Jon Rahm won the Race to Dubai after another highly impressive victory at the DP World Tour Championship. He did so despite not playing competitive golf for six weeks before heading to the Earth Course, showing that he clearly plays well when well refreshed. For other players, a run of tournaments is what brings the best out of them. Certainly those who head straight from Dubai and the end of one European Tour season to South Africa for the start of a new one will be hopeful that momentum will be their friend.
That said, Brandon Stone is taking a similar route to Rahm. He hasn’t been seen since the Portugal Masters where he missed out on a playoff by one stroke so will hope to use the confidence earned from that win and the chance to rest to its maximum by winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship for the second time.
Leopard Creek Country Club has hosted the Alfred Dunhill Championship since 2004. It’s right up there with the most popular golf courses on the European Tour amongst players for a couple of reasons.
From a playing perspective, those in the field will enjoy how fair Leopard Creek is. Longer and shorter hitters can thrive equally well on the 7,287 yard layout, providing they avoid the worst of the trouble that frames the fairways and hit a high percentage of greens in regulation. This is a challenging course though where missing greens is inevitable. It’s little surprise that scrambling has been such an important statistic in recent years then.
The 2017 Alfred Dunhill Championship did not take place due to considerable renovation work taking place at Leopard Creek. The changes largely served to toughen the course up rather than radically changing the questions it poses and were well received last year.
Away from the golf and Leopard Creek is known for being situated adjacent to the Krueger National Park. Many players will head into the park for a bit of safari this week whilst even those who stick to the golf course will see a great deal of wildlife.
|Leopard Creek Country Club||Malalane, South Africa||7,287 Yards||€1,500,000|
The Alfred Dunhill Championship is not usually the tournament to watch if you like things nice and tight on a Sunday afternoon. David Lipsky’s two stroke win last year was the smallest winning margin since Garth Mulroy won by the same margin in 2011 and there hasn’t been a playoff since Leopard Creek’s debut in 2004. That playoff was won by Charl Schwartzel who has since gone on to win the tournament three more times. The course specialist knows just when to attack and when to defend on this tricky layout as do many of his fellow South Africans, with home players winning six of the last seven renewals.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2018||David Lipsky||-14||2 Strokes|
|2016||Brandon Stone||-21||6 Strokes|
|2015||Charl Schwartzel||-15||4 Strokes|
|2014||Branden Grace||-20||7 Strokes|
|2013||Charl Schwartzel||-17||4 Strokes|
Analysis: Another Home Winner Likely
There is always a stark change in atmosphere at the start of a new season. Players aren’t coping with the immediacy of having to save their cards and a fresh intake of players from the Challenge Tour gives the first few events of the season a nice feel. The Alfred Dunhill Championship also guarantees good crowds around Leopard Creek but any player getting caught up in a laid back vibe will soon find themselves out of contention.
This is a tough tournament to win on a course that challenges players from start to finish. Those who have played well here before tend to do so again so those with strong course records will be relishing their return. The same is true of the sizeable South African contingent in the field and it would be no surprise to see the home galleries cheering another of their own to victory come Sunday.
Stone Looking to Take the Rahm Route to Success
Brandon Stone has three wins on the European Tour. Two of those wins came in his native South Africa with his win in the Alfred Dunhill Championship coming after victory in the South Africa Open. In addition, Stone has two further wins on the Sunshine Tour and has all the experience of South African golf you could hope for.
Still only 26, Stone has a lot of room for improvement though. That’s certainly true of his current form. He missed out on a place in the final events of the Race to Dubai rankings but did at least end the last European Tour season with a second place finish at the Portugal Masters. Since then it’s been a case of taking a break from the rigours of tournament golf and working on the range to give himself a chance of starting the new season on a high.
Stone is hopeful of making a return to competitive golf on par with Jon Rahm last week. He has played well when fresh off a break before and can do likewise this week at a course that he loves. He has bags of power, is a top class ball striker and has a reliable short game to lean on should he require it so Stone could well delight the South African fans.
Sterne Can Come Good Again
Richard Sterne is one of a number of South African former winners of the Alfred Dunhill Championship in the field this week. He makes sure to include a trip to Leopard Creek in his schedule and has a generally good record at this time of year. Indeed, his best performance of the last European Tour season came in January when he pushed Shane Lowry all the way in Abu Dhabi.
That wasn’t the only highlight from Sterne’s season though. He played well enough to make it to the DP World Tour Championship and although recent results haven’t exactly been anything to write home about, Sterne should be more competitive at Leopard Creek. Sterne’s long term form at this venue is mighty impressive so back him each way at 28/1 with Coral.
Final Verdict: Brandon Stone to Win
Brandon Stone has the quality to kick on and become one of the, if not the, best South African golfers of his generation. He would have loved to have won more at this stage of his career but at 26 he is still some years from his peak and it’s all systems go for a big season. That may well begin with victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at 20/1 with bet365.
