As we step into the brave new future of the DP World Tour, shedding the skin of the European Tour like one of those creepy reptilian creatures, it reminds me that golf features in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World.
Set in a futuristic, frightening, fascistic world state it seems utterly implausible that the business of clattering balls about should still be imagined a thing and yet there it is.
In chapter four the characters Lenina and Henry play Obstacle Golf (an innovation which may or may not be on Keith Pelley’s to do list), then fly off in their helicopter discussing how to be useful after death while also anticipating a night of pneumatic sex.
If you want to know how to play Obstacle Golf, there’s a YouTube video available in which intrepid fans of the book explain, and demonstrate, it (be warned, however, that any internet searches about their other activities are undertaken entirely at your own discretion).
Meanwhile, in the real world, the action heads to South Africa for a three week jaunt ahead of the Christmas break and we start with a return to Randpark Golf Club for the Joburg Open.
It’s an event that has been played annually since 2007 (with the exception of 2019), hosted initially by Royal Johannesburg GC before moving to the current home in 2017 and then again last year, but Randpark has also hosted the South African Open in 2000, 2018 and 2020 so we have plenty of course form to ponder.
In most ways it fits right alongside its near neighbours in Johannesburg because it’s traditional in design, tree-lined (often tightly so), has gnarly Kikuyu grass on the fairways and in the rough, with bent grass on the putting surfaces.
Another factor to always bear in mind with any golf played in this part of the world is that it’s on the high veldt – a plateau of high altitude ground where the ball flies farther than normal.
Consequently, it pays to favour golfers who can competently make adjustments. Other European Tour locations at altitude include Nairobi for the Kenya Open, Crans for the European Masters and, to a less extent, Munich-Eichenried for the BMW International Open and Club de Campo Villa Madrid for the Open de Espana.
First selection this week, Renato Paratore, has shown good form in recent weeks at two of those courses, finishing tied ninth in Madrid and tied seventh at Crans.
In recent weeks he has also been T25th at Valderrama (tied fourth with 18 holes to play) and T11th in Mallorca.
A glance into his record book shows plenty more evidence of him knowing how to play at altitude. In fact this year’s effort was his third top 12 finish at Crans.
And being among trees doesn’t faze him either, with multiple top 10s at Royal Dar es Salam, a top 10 at Wentworth and a win at Barseback.
He’s not played the course before, but he was tied seventh at the very similar Glendower, also in Johannesburg, at the 2018 South African Open.
Incredibly, Paratore is still just 24 years of age and has made 197 starts on the European Tour. He’s on track to make a mockery of those awards to old-timers who rack up 600-odd appearances, possibly reaching the landmark before he’s out of his 30s.
That’s a brave new world all of his own, of course, but in the very short term he can give us a run for our money.
Second selection Wilco Nienaber was also to the fore in the Open de Espana at Club de Campo Villa Madrid and it’s an event I like as a pointer for this week.
Charl Schwartzel, Retief Goosen and Richard Sterne are all winners there – and also in Johannesburg (the first two even have top fives at Randpark). Ricardo Gonzalez won in Madrid and was second at Randpark. Raphael Jacquelin has won in Madrid and lost a play-off in Johannesburg.
Nienaber was tied sixth in the Open de Espana last month and was also most recently seen finishing top 10 in the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final.
He’s a big hitter but proved, when tied sixth at Valderrama last year, that tight targets don’t faze him.
His first-ever European Tour start was at this course, when T54th at the 2018 South African Open, and he was solo second here 12 months ago when in the mix all week and leading heading into the final round.
He’s well up to going close again this week.
Final pick Dani Van Tonder is yet to fire at Randpark, but I’m going to keep faith because course form can be deceptive and there are plenty of reasons to think it could suit him.
His four visits so far have reaped two cuts made and a best of T59th, so why the confidence? Well, tree-lined tests at altitude have often prompted his best golf.
This year alone the quirky swinger has been second at Dainfern (just outside Johannesburg) on the Sunshine Tour, won in Kenya on the European Tour, he was T12th at Munich-Eichenried (sixth after 54 holes) and T21st in Crans.
Going further back he has victories at altitude at Glendower and also at Nkana Golf Club (where he has a very fine record) in the Zambian Open.
His form took a hit towards the end of last season. He’d got himself bang in-contention at the Italian Open, but a poor final round there saw him limp back into T27th and he then missed five straight cuts.
But three rounds in the 60s earned him a top 20 at the Dubai Championship and he can kick on in the next three weeks on home soil, starting this week in Joburg.