The Joburg Open debuted in 2007 and has always been a co-sanctioned event between the DP World Tour and Sunshine Tour. It was staged every year between 2007-2017 and returned again in 2020 after being absent from the 2018 and 2019 schedules.
The tournament was initially dominated by home players, with six of the first eight editions going the way of South Africans; Richard Sterne (2008, 2013) and Charl Schwartzel (2010, 2011) took two titles apiece in this time and as yet, remain the only players to win multiple Joburg Opens.
Andy Sullivan broke a five-year run of home winners in 2015, after which there has been an even split, with Haydn Porteous (2016), Darren Fichardt (2017) and Thriston Lawrence (2021) the three latest South African winners.
Shubhankar Sharma won his first DPWT title in this event in the latter part of 2017, with Denmark’s JB Hansen taking the trophy on the Joburg Open’s return in 2020; followed by Thriston Lawrence’s win in 2021, in an event shorted to 36 holes due to covid restrictions.
The tournament moved to its new home of Houghton Golf Club last year, where we witnessed a hugely impressive victory for England’s Dan Bradbury on just his sixth start as a professional; running out a three-stroke winner over Sami Valimaki with a score of -21. He returns to defend this week.
Houghton Golf Club opened in 1926 and has a rich history as host of some of South Africa’s premier events. It has hosted eight South African Opens – most recently in 1992 - and was the first home of the Alfred Dunhill Championship from 2000 to late 2004, before Leopard Creek took up the reigns. It returns as the host of the Joburg Open for the second time this week.
Jack Nicklaus completed an extensive renovation of the course in 2009, where he primarily focused on adding more strategic bunkering in the fairways and recontouring the greens. The course is now attributed to being his design, such was the scale of changes he made.
The course will play to a slightly different yardage and par this week, I suspect in response to Bradbury’s excellent winning score last year. The 3rd hole, which played as a 544-yard par 5 in 2022, will this year play as a monstrous 530-yard par 4, meaning the course is now a par 70, measuring 7227 yards, though will play a little shorter due to altitude. It contains twelve par 4s (364-536 yards), four par 3s (177-230 yards) and two par 5s (545-572 yards).
This tree-lined, parkland course features wide fairways that are protected by aggressive fairway bunkering. Despite the generous landing areas, a level of strategy is required off-the-tee, with several doglegs resulting in trees potentially blocking approaches, meaning you have to hit and miss the short grass on the correct side.
The greens are pretty small and undulating, with most at an angle and shallow/narrow. They are tough to find and even tougher to putt on, often described as the most difficult aspect of playing at Houghton Golf Club.
Protection around these putting surfaces comes in the shape of further intimidating bunkering, whilst water is in-play on seven holes, each time guarding the green.
The par 4s are where this tournament will be won and lost. That conversion of the 3rd hole to a par 4 now leaves us with three par 4s above 500 yards, as it joins the 506-yard 2nd and the 536-yard 15th. These monster holes are tempered by multiple sub-400 yard holes, including the 364-yard 1st, which may be drivable at some point this week.
The two par 5s look gettable for most and of the four par 3s, three sit below 200 yards; two below 180.
Though scoring was good last year, that one setup change should see the numbers drop, but that is not the only thing that may make Houghton Golf Club a slightly different test this time around. Rain fell before and during that event last year, softening up the course and particularly those tough greens; with a much drier build-up and event this year, I’m expecting a toughened challenge.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting
- Par 4 Scoring
As this year’s challenge is set to differ from 2022, I’m not sure how much can be gained from focusing too much on those who went well last year for clues. For all it’s entirely possible that the same types may show up again.
I believe the key to unlocking Houghton will be what you do into and on/around the tough green complexes, which ranked as some of the most challenging to putt on and scramble around last year, despite the more receptive conditions.
In addition, players most equipped in tackling the selection of varied par 4s on offer should hold an added advantage.
There’s little correlating form on offer with Houghton hosting just one DPWT event in recent years but there are still a few obvious avenues we can head down when looking at comp events.
There is the Jack Nicklaus angle, with a handful of his courses used on tour over the current/preceding seasons, including several in South Africa. His Mount Juliet course hosted the Irish Open in 2021/2022, whilst his London Golf Club design was the home of the 2021 Cazoo Classic.
In South Africa, we’ve seen an event at the Club at Steyn City– another course at altitude - the last two seasons: the 2022 Steyn City Championship and 2023 Jonsson Workwear Open. Additionally, we have Pecanwood Golf and Country Club, which hosted the MyGolfLife Open in 2022 and St Francis Links, home of this year’s SDC Championship.
Away from Nicklaus designs and we can look to events at altitude, such as the Nedbank Challenge at Gary Player Country Club and the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.
