JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA | In America, it’s called barbecue. In South Africa it’s braai, and for years now that country’s best golfers have been fiercely competitive about who among them does braai the best.
Not one to miss an opportunity, reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel has chosen the biggest culinary stage in golf to show his stuff.
His plan: Take the Battle of the Braai, and all that goes with this simmering showdown, to this year’s Masters.
In preparing for the traditional Tuesday night Champions Dinner, Schwartzel has decided to go one better than simply selecting the menu. He wants to prepare the food as well. And to that end he has respectfully requested that he be allowed to host a braai under the iconic old oak tree outside the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse this April.
“We’ve put in the request and are still waiting to hear from them,” Schwartzel told Global Golf Post last week at the Joburg Open. “But I’d love to be able to braai there. I want to braai everything myself, but we just have to see if that will be possible with the number of people there. I could end up with a very sore hand at the end of an evening turning all that meat.”
Schwartzel has already started planning his Masters braai.
“I’ll keep it very simple. Ideally I would like to have a few lamb chops, some fillets and of course some boerewors (a traditional South African sausage).”
And Schwartzel has a few tricks up his sleeve. “I have a special spice which I put on my boerewors, so I’ll use that for sure. But I think the fillet is my real speciality. I make this secret marinade for it. I think it’s fantastic. Louis Oosthuizen loves it, and he’s a very fussy meat eater, so it must be pretty good.”
And for dessert?
“Again, I’ll keep it simple – something like ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.”
Being Afrikaans, braai skills seem to be handed out at birth. The South African pros certainly need no invitation to have a good braai – anywhere in the world. “I always try and fit in a braai overseas when I’m touring,” says Sunshine Tour professional Jake Roos. “The great thing is that whenever I bump into other South Africans players or fans overseas, a braai is the one thing that really unites us.”
But Roos does admit that, “Finding decent lamb chops in places like Russia is a challenge”.
Apparently, Ernie Els is a bit of a Smokey Robinson when it comes to the braai.
“He’s useless. He’s got no clue,” says his good friend Des Terblanche, who has had many braais with Els, most of them so good he can’t remember them.
Retief Goosen can handle himself over the coals. “He’s pretty good. But then again, he’s a bit of a general handyman. He builds his own cupboards in his house and so on,” says Terblanche.
Hennie Otto apparently tops the leaderboard amongst the South African pros when it comes to his skills around a braai.
“Hennie has an absolute passion for it. He can braai anything,” says Terblanche.
Terblanche had no sooner said this than another South African pro, Alan Michell, weighed in from further down the Joburg Open driving range, “Yeah, and you’d better leave Hennie to the braai, otherwise he’ll tell you it’s just not being done right”.
There is even a National Braai Day in South Africa, and it’s led by a man named Jan Braai, who is something of a folk hero for the Men of the Coal, having even braaied on top of Table Mountain.
Jan Braai also makes appearances at the odd Sunshine Tour event in South Africa, where he is always willing to braai for the pros.
The desire for a good braai on the Sunshine Tour stretches even as far as Zimbabwe. When Nick Price was still a regular feature in the Zimbabwe Open, there was always a fishing date with the tournament organisers when the event was played at Chapman Golf Club. The course there has some spectacular bass in its dams.
At around sunrise before the start of each round, golfers and a golf writer would gather at one of the dams for what was called a “Hook and Cook.”
Gavin, a scorer during the tournament who sold lingerie for the rest of the year and was a chef in his spare time, would bring along his braai and set up just on the fringe of the green.
And it was then a case of catching what you could and handing it to Gavin, who would prepare the most delicious meal.
So armed with his kind of heritage, Schwartzel is not at all intimidated by the prospect of such a high profile Fairway Feast at The Masters.
And his confidence shines through as much as it did over those memorable final four holes at Augusta last April.
Asked which of his braais has been the best, Schwartzel replied, “All my braais are good. But I suppose the best braais are the ones where you eat the meat right off the fire. I can certainly hold my own around a fire.”
“And besides, I think it’s time we put some meat on those fine athletes.”