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Irishman Damien McGrane was first out the starting blocks on the tricky West Course at the Royal Joburg golf course on day one of the Joburg Open.
SCORCHING heat and oppressive humidity did nothing to slow down the professional golfers teeing off on the first day of the Joburg Open this morning, with Ireland’s Damien McGrane leading the field by lunchtime on eight under par 63.

Executive mayor Parks Tau tees off to officially open play at the Joburg Open 2012 (Photo: Enoch lehung, City of Johannesburg)Executive mayor Parks Tau tees off to officially open play at the Joburg Open 2012 (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)But McGrane, who played the West Course, was not the only player on top form, and he had South African Desvonde Botes snapping at his heels on seven under par 65, and seven other players keeping up the pressure on six under par.

The West Course, regarded as the easier of the two courses, offered up some resistance to the professionals though. George Coetzee finished his round on six under par.

“It is tough starting on that course because you know you need to get out the blocks quickly,” he said. But for him, the round was not about what he shot, but rather about enjoying the game. The fact that he clocked a firm finish was an added bonus and an indication of his maturing as a player. “I understand my game a lot better now than I did two years ago.”

Retief Goosen, who finished the round on five under par, had the same view: “The West Course is one that you want to make a good start on. It is a shorter, but tricky course, and although I played solidly on the front nine, I could probably have made more birdies,” he reflected. “My back nine was scrappy though.”

Weather conditions also posed a challenge, with humidity and wind the main obstacles. “There was quite a lot of moisture in the air, and wind coming through the trees so it was hard to get the right flight,” Goosen said.

Joburg Open champion Charl Schwartzel got off to a slow startJoburg Open champion Charl Schwartzel got off to a slow startTwo-time Open champion Charl Schwartzel got off to a slow start on the longer East Course and hit his first shot into the rough. After playing the Pro-Am on Wednesday, he said: “The course is playing very long, and with all the rain the rough has become very dense.

“You can’t afford too many loose shots.”

Dangerous weather conditions halted play at 1.37pm, and all players were called off the course. Commenting on the forecast for rain, Schwartzel said: “It’s out of your hands and if you worry about it too much, it’s going to affect your golf. If you get called off then so be it, but I don’t like to worry about it.”

With rain forecast for the remaining three afternoons of the Open, it seems set to interrupt smooth rounds for all players. But as the City’s director of events, Bongi Mokaba, noted: “We can’t really predict what will happen with the weather. We have to wait and see.”

Prize money
The Joburg Open is Africa’s biggest professional annual golf tournament, and has returned to its home at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club for the sixth time. It is a co-sanctioned Order of Merit event on the PGA European Tour and Sunshine Tour, with a total prize purse of €1,3-million (approximately R13-million), and over R2-million for the winner.

Ritief Goosen tells of his plans to win the Joburg Open 2012Ritief Goosen tells of his plans to win the Joburg Open 2012It also encourages development of the game, though, and includes a golf development clinic and Pro-Am; the clinic took place on 10 January and the Pro-Am on 11 January.

Top local and international players take to the field each year, and the names etched on the trophy bear witness to this. Winners of the cup include Argentina’s Ariel Canete, who grabbed gold at the inaugural competition in 2007; South African Richard Sterne, took the honours in 2008; and Anders Hansen from Denmark, who took top spot in 2009.

Three of the champions are taking to the meticulously maintained fairways in the hopes of winning back the trophy and joining Schwartzel are Canete and Sterne.

Joburg residents can catch the action on the golf course from the front line, by attending any or all of the days of play. Tickets are on sale at the gate of the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club until 16 January; single tickets are R30, and a full event ticket, which covers all four days, is R80. Pensioners and children under the age of 16 can get in for free.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and spectators are able to park at Huddle Park.

For golf lovers who are unable to watch each swing, birdie and eagle in person, the tournament will be broadcast on Supersport 1 on all four days from 12noon to 4pm.

Related stories:

Pro-Am ends on high note
Pro-Am sets the pace
Clinic develops young talent
Teaching Jozi’s young golfers
Tee off time for Joburg Open
Joburg player wins Open
A course fit for royalty
Related links:

Joburg Open website