For 40 years the Gary Player Country Club has stood up to the test of the greatest players in the game, advancements in equipment technology and the march of time. And it has remained a challenging golf course that still commands the respect of the world’s best professionals.
Constructed in the late Seventies by Player, the Gary Player Country Club course set an immediate benchmark as a unique golf course perfectly suited to its surroundings in the bushveld of the Pilanesberg.
And as the home of the annual Nedbank Golf Challenge since 1981, it has tested the biggest names in golf, and continues to do so.
“When I first came here, years ago, I think it was 1994 or 1995, I found it really difficult. I couldn’t see a score under 75 to be honest,”says Lee Westwood.
He quickly figured it out though and has won four times on this golf course, including three Nedbank Golf Challenge titles and one Dimension Data Pro-Am victory.
“Over the years, I’ve sort of formulated a game plan and known where to take shots on and be aggressive and know where to back off and play to the middle of the greens. I think from a course management point of view, course management is very high up in your priorities this week.
“I think you find yourself in enough tough places that you learn over the years not to hit it there and just to play away from certain flags, and that there are certain flags you know you can be aggressive at. And off the tee, you know that there are certain holes where you can hit 3-wood and be in a better position than with driver.
“It’s a bit like Augusta National in a certain regard, in that the more you play it, the more sort of familiar and comfortable you get on it.”
For Westwood, the true value of the course is that it hasn’t changed much from its original design.
“The first laying down of it was obviously very good, and over the years, there’s been slight tweaks and changes. The biggest changes have been to 17. It used to be a fairly average hole, but it’s probably the best hole on the golf course now. It’s the kind of golf course where you just have to think from the start and that’s the sign of a good golf course.”
Henrik Stenson, winner of the 2008 Nedbank Golf Challenge, also likens the Gary Player Country Club course to Augusta National.
“I think it’s a great golf course. Gary and his team did a great job and it still stands up to the test. A lot of time you don’t have much room to maneuver off the tee, and you have to really position your second shot on these greens. I think the wind from Amen Corner at Augusta National has a second home here. There are a lot of swirling winds out there that can certainly make some of the shots tough out there.”said Henrik Stenson.
Tommy Fleetwood, who admits he always watched the Nedbank Golf Challenge on TV growing up, is also in awe of a course that hasn’t had to change in 40 years.
“I think that’s the sign of a great course. Some courses just don’t have to change. Some of my favourite courses like this one don’t have to change to keep scoring down. You know, there are always times when you’re going to have to lengthen certain holes, but I just think that it’s paramount to strike the ball well and if you don’t, you can’t score, and I just think that’s what makes a good golf course.”said Tommy Fleetwood.
It’s been described as a golf course that sets up like a Major championship venue.
And for 40 years, the Gary Player Country Club course has consistently delivered a stern test for “Africa’s Major”.