This year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge will feature an expanded field of 30 golfers and Official World Golf Ranking and Ryder Cup qualifying points, as well as the increased prize money counting for both the European and Sunshine tour orders of merit as insurance against the weakening quality of the entrants. By KEN BORLAND.
The selection criteria for the invitational tournament will now cover all the world’s tours. The top 10 willing players from the top 30 of the PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup rankings, the top 10 from the top 30 of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the winners of the Asian, Japanese and Australasian tour orders of merit and the best of the Sunshine Tour all qualify for the tournament at Sun City.
But it is with the European Tour that the Nedbank Golf Challenge has specifically thrown in its lot, gaining co-sanctioned status from the powerful tour that now rivals America’s PGA Tour.
The European Tour has for a long time enviously eyed the Nedbank Golf Challenge in early December as their golfers go into hibernation in the freezing, dark northern winter.
“This is a great opportunity for the European Tour to finally be involved in and sanction this event,” said Keith Waters, European Tour chief operating officer and director of international policy. He was talking at the launch of the new-look Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sandton on Thursday. “It really resonates with those of us in northern Europe because at that time of year, the weather is grim and nobody’s playing golf, so we always look forward to watching the event on TV. Now we’re officially part of it, which is great.”
The revamped Challenge will also prove to be of greater service to local golf, with at least five South Africans now guaranteed entry into the event.
While the previous year’s winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit is still automatically invited, the opportunity to play at Sun City will now be extended to the winner of the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the top two on the 2013 money-list. To ensure a minimum of five South African golfers, the local invitations will then go according to the Official World Golf Rankings.
“These are very exciting times for us and we now have another co-sanctioned event in South Africa. The Nedbank Golf Challenge is the eighth. I don’t know of any other place that has so many,” said Selwyn Nathan, the executive director of the Sunshine Tour.
“We spoke so much about the Tournament of Hope [which is no longer happening], but the Nedbank Golf Challenge, in its 33rd year, is now our hope for a better future for South African golf. The increased opportunity for our players is a major asset for the Sunshine Tour in terms of inspiring our current stars. We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to open doors for a player to compete in some of the biggest tournaments in world golf and the Nedbank Golf Challenge will bring about an exciting conclusion to our season.”
The 2013 event will take place a week later than usual – from 5 to 8 December – and will have an increased prize-money pool of $6.5-million, a 30% increase from the $5-million the 12-man field shared last year. The winner will still take away $1.25-million and the 30th place finisher will collect $100,000.
“We wanted to ensure we could still compete with events on all the other tours and not just in South Africa, and the prize money is still lucrative enough to attract any golfer,” tournament director Alastair Roper said.
“And we’ve gone a week later in the year and that will give us some protection. That weekend will be ours going forward and there won’t be any other rival European Tour events. Most schools are breaking up later these days and it’s important that the youth come and watch. The Nedbank Golf Challenge is what young golfers aspire to play and they want to emulate the stars they see at Sun City.
“With the prize money counting for both the Sunshine and European tour orders of merit and Ryder Cup and Official World Golf Ranking points on offer, it makes it extremely attractive for golfers to travel here for the event. This year the Race to Dubai final will end on 17 November, followed by the South African Open finishing on the 24th and the Alfred Dunhill Championship on 1 December, and we hope our event will also encourage golfers to play in those tournaments,” Roper added.
There had earlier been speculation that the field might be increased to as many as 50 golfers, but Roper said this was not only unaffordable for Sun City but would also dilute the quality of the event.
“We were always a bit nervous about increasing the size of the field, because then you can lose exclusivity and the tournament becomes too big. We discussed this with Keith Waters as far back as 2001 and we thought about 36, but we were never ever going to go bigger than that. The bigger you grow, the more questions you have over quality,” Roper said.
The Nedbank Golf Challenge is certainly now positioned as one of the premium events on the European Tour calendar. Apart from the World Golf Championship events and majors, there are only three tournaments that offer greater prize money, and all of them are at the end of the season in the weeks preceding the Sun City carnival – the BMW Masters in China, the Turkish Airlines Open and the World Tour Championship finale in Dubai.
But it seems the European Tour may well want their pound of flesh in return for their backing and Waters, in contradiction to Roper, said they envisioned an increase in the size of the field going forward.
“The Dubai finale has a 60-man field and the three events preceding that, two in China and one in Turkey, are 78-man events. Twelve is definitely too few for us and, as the Nedbank Golf Challenge develops, there is the opportunity to increase the field even further from 30. We hope we can find that balance between what people are used to and what the European Tour needs,” Waters told The Daily Maverick.
Where the Nedbank Golf Challenge has admirably succeeded is in finding a balance between an invitational, exhibition tournament and a regular tour event. There had been speculation that some sort of gimmick such as women’s golfers joining the seniors’ Champions Challenge would be added but, even though Roper said these facets could still be introduced in future, Sun International have gone for quality.
This is surely the better option and, with more South Africans in the field as well, one hopes the public will flock to a rejuvenated Nedbank Golf Challenge at the end of the year. DM
(a) Defending Champion – Martin Kaymer.
(b) The winner of the 2012 Sunshine Tour Official Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above – Branden Grace.
(c) The leading 10 available players not otherwise exempt in (a) or (b) above from within the top 30 only of the Final 2013 Fedex Cup.
(d) The leading 10 available players not otherwise exempt in (a), (b) or (c) above from within the top 30 only of the Final 2013 Race to Dubai.
(e) South African players to be selected in order of their position on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as of Monday 18 November 2013, such that the total number of South African players qualifying through (a) to (d) combined as at the conclusion of the 2013 Race to Dubai is 5* in total.
(f) The winner of the 2012 Asian Tour Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Thaworn Wiratchant
(g) The winner of the 2012 Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Hiroyuki Fujita
(h) The winner of the 2012 PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit if not otherwise exempt above. – Peter Senior
(i) The winner of the 2013 South African Open if not otherwise exempt above (A blank entry will be filed for this winner).
(j) The winner of the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Championship if not otherwise exempt above (A blank entry will be filed for this winner).
(k) The balance of the field will be completed as follows:
(i) The player ranked number one on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit as of Monday 25 November 2013, if not otherwise exempt above.
(ii) The player ranked second on the 2013 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit as of Monday 25 November 2013, if not otherwise exempt above.
(iii) Players selected in ranking order from the OWGR as of Monday 18 November 2013.
After close of entries, should a player in Categories (c) or (d) withdraw, they will be replaced by the next eligible player from within their category, up until 18:00 (local time in Sun City) on Sunday 1 December. Thereafter a withdrawal from these categories will be replaced by the next eligible player from category (k) above. A withdrawal from any other category after close of entries will be replaced by the next eligible player from category (k) above.
Photo: Then World number one Lee Westwood (R) of England is congratulated by his caddy after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, December 5, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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