• RIP Joburg Open

    Shubankar Sharma at the Joburg Open
    Sharma made his breakthrough in Joburg

    There is one less co-sanctioned event on the South African golf calendar with more uncertainty on the way.

    If there’s an upside – to the fan, the local golf enthusiast or even the aspiring professional – to Monday’s news that the SA Open and the Joburg Open have merged, then it’s not patently obvious.

    The details of the ‘merger’ are simple: the SA Open retains its name but moves into the breach left by the Joburg Open. The SA Open will be played on Joburg Open’s most recent course, in its time slot and crucially, with its sponsor. Essentially, one event has replaced the other with little upside.

    The SA Open lends its credibility – it is either the second or third oldest Open tournament in world as it competes with the US Open behind the British Open – and appeal – Gary Player won the tournament 13 times and Bobby Locke’s name appears on the silverware nine times. They are golfing royalty, as is five-time champion Ernie Els, who remains as host of the event.

    But beyond these elements, the benefits of the merger are unclear.

    What we do know for a fact is that there is one less co-sanctioned event on the European Tour calendar (still due to be confirmed with the expectation it will be released this week). That means one less opportunity for our local professionals to qualify for, one less chance to secure a strong finish and with that qualification into the next European Tour event and one less event to reap the rewards that come with the support of the big tour.

    And with the news that the championship will now be sanctioned by the Asian Tour, there are fewer spots in the field for local hopefuls. The picture continues to get bleaker.

    It is highly unlikely that any of the prize money of the now defunct Joburg Open will be added to the pool on offer in the second week of December 2018. The official fund is ‘TBC’ but a minimum of R17.5-million has been promised; just one million more than the pool on offer for the Joburg Open won by Shubhankar Sharma earlier this year.

    The good news element, one that sponsors enjoy, from the extra event also evaporates; there will be no repeat of Sharma’s breakout win. What if Erik van Rooyen had pipped him to the title? This news robs future South Africans of the chance of a European Tour victory and the related defence.

    The sponsorship climate remains bleak and the Sunshine Tour have done an admirable job in the circumstances but the loss of this event and the expected discontinuation of the Tshwane Open is a blow to the solar plexus of ambitions to take local golf to the next level.

    One of the upsides is the run of three big-money events in a row starting in Mauritius and ending at Leopard Creek with the SA Open in the middle. That will help form players make a run at earning enough money to gain added playing rights in Europe next year.

    But then again, two events is always better than one, is it not?

    Photo: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

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