The tournament’s organisers are likely to expand the 12-man field and, with stronger ties to the Sunshine and European tours, are seeking to lift the 32-year-old event beyond exhibition status. By KEN BORLAND.
Once the richest tournament in world, The Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC) is set to once again go ahead at the end of the year at Sun City, thanks to the demise of the Tournament of Hope that sounds a clear warning to the international golf tours that they are losing control of their players.
The Sunshine Tour, in conjunction with the International Federation of PGA Tours, had initially announced that the Tournament of Hope, an $8.5 million event modelled on the World Golf Championship tournaments, would take place in late November and it is an open secret that they had hoped Sun City would host it.
But with the announcement that the Tournament of Hope has been put on hold, the NGC is no longer under pressure, although it is believed negotiations are under way to alter the format of the tournament from its traditional 12-man field.
It is likely that the NGC will have an expanded field – possibly as many as 50 golfers – while it will also enjoy closer ties with the Sunshine and European tours, elevating it from a mere exhibition tournament.
The NGC has been in existence for 32 years and it is in many ways a relic of the past, having been designed to bring top overseas golfers to South Africa (or Bophuthatswana as it was then known) during the days of sporting isolation. Having once been the richest tournament in the world, it is now struggling to attract the top players who have so many more options all over the world to choose from.
It is this “player-power” that has effectively sunk (hopefully temporarily) the Tournament of Hope.
Despite offering more prize money than any of the WGC events, there was no guarantee that the event would attract the top players.
Even the WGC events face the same challenge these days: Last November, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods withdrew from the HSBC Champions in Shenzhen, preferring to play an exhibition match elsewhere in China instead.
And that’s what the Sunshine Tour and Sail, the Tournament of Hope promoters, feared: No matter how much money they were offering, there was no guarantee leading players would make the trip to South Africa, especially at the end of the year.
Although it wasn’t in the contract, they were hoping that what had been promised to them by the US PGA Tour – that the event would count for their money-list and for FedEx Cup points, as well as earning the winner a three-year exemption in America – would be delivered.
Unfortunately these incentives have not yet been forthcoming, although Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan is optimistic that they might come through in Masters Week in April.
As one Sunshine Tour insider said: “We’re not in the business of over-promising and there wasn’t enough motivation for the top players to guarantee their presence in South Africa.”
Without the top names, the sponsors’ investment would not bring sufficient return and it is to the credit of the Sunshine Tour that it has been honest with its stakeholders about this.
Meanwhile, Alastair Roper, the NGC tournament director, has been praising the event as “the best tournament ever”, using the testimonials of 2012 champion Martin Kaymer, veteran Bernhard Langer and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts as evidence.
The changing landscape of professional golf may force the NGC to alter the shape and feel of the event, but the end-of-year party at Sun City looks set to still be the encore of the South African golfing year. DM
Photo: Martin Kaymer of Germany holds up the trophy after winning the 2012 Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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