Johannesburg - Players competing in this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge should brace themselves for punishing and adverse conditions at the Gary Player Country Club when the event tees off on November 10.
That is, if the pervasive drought is anything to go by.
At this time of the year, the greens at the picturesque signature Pilanesberg venue are generally in pristine condition.
But the course is difficult to play on because of the dry surface on the fairways, an impediment that will undoubtedly make play rather unbearable next month.
Unlike in previous years, the heavens have not opened up to make the surface good to play on.
Members of the media had first-hand experience of playing on the course ahead of the historical showdown.
The first thing that strikes one is the dry surface, which is characterised by generally fast greens, short rough, and lack of sufficient water on holes such as the second and 18th.
Going through the paces on the course showed that competitors will be faced with a mammoth task of conquering the three tough holes, the third of which is a par-three short hole that is very tight and requires a player to lay up a shot.
It was difficult going through this short section as the shots mainly landed on the far right of the green and missed the target.
This will trouble the players, and will be followed by a stroke-one eighth, a par four that is the toughest hole on the course and requires accurate tee shots to a fairway surrounded by dense bush.
I struggled to control shots at this monster hole and they hardly landed on the green. An atrocious 14th hole requires an accuracy tee shot on this dogleg right par five.
Players wishing to hit the green with the second shot must beware of the large waste bunker, with punishing pampas grass surrounding the green. The sensible play is to lay up a short iron for the third shot.
The temperature this week was a searing 38°C, and we were told that the conditions would only change slightly in December, when the contest would have long been completed. This will obviously have an adverse effect on those players who are used to cold European weather conditions.
But organisers of Africa’s major are keeping their fingers crossed that conditions will be conducive to good play ahead of the showdown.
“We are on track with our preparations, but we do need rain for the rough to really show some teeth during the tournament,” Gary Player Country Club greenkeeper Konrad Suhr said.
“Traditionally, we get our first summer rain towards the end of October. With the tournament moved to the beginning of November, we have placed an even greater emphasis on practising responsible water use.”
Among some of the changes implemented on the course for this year’s match-up is the positioning of the grand stand on the 18th hole.
Meanwhile, double US Open champion Retief Goosen will return to the tournament, which he won in 2004, having been granted a special invitation to play this year.
Another South African player is Richard Sterne, who played his way into the Sun City field with a share of second place in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, climbing to 35th place on the world rankings.
Tyrrell Hatton from England, who won his maiden European Tour victory at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland recently, also entered the 72-player Nedbank Golf Challenge.