The news that the six-tournament Vodacom Origins of Golf series will be extended to a 14th year on the Sunshine Tour in 2017 puts a big smile on the face of the Tour’s executive director Selwyn Nathan, with the announcement coming at a time when South Africa takes centre stage in world golf.
This kind of sponsor faith in South African professional golf is coupled with an upcoming summer season that turns world golf’s focus to South African fairways.
It begins next week when the US$7-million Nedbank Golf Challenge, hosted by Gary Player, makes its debut as part of the European Tour’s elite Final Series on the Race to Dubai, bringing the European Tour’s top 72 players to Sun City a week before the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
And it will continue with a further four European Tour co-sanctioned tournaments in South Africa between December and March.
Included in this will also be a full women’s golf schedule with 10 tournaments on the Sunshine Ladies Tour between January and March.
The development arm of the Tour has also been significantly boosted with a partnership between the Sunshine Big Easy Tour and the MENA Tour in the Middle East and North Africa, offering greater playing opportunities for emerging South African professionals.
There is also a more focused approach to the development of previously disadvantaged professional golfers. The Tour has selected 31 golfers who will attend three training camps per year where they will be assessed and receive coaching as well as nutritional and even financial advice. They will also be provided with financial assistance to travel to local tournaments.
‘It’s an exciting time for the Sunshine Tour,’ said Nathan. ‘Next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player is going to be something very special. We’ll have a very competitive field. Then over the next four months we have a very exciting time with big prize money for our men and women professionals to play for.’
And of course Nathan is hoping the South African professionals maintain their dominance of these big tournaments.
Of the five European Tour co-sanctioned events hosted here this season, South African golfers won four.
‘If you look back over the last few years our South African players always come home and win the European Tour co-sanctioned tournaments. Hopefully we’ll have more South African winners that will take them through the beginning of the season in the right frame of mind to do well in the 2017 Majors, starting in April,’ says Nathan.
South Africa remains one of the European Tour’s strongest allies in world golf, and Nathan is confident it’s a relationship that offers value to both parties.
‘We have several sponsors that have been with us for a very long time, but you need to keep creating the value and drawing the right players back to South African to support us. Hopefully this year we’ll see a quality bunch of European players coming to support us, and that’s what we need. Our players will also support us and we’ll have competitive fields playing for good money.
‘We might find more young stars like we did last year when Brandon Stone won the BMW South African Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, and Haydn Porteous won the Joburg Open, and then Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout also emerged as potential stars for the future.
‘My feeling is that this year will be another turning point and a new star will arrive. We need to breed another group of players to follow Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who are still going to win some very big tournaments in the future. But we need to start breeding that next generation.
‘And hopefully this partnership we have with the European Tour continues to grow and we can keep offering greater value to our sponsors.’