South Africa’s best-known golf course locally and globally, due to its high-profile television exposure as host for the past 40 years of first the Million Dollar Challenge and then the Nedbank Golf Challenge. An iconic layout in a magnificent bushveld setting in a valley of the Pilanesberg.
Until Sun City was built in the late 1970s, South Africa did not have a resort where golfers could stay, play and have fun family time. Gary Player designed the course with Ron Kirby specifically to create a modern championship course which would surpass SA’s old classic venues and become a formidable challenge for the best golfers in the world. It has since hosted more than 70 pro tour events.
The course has stood the test of time, with changes and improvements in the new millennium ensuring that it retains its reputation as one of the toughest examinations on the European Tour. The average score in the 2019 Nedbank Challenge from an exclusive field of 63 tour stars was 72.44.
It is a long course from the championship tees, and while many club golfers are tempted to play it from the tips, to experience how difficult it can be, it is best enjoyed from one of the forward tees which were an innovation in the original design. Not only is it long, but missing a fairway can bring its own hardships. It usually means a penalty drop from the bush, or a limited recovery shot.
And then there are the slick, subtly sloping greens, which provide their own challenges for even the world’s best. The green complexes are uniquely designed with their cloverleaf shapes, so pins can be tucked into narrow tongues of green that are hard to reach. That makes for small targets.
The one exception is the round and flat green on the par-4 17th, and the reason is that the hole is a new one, built for the 2003 Nedbank Challenge. Coupled with a new back tee (437 metres), it transformed a shortish par 4 into one of the most demanding holes on the course, bringing water into play around the green. It was the second most difficult hole at the 2019 tournament at an average score of 4.21, behind the 4.29 of the 18th.
Since the 17th was built, the average winning score for 17 events has been 14-under, compared to 17-under between 1991 and 2002.