect the pins by putting them in the corners. They can protect this course very well.”
South Africa’s Grace describes it as an all-round test of a professional’s game. He said: “Pretty much everything in your game must be on song here. It’s a brutal test, especially when the wind starts swirling. You think it’s coming off the left and then it’s off the right.”
Stenson, who has come as close as anybody in dominating the golf course with his nine-shot victory in the 2008 Nedbank Golf Challenge, is another great admirer.
“It’s a course that definitely rewards hitting fairways. If you were to miss the fairway, you’ve got a bit of rough and after that, it’s bush and maybe a new ball. So you’d better be on your long game. You’ve also got to be precise with your irons. On these greens they can really stick the pins in the corners and over some bunkers. You’ve got to be accurate. You’re also playing at altitude so that doesn’t make it any easier and you have to be precise on your approaches.”
As much as it’s a challenge for the world’s best to play, the Grand Slam champion himself says it was an equally tough challenge to construct.
“It was an extremely difficult course to design and construct. Water is so vitally important, and that was the first challenge. We had to build a pipeline to pump the water in from miles away to service the course. The rock, lack of topsoil, mountains and natural vegetation also proved difficult to manage when shaping the course properly.
“Through the years we have been able to make minor adjustments to combat the advancement in the golf ball and equipment. Right now, the course yardage is very long at 7 833 yards, but you have to remember, Sun City’s elevation is very high, above 6000 feet, so the ball travels much farther (about 10%) compared to a seaside course. It’s a tough test for professionals, but also a course amateurs can enjoy when they are on holiday having fun at the resort.”
Straddling various eras in the game, Player is delighted that the Gary Player Country Club has continued to stand the test of time as the home of “Africa’s Major”.
“Our design team, along with Sun International, continually looks at ways to improve the course and fan experience for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and also for golf enthusiasts who travel around the world to this absolute paradise. Over the last few years my son Marc has organised and arranged for the Gary Player Invitational pro-am charity tournament to be staged at the Lost City Golf Course and I have really enjoyed hosting this event and helping to raise funds for The Player Foundation. Most people forget just how good this other course is at Sun City as well as how differently it plays from the GPCC.
Pictures courtesy of the European Tour