There’s only one place to be next week to catch the crème de la crème of South African amateur golf, and that is the 52nd South African Inter-Provincial Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The prestigious annual team championship tees off at the Port Elizabeth Golf Club from 17-21 September.
History and form favours the defending champions Central Gauteng, who broke a five-year winning drought when they beat Gauteng North in a thrilling final-round battle to lift the title for record 25th time.
Although Jock Wellington’s team has four new caps, the manager has a line-up loaded with in-form winners with one player in the top 40 of the world amateur rankings, two in the top 10, four in the top 20 and all eight inside the top 50 of the current South African Golf Association rankings.
Heading the onslaught is South Africa’s leading amateur Haydn Porteous, who returns having sewn up the SA Amateur Stroke Play, Boland Open, the KwaZulu-Natal double, Gauteng North Open and Limpopo Open titles this season, as well as a runner-up finish at the Scottish Stroke Play Championship in June.
Former SAGDB graduate Muzi Nethunzwi and Callum Mowat, both mainstays for the team last year, are back with a win a piece. In addition to two other top 10 finishes, Nethunzwi broke through for his maiden win at the Free State and Northern Cape Open, while Mowat won the Mpumalanga Open in early September.
After a sluggish start to the season, Michael Dixon produced two recent top 10s and returns, bringing form and experience to the team.
Another SAGDB graduate and new cap, Sipho Bujela, broke into the winner’s circle with success at the Southern Cape Open in April and currently sits at 13th in the rankings.
Having impressed at the Sanlam SA Amateur Match Play, Louis Taylor has kept his season on track with seven top 20 finishes and three top 10s, one coming just a fortnight ago in Mpumalanga.
Wellington said that, although Otto van Greunen and Jaco Mouton are outside the top 40 in terms of rankings, they are a perfect fit for the side.
“What pulled it through for us last year, was a team played for each other,” he explained. “There was no place on the team for egos or agendas and everyone batted for each other. Jaco and Otto are both great players in their own right, but they also fit in well within a team set-up.
“We spent two days at Port Elizabeth Golf Club last week and the guys clicked well and formed a tight unit in double time. There is no batting order in this side, everyone plays for the team and I’m confident we’ll put up another good show this year.”
Gauteng North will field a team with the same number of new caps, but return without former No 1, Brandon Stone, one of their star players last year.
Although Central looks slightly better on paper, the Northern side boast third ranked Zander Lombard, a multiple winner this season, as well as 10th ranked Conway Kunneke and 15th ranked Aubrey Barnard.
Outside the top 20, Hendre Cilliers returns for duty and will captain the side, stalwart Pedrie Oosthuizen brings experience and new caps Philip Kruse and James du Preez, both in the top 40, will give the side some fresh fighting spirit.
In addition to Central Gauteng, Gauteng North and newly promoted Limpopo, making their A-Section debut, the other teams battling for the title include 2008 champions Boland, 2009 champions KwaZulu-Natal and Western Province, the winners in 2010.
In the B-Section, hosts Eastern Province favour their home course advantage as they aim to emulate the winning Eastern Province team, who won promotion at home in 2003.
“We are up against Southern Cape and Free State and Northern Cape on Monday and that will set the tone for our week,” said EP team manager, Richard Hargreaves.
“Southern Cape will still be smarting over their relegation last year, so they will be a tough side to beat and Free State and Northern Cape are always gritty opponents.
“Of course, my guys are all wind specialists, so we are hoping it blows a gale come Monday. It’s golf, anything can happen on the day. But if the wind gets up, I back my team every time to come out on the winning side.”
FIRST ROUND DRAW – A-SECTION:
Central Gauteng vs Limpopo
Western Province vs Boland
Gauteng North vs KwaZulu Natal
FIRST ROUND DRAW – B-SECTION:
Southern Cape vs Eastern Province vs Free State N Cape
North West vs Ekurhuleni vs Mpumalanga
Bye – Border