South Africa’s top amateur golfers are set to face strong international opposition in this year’s South African Amateur strokeplay championship at Mount Edgecombe Country Club from February 8-11.
The 23 foreign entries include 10 top amateurs from Scotland, six leading French amateurs, as well as players from England, Kenya, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and the United States.
South African No 1, Danie van Tonder, will spearhead the local challenge alongside Brandon Stone and Ruan de Smidt, respectively second and third on the South African Golf Association’s (SAGA) current rankings.
The local challenge is further strengthened by the next seven players on the rankings, including No 4 and 2010 Free State & Northern Cape Open winner, Haydn Porteous, and Riekus Nortje from George, who picked up two runner-up finishes last year.
“It’s amazing how many top international players this tournament has drawn,” said Stone.
“I think it’s great news for South Africa because it raises the standard of the event and gives us much-needed international experience.”
Stone’s performance on one of the biggest stages of South African amateur golf will be keenly watched.
The 17-year-old from Gardener Ross was named Junior Player of 2010 following his nine top 10 finishes in 14 starts, including six top five finishes and two victories.
He recently rose to 75th on the official World Amateur Rankings after winning the Prince’s Grant Invitational in January.
But Stone expects tough opposition from the international contingent, especially the Scottish.
“The Scots are out here on a two-month training camp and they are using every opportunity to play and prepare for the Walker Cup. I think they will challenge very hard and the coastal conditions at Mount Edgecombe should really suit them.”
De Smidt, a three-time runner-up in 2010, brings with him a very consistent game to this championship.
He closed out last season with five top five and 12 top 10 finishes in 18 starts. He recently placed second at the KwaZulu-Natal Open and earned his national colours for his debut against France alongside Stone this month.
“The SA strokeplay is becoming a sought-after tournament on the international schedule,” said the Krugersdorp player.
“It’s noticeable that each year more international players enter. A large number of players make the trip to South Africa and still have to qualify.
“I think it’s a measure of how prestigious the strokeplay has become and we can benefit greatly from the international competition.”
Since Dale Hayes won the first two editions in 1969 and 1970, just a handful of foreigners have won the tournament, including Yuan Ching Chi (1981), Wen-Sheng Li (1982) and C-S Hsieh (1986) of China, Ireland’s Ciaran McMonagle in 1982 and Gary Wolstenholme of England in 2002.
Among the international entrants this year are reigning Scottish amateur champion Michael Stewart, who also finished third in the recent Gauteng North Open, former British Boys’ champion Jordan Findlay, 2009 Scottish Amateur Champion David Law and Alexander Levy, one of the three members of France’s winning Eisenhower Trophy team.
The tournament is played over 72 holes, and the field of 144 will be cut to 65 and ties after 36 holes.