Gary Player is the headline act as the European Senior Tour visits South Africa this week for the Berenberg Bank Masters with Jimmy Heggarty, Denis O’Sullivan and Des Smyth among those chasing the winner’s cheque for €75,000.
The multi-major winner, 74, is making a rare competitive appearance this week on the course he designed at Fancourt as the Senior Tour visits South Africa for the first time.
Set in the shadows of the Outeniqua Mountains, The Links at Fancourt is one of Africa’s finest courses and has previously hosted the President’s Cup (2003) and the Women’s World Cup of Golf (2005).
Des Smyth, playing his first Senior Tour event of the season, will be looking to replicate the form that took him to 15th in last season’s Order of Merit when he tees off alongside Peter Mitchell and Bill Longmuir at 7.40am Irish time tomorrow.
After solid if unspectacular starts to their seasons Jimmy Heggarty and Denis O’Sullivan will both be hoping for an upturn in fortunes in the South African heat.
O’Sullivan recorded a season-best tie for 16th last time out in Thailand, while Ulsterman Heggarty has accrued just under €5000 in his three starts so far this year.
The early leader on the 2010 money list, Boonchu Ruangkit, will be hoping to continue his incredible form this week as he seeks to create yet more history.
The Thai ace arrives at Fancourt with back-to-back wins behind him after sealing a record-breaking win in his homeland last month to follow up his capture of the Brunei Senior Masters. He will however have to see off a strong field if he is to make it an unlikey hat-trick, with the likes of Sam Torrance, Ian Woosnam and Tony Johnstone in attendance.
Former world No. 1 Woosnam has fond memories of the country after winning the Million Dollar Challenge in Sun City in 1987, the same year he won The European Tour Order of Merit for the first time.
After struggling in his first two appearances of the current season the Welshman has made some swing changes and is keen to get his 2010 campaign up and running over the Gary Player-designed Links at Fancourt, in George.
Woosnam finished tied 17th in the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum and in a share of 43rd position in the Chang Thailand Seniors Masters presented by ISPS and admits he has ‘no form’ coming into this week’s event.
While he is wary of the threat posed by The Links, the 52 year old is relishing playing golf in South Africa again as part of his quest to win back the John Jacobs Trophy he won in 2008 and just missed out on last season, finishing runner up to Sam Torrance in the Order of Merit.
“It’s nice to be back here in South Africa with a historic first European Senior Tour event,” said the 2006 Ryder Cup Captain.
“It looks like a marvellous venue. I’ve had some nice times in South Africa and I’m looking forward to the tournament.
“One of my fondest memories was at Sun City in 1987 when I made it into the field for the first time into the Million Dollar Challenge and won it. To win that amount of money - I can remember I was pretty damn nervous and when I holed that second shot at the 17th it took the pressure off a little bit.
“It would be magnificent to come out to South Africa for two or three weeks in a row. I think the European Senior Tour is growing and growing and that is something we have to try and develop, to get more tournaments together, and it would be a lovely run, the same as with Asia
“We are playing at many different places and we get to play in different kinds of weather and conditions. That’s what is great about it, all over the year we get to play in all different places.”
Having fared well over the links courses in Wales and Ireland last year – including winning the Irish Seniors Open at Ballybunion – Woosnam will face another ‘links’ test this week, with the Fancourt track renowned for its toughness.
“Some of the guys have been telling us about the Links - it has a fierce reputation,” he said.” I’ve seen it on television. It looks like there are a lot of bushes out there. I’m just trying a new swing out and I just hope it’s going straight. I’ll have to take plenty of golf balls with me. I may have to go into the pro-shop!”
Fellow Ryder Cup winning captain Torrance is also looking to bounce back after following two top ten positions with a share of 24th place in Thailand.
He is also looking forward to the challenge posed by The Links, which is at the foot of the Outeniqua mountains in the heart of the Garden Route.
“I’ve heard it is very good and very tough so I will have to have my A game,” said Torrance. “If Gary says it is the best he has ever designed it must be fantastic because he’s designed some good courses.”
Torrance and Woosnam will take on an impressive Senior Tour field, which includes Player, the nine time Major Champion and nine time Senior Major Champion, and John Bland who has been attached to Fancourt since its inception.
The South African, who won the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open last year becoming the second oldest Senior Tour winner, said he was extremely proud to be welcoming his peers to his home course this week.
“We’re very thankful to Dr Hans-Walter Peters of Berenberg Bank for bringing the tournament here. We’ve had a magnificent response from everybody, and it’s being played in a magnificent part of the world.
“It’s nice to see my buddies come here and support this event, and to show them my part of this world. For 45 years of my life I’ve travelled and always seen their part of the world. Now they’ve come to a small town with a golfing mecca, and it’s so nice for me to show off not only the golf courses, but the beautiful area we live in.
“My own form feels good. I haven’t played a tournament for about four months, but I have been playing a lot of golf with the Fancourt members.
“I’ve got a slight advantage because I know the golf course very well. But I do have very stiff competition with Woosie and Torrance and Carl Mason and Tony Johnstone. It’s also so nice to see Gary (Player) playing here this week. So I think it’s going to be a wonderful week. It’s the first European Senior Tour event to come to South Africa and we’re all very excited.”