AS PLEASING as it is to see the Sunshine Tour grow from strength to strength, with six European co-sanctioned events included in the 2013 schedule, the possibility that the Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC) may cease to exist is very sad.
For the past 32 years, the NGC has been a highlight on the South African golf calendar and the tournament has never disappointed.
Even in the occasional year when the organisers had to stretch further down the world rankings to fill the field due to the unavailability of the top 10 golfers in the world, the exclusivity of the event kept it strong and continued to draw large crowds.
Unfortunately for the organisers, however, the Sunshine Tour has agreed to host the Tournament of Hope — one of the biggest tournaments in world golf — and with the schedule being jam-packed at the end of the year, the tournament will compete directly with the NGC, which has placed the popular tournament in jeopardy.
To make matters worse, Nedbank is believed to be interested in sponsoring the new event, which has cast even more doubt on the tournament’s future. While some have suggested that the NGC organisers do something different to freshen up their event in an attempt to boost its appeal among sponsors and golf fans alike, there is no doubt that they will have to do something special to compete with the Tournament of Hope.
Some of the suggestions being bounced around by the organisers have been to invite a few of the top female golfers and to increase the senior field (for the Champions Challenge), but I’m afraid this might not be enticing enough.
Apart from the much larger field the Tournament of Hope will boast, consisting of a maximum of 72 golfers — who will be drawn from the top 50 players in the world golf rankings, the top eight available players from the European Tour Race to Dubai, and the top eight available players from the previous season’s final PGA Tour FedExCup points list — it will also offer a bigger prize fund, which could draw a few regular golfers from the NGC.
The event will also offer world ranking points, meaning the NGC organisers will have their work cut out in the next few months to change the event’s fortunes.
That said, I have no doubt that some companies and some golf fans would still find the NGC appealing, especially given the networking possibilities and the fact that they could entertain their clients over a few days at a resort offering a variety of activities. But with the two tournaments competing for television rights, crowds and a sponsor, one of them is expected to come off second best.
On a personal note, I have been to most of the past eight NGCs and it has always stood out as one of the highlights for me on South Africa’s sports calendar.
The high standard of golf aside, Sun City is a fantastic place to host a tournament and the media has always been treated extremely well by Sun International and Nedbank.
The golfers have been treated even better and, for many, the tournament has been viewed as a working holiday, as they tee off quite late and their media commitments are minimal — luxuries they do not necessarily enjoy on the professional tours.
Given the success of the NGC since its inception, and the hard work the organisers have put in over the years to develop the event into a special tournament, one can only hope that the organisers of the NGC and the Tournament of Hope can come to a solution that would benefit both events because it would be tragic for the NGC tournament to crumble.