Finally, Karen Country Club, which hosted the Kenya Open on the DPWT from 2019-2021 can guide us further. This heavily tree-lined course has generous fairways and is one of few events to provide some strong correlating form, with Danie Van Tonder a winner there, Louis De Jager a runner-up and Christiaan Bezuidenhout a top 10; all were top 5 finishers at Houghton last year.
The forecast is showing dry, cloudy and warm conditions throughout the week, with the sun coming out over the weekend. A steady 10mph breeze should ask some questions, with gusts up to 30mph potentially making things very difficult.
Whilst this event doesn’t possess the star power of its alternative in Australia – with Thirston Lawrence the top-ranked player at #90 and only one of two from inside the top 100, along with #96 Adrien Otaegui - it certainly doesn’t lack in interest and excitement.
As well as a large contingent from South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, this is the first event where we’ll see a sizeable group of players who made their way to the tour via the previous season’s Challenge Tour rankings or at Q-School last week.
Each of the top 10 finishers on the Challenge Tour last season are all entered, headed by the leading player on the Race to Mallorca, Marco Penge and includes highly rated South African Casey Jarvis; as well as returns for Italians, Matteo Manassero and Andrea Pavan.
Darius Van Driel is the top Q-School finisher in attendance, finishing 4th in that marathon six-day event. Other notables from there include returnees, Renato Paratore and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, along with the talented English 18-year-old Josh Berry - who foregoes the potential for amateur accolades by turning pro at his tender age - and South African veteran, Darren Fichardt.
There is of course a strong group of more renowned home players, such as 2011 Masters Champion, Charl Schwartzel; Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Dean Burmester.
This event has a much more open feel about it than the event in Australia, which allows us to be a little more speculative. Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Dean Burmester share favouritism at 12/1, followed by Branden Grace at 16/1 and last year’s winner, Dan Bradbury at 18s.
Just behind is a player who ticks a lot of boxes this week, Romain Langasque; with his approach play finally showing some more positive signs last week in the DP World Tour Championship, I’m taking him to put on a contending performance in South Africa.
2 pts Romain Langasque each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 22/1
Langasque has been there or thereabouts right throughout the year, recording thirteen top 25s, five top 10s and went closest when 2nd in the Italian Open back in May.
He had suffered a bit of a slump since his latest top 10 in the Open de Espana in October, missing two cuts and finishing 62nd in his next three starts, but turned it around in Dubai last week, finishing a commendable 11th when attempting to claim one of those coveted PGA Tour cards. He’ll no doubt be disappointed to miss out in that regard but hopefully that drives him on to a strong start this season, at the end of which he can claim one of those cards at this time next year.
Langasque’s qualities this year have been in his driving and scrambling, ranking top 25 in both. He’s also putted solidly and has been one of the stronger short-game players in this field over the last three months, ranking 11th on the greens and 12th around them. His approach play has been a little off over that same period but he improved in this area last week, producing his best performance since the Scottish Open back in July.
The Frenchman was 4th at the halfway point of this event last year, before eventually dropping to 9th at the end of round 4. He has a strong record in Kenya, where he finished 2nd on the Challenge Tour in 2016 and has since recorded two top 6s on the DPWT; a favourable book of correlating form is enhanced by two top 10s at Steyn City and similar efforts at Crans and Pecanwood.
Langasque has previous in South Africa, having finished 2nd to Louis Oosthuizen in the 2018 South African Open. He can go one better at Houghton GC this week.
1 pt Adri Arnaus each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
Adri Arnaus seemed to find some form in his final few events of last season. With a strong book of comp form that suggests he could take to Houghton; I’m taking the Spaniard to get the new season off to a fast start.
Arnaus started this year strongly, finishing 13th in Dubai and 6th at Ras Al Khaimah, before going close in South Africa when 2nd in the SDC Championship at St Francis Links in March. He worryingly struggled for form after that, missing eight of his next thirteen cuts and recording zero finishes inside the top 60. However he’s shown improvements over his last four starts.
His upturn in form started with a 14th-place finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and two starts later he recorded a second top 20 in four starts when 19th in the Andalucia Masters. Though a missed cut in the Qatar Masters was disappointing on his last start, it was promising to see him produce some of his best iron play of the year, failing to make the weekend due to an unusually poor week on the greens.
I say unusually poor as Arnaus has been one of the best putters on tour this season, ranking 6th. If that was just a mere blip and if he can replicate his quality in approach from the Qatar Masters, he’d look a good fit for this test; a place that would be a touch more forgiving of his wayward driving.
Runner-up finishes at the Nicklaus designed St Francis Links and Pecanwood increase my optimism in his ability to perform here, as does another 2nd-place finish in Kenya and several top 10s in the European Masters.
1 pt Francesco Laporta each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
Francesco Laporta earned his return to the DPWT thanks to a high-quality finish on the Challenge Tour last season. As a player with some good form here, and possessing more experience of playing in this country than most non-South Africans, I’m expecting him to keep that recent run going this week.
