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​Joburg's Charl Schwartzel will be defending his Joburg Open title against a strong field at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
THE Johannesburg-born Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel, will take to the luxuriant lawns of the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in Linksfield North between 12 and 15 January to defend his title in the biggest annual professional golf event in Africa, the Joburg Open.

2012 Joburg Open winner, Charl Schwartzel2011 Joburg Open winner, Charl SchwartzelCelebrating its sixth year, the tournament features over 200 professional and amateur golfers fighting it out to claim the trophy. The tournament also boasts a total prize purse of €1,3-million (approximately R13,7-million), which is distributed among the players who make the cut. The cut is 65+ ties.

“The field will comprise 206 professionals and four amateurs,” explains the City’s director of events, Bongi Mokaba. “The amateurs are made up of the top amateur in the country, Brandon Stone, and three development players.”

Including amateurs in the tournament is one of the best things about it, according to Mokaba. It enables players with low rankings to participate in a legitimate tournament and improve their game. “The tournament has allowed these golfers a platform to perform,” she says.

It begins with a Pro-Am on 11 January, when 240 golfers will take to the fairways in four-balls comprised of one professional and three amateurs. All players are required to play off an official handicap, with a maximum of 18 for men and 24 for women.

Main event
The main tournament is a 72-hole stroke play contest with a round of 18 holes being played each day, and played in accordance with the rules of golf of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) European Tour and the Sunshine Tour tournament rules. Should the competition require a play-off, it will follow the format of sudden death on the 18th hole.

Having grown wildly in popularity since its inception, the Joburg Open now welcomes tens of thousands of spectators on to the course each year. “In good weather, there are up to 10 000 spectators a day,” she says.

The Pro-Am open the Joburg OpenThe Pro-Am is a precursor to the Joburg Open (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)As to what can be expected weather-wise for the upcoming competition, Mokaba says there is a forecast for rain but that “we can’t really predict yet what will happen”. But even in cases of inclement weather, diehard fans are out with umbrellas and raincoats to follow their favourites.

Playing the tournament at the Royal allows the Open to be the only tournament locally and internationally to be simultaneously played on two courses, according to the Open’s website.

The Royal
The golf club came about as a result of a merger between the former Royal Johannesburg and Kensington clubs in 1998. It has since become known as one of the most prestigious courses in the country, with two courses: East and West.

These two courses form the backbone of the competition. “The size of the field is such that you need a double course, and the openness of the course allows organisers to deal with the capacity,” Mokaba adds. “In terms of layout, the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club works perfectly for the tournament.”

In addition to the main event and Pro-Am, there is also an annual golf development clinic held two days before the tournament at the Alexandra Driving Range. Here, professional golfers share their skills and tricks of the trade with budding young players.

Spectators 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 from 3 to 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 at Huddle Park is included in the price of a ticket. 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.

Golf clinicsThe golf development clinic runs at the Alex Driving Range (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)The Joburg Open sets the tone for the upcoming year of golf, as it is a co-sanctioned Order of Merit event on the PGA European Tour and Sunshine Tour.

Schwartzel, consecutive winner of the event in 2010 and 2011, will be looking to score a hat trick in 2012.

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 the top spot in 2009.

“Of the champions of the Joburg Open, three are playing again,” Mokaba confirms. Joining Schwartzel are Sterne and Canete.

Other big names hoping to make their way on to the leader board are Retief Goosen and English golfers Robert Rock and David Howell.

A strong field will make it a close call, but as yet there are no predictions of who will come out victorious. “It would be lovely if a South African won it, as it would make it more exciting and interesting for locals,” she says.

Sponsors of the event include the City of Johannesburg, Bwired, Volvo and Legacy Hotels and Resorts. New sponsors have also got involved in the tournament this year, and BMW, Investec, EOH and Primedia Outdoor are the latest companies to join the competition.

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Legacy of Joburg Open
Joburg man is the champ
Joburg player wins Open
Pros hold Alex golf clinic
Open begins with Pro-Am
Golf school opens in Zola
Mayor opens new clubhouse
Related links:

Joburg Open