The idea of building a golf course on top of a dormant volcano next to a game reserve was absurd, but Sol Kerzner, a South African hotelier, had a plan.
"The first helicopter flight with Sol Kerzner to the vast open bushveld was interesting," Gary Player said about the plan to build his eponymous golf course in Sun City, South Africa, his homeland. "I thought to myself, there is no way to build a golf course here, let alone a world-class resort."
Because the track was on a crater, Player said, the rock was extremely difficult to break through. There was also no water, so engineers had to build a pipeline to pump water from miles away. The rock, lack of topsoil and mountains of vegetation made the trail virtually impossible. But Kerzner was a visionary, Player said. "He made things happen."
In 1979 the Gary Player Country Club was ready to play. Now that the 40-year anniversary is being celebrated, the course has solidified its reputation as the Nedbank Golf Challenge, which starts on Thursday, is held here.
The tournament was called the Million Dollar Challenge when it debuted in 1981 and brought together the golfing greats. Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller. It came down to Ballesteros and Miller, with Nicklaus lagging behind after missing a putt on his last hole. Miller defeated Ballesteros in a play-off.
At approximately 8,000 meters, the par 72 is one of the longest golf courses in the world. The vast, flat fairways wind through the brush and lakes and lead to smooth bent grass greens.
That is when players can control the effects of the wind, tight fairways, height and the difficult grass.
"I love the affectionate grass," said Branden Grace of South Africa, who won in 2017, last year. "It is the grass on which we grew up playing. Many golfers from Europe or America are having a hard time with it and are not too fond of it. They find it a bit tricky and sticky and sometimes thick. For us to grow up, we had to
"Even there in Sun City, with the height and heat so high, the ball goes on forever. You can hit a 200 meter high iron without even thinking about it. Some boys play disagree with a driver – you have to be accurate and keep it short, and aggressive when you have to get off the tee. & # 39;
It was the wind that Lee Westwood from England remembers of last year.
"It's not such an easy course as the wind is in the direction it was, and it swirled as the day progressed," he said, after shooting a 64 in to win his final round and the tournament.
The former champions Retief Goosen, Martin K Aymer, Grace and Henrik Stenson described the job as tough but fair in a joint statement this year.
"This golf course has often been set up as a major championship during the Nedbank Golf Challenge," said South Africa's Goosen, who also said the wind was tough. "The fairways are narrow, and the rough is sometimes four centimeters deep."
Kaymer, a German, said you had to hit the fairways.
"They can make it tight here, and once you've missed fairways, it's very hard to hit the greens because the ball gets into the rough field, & he said." Even then, to get it back on the fairway, you can struggle. So driving is the key. "
Stenson, from Sweden, also said it was important to hit the fairways.
"If you missed the fairway, you got a little rough, and then it was bush and maybe a new ball," he said. "So you better play your long game."
Grace said the court tested all elements of the game.
"Virtually everything in your game should be numbered here," he said. "It's a cheeky test, especially when the wind starts to swirl. You think it's from the left and then it's from the right. "
And then there is wildlife.
" In many places you see a herd of elephants gazing down and adding extra pressure to sink your putt, "said player.
The course borders Pilanesberg National Park, home of more than 7,000 animals, Player said the golfers and the animals have co-existed peacefully.
For the most part, that is true. the course of the park and generally ensures that the animals do not swing over the fairways, but a few have appeared.
There was a mongoose invasion in 2016. The game was briefly interrupted when about 20 arrived on the 16th green and inspected the ball of Victor Dubuisson.
An agitated baboon accused Luke Donald of England during an approach shot in 2014. Donald ran to cover behind his caddy, Johnny McLaren. "The fact that my caddy Johnny didn't shrink back, my reaction makes it even more pathetic! "Donald said later.
Another time a baboon entered the court and grabbed a ball, leaving jurors astonished about how to control the interference.
Ernie Els from South Africa, who won the tournament in 1999, 2000 and 2002, returns this year.
"It is always a pleasure to play in South Africa and especially during the Nedbank Golf Challenge," he said. "I have some great memories of the tournament – especially of my three wins."
Last year, Westwood won a three-stroke victory over Sergio García in Spain to win the tournament for the third time. after back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2011.
Els joins his fellow countrymen Louis Oosthuizen and Grace, whose victory in 2017 was one of his most memorable golfing experiences.
"When I won, I experienced those moments of watching Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman who won the tournament, & Grace said." So when you get the chance to do that, it's pretty special. Just walking up the 18th hole along the grandstand and hearing the applause like I did last year was one of those moments you'll never forget in your life. "