About the Alfred Dunhill Championship
The Alfred Dunhill Championship is one of the biggest and most prestigious tournaments on the Sunshine Tour. The Sunshine Tour is predominantly played in South Africa, with players from that country dominating, although tournaments are also held in other southern African nations, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and further north in Kenya.
The Alfred Dunhill Championship, in common with the Sunshine Tour’s other flagship events, is co-sanctioned by the European Tour. In 2016 it was the number one Sunshine event in terms of ranking points, sharing that honour with the South African Open. By European or US standards it isn’t the most lucrative tournament around, with a purse of “just” €1.5m in 2019. Even so, over the years some really top class players have won this tournament, as we can see below.
It was first held in 2000, although the inaugural edition was reduced to just 54 holes due to rain, with unheralded English golfer Anthony Wall winning the title. Since then some truly world class players have won the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
|Player||Year(s) Won||Highest Ever World Ranking|
|Charl Schwartzel||2004, 2012, 2013, 2015||6|
As the table above indicates, this is very much a tournament that Charl Schwartzel has enjoyed. Following the 2019 edition of this event at the end of December, Schwartzel was one of just two men to have claimed victory here more than once. His four titles puts him well clear of Spain’s Pablo Martin, who defended in 2010 the title he had won a year previously.
Schwartzel’s domination of this event is even more apparent when we consider that he finished second in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010. The man from Johannesburg is clearly one to consider when picking your bets for this event.
In recent years Spaniards have also thrived, helped of course by Martin’s double. Pablo Larrazabal and Alvaro Quiros have also won, meaning Spanish golfers have claimed glory in four of the 13 tournaments up to 2019 at an event largely dominated by home players.
A Confusing Event
This competition should not be confused with the very similarly named European Tour event played in Scotland, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. It has the same sponsor and is a golf tournament but that’s pretty much where the similarities end (although South African player Brandon Grace won in Scotland in 2012 and here in 2014).
The early years of this event are also somewhat confusing because it was born out of the South African PGA Championship. Between 1996 and 1999 that was known as the Alfred Dunhill South African PGA Championship. In 1995 it had become the first event on the continent to be sanctioned by the European Tour and this continued under Dunhill.
However, after the 1999 edition of the PGA, the sponsors decided they wanted to create a new tournament and so the Alfred Dunhill Championship was created. Johannesburg hosted the inaugural event, with Houghton Golf Club doing the honours, and much to the chagrin of the organisers of the South African PGA Championship the new upstart was the one that was part of the European Tour.
And the 2004 Winner is… Marcel Siem… and Charl Schwartzel
More confusion would follow just a few years later as a scheduling shift to the back end of the year meant 2004 saw two editions of the Alfred Dunhill Championship. German Siem won the first in January, which was part of the 2003-4 Sunshine Tour season and the 2004 European campaign. Home favourite and tournament-dominator Schwartzel won the second, in December, counting as a 2004-5 Sunshine success and a 2005 European Tour victory. Keeping up?
Siem won at Houghton but the event moved to the Gary Player-designed Leopard Creek Country Club following that. This new host, not too far from Kruger National Park, has hosted the championship ever since and is popular with players, ranked one of the best courses in the world. The island green on the 18th makes for a spectacular finish and, being a par five, late drama and birdies are always a possibility.
Hot, Hot, Hot
The weather in this part of South Africa is hot and humid and in December the temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees Celsius, with afternoon temperatures typically over 30 and highs of 40 degrees not uncommon. This may explain the success of local players and also Spaniards but in 2016 especially hot weather meant players were allowed to wear shorts.
Reportedly this was the first time ever that pros had been able to wear short trousers and Ernie Else tweeted at the time that it might provide some relief for his European colleagues. The final results suggest otherwise though, as it was a South Africa one-two, with Brandon Stone shooting 21 under par to win by six shots from his countryman Richard Sterne.
Where Have the Play-Offs Gone?
Both the 2004 editions of this flagship event were decided by a play-off, as was the 2003 tournament when England’s Mark Foster triumphed (in a six-man shootout!). Since that three in a row, though, we have not seen extra holes required in the 14 tournaments since (for anyone checking the maths there, note there was no tournament in 2017 as the course was being renovated). There have been a number of close and exciting finishes though, with one shot often enough to separate first from first loser, including in 2019, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.
Schwartzel Storms to Glory
It is fitting that the man that has won this event twice as often as anybody else also holds a number of other tournament records. 2011 US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel shot the lowest aggregate score and lowest score to par in the history of this event in 2012 with a 24 under par score of 264.
That low score ensured he secured a record victory too, with little-known Swede Kristoffer Broberg the best of the rest. Broberg was a massive 12 shots back though as the home hero and course specialist played exhibition golf. Schwartzel must have felt pretty confident coming into this tournament though given he won by a whopping 11 shots the week before! That’s what we call a hot bit of form and his four rounds here meant he was an incredible 84 under cumulatively for his last five events.