Laporta started this year here in South Africa on the Challenge Tour though struggled to get anything going. It was a similar story throughout much of the early part of 2023, as he split his time between the DPWT and Challenge Tour, though did start to make some noise when 14th in the Porsche European Open in June and followed that with a first Challenge Tour top 10 of the year in Cadiz.
A month later he picked up his first win in four years in the German Challenge and largely maintained a good level of form thereafter, finishing the Challenge Tour season with consecutive finishes of 8-MC-5-3-7.
Throughout his career, Laporta has been a player who has excelled most with his steady, straight driving game and a decent touch around the greens; the latter in particular looking an important asset here.
He certainly showed an ability to transfer his game well to Houghton last year, finishing 13th and firing 4/4 rounds in the 60s. A 4th-place finish in the 2021 Irish Open at Mount Juliet works as another pointer for his ability to perform on Nicklaus courses.
Laporta spent much of his early career on South Africa, both in the amateur game and on the Sunshine Tour. He knows this part of the world well and with that it would be pretty apt should he win a first DPWT title here.
1 pt Shaun Norris each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
Shaun Norris has been playing some promising golf on the Japan Golf Tour over recent months and looks a nice price to improve on an encouraging 18th-place finish on debut here last year.
Norris had produced little to shout about in 2023 for much of the year, starting off on the DPWT before heading over to Japan at the end of May, but has found form in his last six starts. He’s made every cut during this period, recording three top 10s, which includes a runner-up finish in the Mynavi ABC Championship.
He’s a solid ball-striker but really excels on the greens, ranking 5th in this field. That combination worked well for this event last year, as he finished 18th and shot under par in every round; an event which he went into really struggling for form.
Norris recorded his first DPWT win at the Nicklaus designed Steyn City last year. That win was Norris’ tenth worldwide, making him one of the most prolific winners in this field and with his game looking in a much better place, I think he looks a great price to add to that this week.
1 pt Dylan Fritelli each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 125/1
Dylan Frittelli has been in desperate form on the PGA Tour this season, but showed just enough promise on his last start in the RSM Classic that tempted me to take a shot at a large price on his return home.
There were a few signs his game was in a decent place early this year, with a 14th-place finish in the Phoenix Open a particular standout. However, that positivity was short lived and he soon slumped into a terrible run of results.
Since his 29th-place finish at the Honda Classic at the end of February, Frittelli made just one cut in nineteen starts, which resulted in a finish of 56th in the Sanderson Farms Championship. Though his MC in last week’s RSM Classic reads a little differently.
After opening with a poor 3-over 75 at the Plantation Course, he improved markedly in his effort at the Seaside Course, firing a bogey-free 66 for a round of -4. More to the point Frittelli was the strongest ball-striker on the course that day, ranking top 5 both off-the-tee and in approach, as well as 7th in greens-in-reg. Much more like it for a player who made his way in the game through his quality ball-striking.
That was his single-best round of ball-striking since the Phoenix Open and whilst only a small nugget of improvement, it all of a sudden makes this PGA Tour and DPWT winning golfer look a big price at 125/1. Especially considering the improvement that international players often find when they return home from the trials of the PGA Tour.
Frittelli didn’t play here last year, but he is a player who almost always performs to a decent level when in South Africa, missing just one of his last eight cuts in his home country and he finished 3rd in the South African Open in 2020 at Gary Player Country Club; adding an attractive piece of comp form to his profile this week.
0.75 pts John Gough each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 250/1
There’s a lot of unknowns in this field and I was tempted by several newcomers at big prices, but it’s John Gough who finalises my selections this week. This former high-class amateur has shown some promise in the pro ranks since turning professional earlier this year and I wonder if he can follow in the footsteps of Bradbury last year, and fly in here under the radar to claim a swift first pro success.
Gough turned pro just a couple of months ago, following a decent personal performance for GB&I as they lost the Walker Cup to the U.S. He did so after reaching a high of #10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a position achieved by several high profile wins over recent years, which includes a win in the 2021 English Amateur; wins in the 2022 Spanish Amateur and Lytham Trophy; then adding two more titles this year, with wins in the Australian Master of the Amateurs and Irish Amateur.
He really entered the consciousness of a wider golfing audience at the British Masters back in July when still an amateur, finishing 39th; an event at which he sat 3rd after both the first and second rounds, showing particular quality in approach, ranking inside the top 20.
Gough has since turned pro and continued to show signs of his potential at this level. He finished 51st in the Open de France two starts ago but was 12th entering the final round after an excellent 5-under 66 in round three. He once again showed a good ability in approach but this time matched it with some quality on the greens.
That kind of skillset should see him taking to Houghton Golf Club and as a player with undoubted potential - more so than most players in this field if his amateur record is anything to go by – I can see little negativity in taking him at a huge price this week.