JOHANNESBURG - Rain, rain and more rain ... it’s the bane of every golf course; more so when you’re just days out from hosting your first big tournament in 22 years.
Randpark Golf Club were doing everything they could on Tuesday to keep their two courses playable as the pros arrived throughout the day to get a feel of things ahead of Thursday's start of the 2018 Joburg Open.
The tri-sanctioned event is the first biggie for the revamped Randpark - who redesigned both the Bushwillow and Firethorn courses in recent years - since the SA Open was staged there in 1995.
Darren Fichardt will tee it up tomorrow as the defending champion, having won when the tournament was last played at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, but he’s likely to get some stiff competition from former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and new hot-shot Dylan Frittelli, fresh off his win at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at the weekend.
The heavy rain in Johannesburg, which is expected to continue on Wednesday and throughout the week, has however, put something of a damper on things and made life extremely challenging for the green-keeping staff.
“It’s sad, it really is,” said head green-keeper at Randpark, Robert Innes. “Ideally you want nice hot, dry conditions, with fast running greens. We’re not going to have that now. The course will be water-logged and the greens will hold and it’s not the experience you want the pros to have.”
Innes has been at Randpark for 14 years and he knows how much work has gone into getting the tournament and then preparing it for the four days of competition.
Many congratulations on your @EuropeanTour @AfrAsiaMRUOpen win @Dylan_Frittelli. Playoffs are challenging so very pleased to see you come away with the victory. Looking 💪🏻 GP pic.twitter.com/GSXwChsBQV
“Look, we only got the tournament a few months ago (after Royal gave it up this year because of upgrades there) so we’ve been under pressure from the start, but it’s also been a nice personal challenge, for me and my staff,” said Innes.
“The course is in top condition. It would have, or will be, a great test for the pros... and it’s going to be interesting to see how the two courses stand up to these guys, who hit the ball a mile.”
All the players will have a round on the Bushwillow and Firethorn courses - Thursday and Friday - with the final two rounds after the cut is made on Friday taking place on the Firethorn course.
The Bushwillow course plays a little easier than the Firethorn layout, which was redesigned just three years ago, but Innes said the players would be making a big mistake if they thought they could take Bushwillow “apart”.
“It’s a difficult little course and that rough around the greens is pretty harsh. It’s a thinking man’s course and those who just want to bomb it will find plenty of trouble. The stroke one, par-4 16th is a great hole and the par-5 17th, with the water in front of the green, will make for great viewing. Most of the guys will take it on in two shots, but if they don’t strike it perfectly they’ll be wet,” Innes said.
Firethorn has some superb holes - like the new par-5 2nd, the new par-4 6th and the par-5 14th - but it is the three finishing holes; the par-4 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th where the Joburg Open is likely to be won and lost on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a cracking finish... there’s water, there’s length, and if you have to make par or birdie on 18 to get to a certain number, it’s a big ask,” Innes said.
With more rain forecast and thundershowers for the rest of the week, the course will play long, but Innes believes there'll be some impressive scores: “The scoring should be good, with a winner posting something between 18 and 22 under par.