This month Compleat Golfer’s playing editor talks about the tough times many golfers on the Sunshine Tour are going through.
My heart sank when I received the email from the European Tour saying the Nedbank Golf Challenge was cancelled for 2020. For the first time in three decades, the world’s best golfers would not be strolling the fairways of Gary Player Country Club for ‘Africa’s Major’.
This shock made me reflect on professional golf in South Africa as a whole, and how Covid-19 might yet change everything. Let me start by saying this: South Africa has some of the best golfers on the planet. That’s a fact. You could easily point out the icons like Gary Player, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, etc. But if you take a look one tier down you’ll find the likes of Erik van Rooyen, Justin Harding, Branden Grace and many more. This just shows the talent factory South Africa is.
My biggest fear, however, is that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic could strip many up-and-coming players of the opportunity to take their talents abroad. Every morning, during the news, we are starkly reminded of how expensive it is for South Africans to travel abroad. This leaves these players with two options: stay in South Africa and try to build up your finances through strong performances on the Sunshine Tour, or try to find financial aid elsewhere.
The Sunshine Tour is phenomenal. The work they have done to get professional golf back up and running in South Africa cannot be understated. Selwyn Nathan, Thomas Abt and the rest of the team did a remarkable job with the Rise-Up Series and I’d like to extend my personal thanks to them for their hard work. But that work isn’t done just yet.
It’s no secret that the South African economy is going through a rough time. Companies are either retrenching staff, furloughing employees or shutting down altogether. This poses a massive threat to the Sunshine Tour, as one would think companies would cut all external expenditures first, like sponsorships. But what does this mean for the players? Well, in a word – uncertainty.
With the tournament schedule reduced and the economy struggling, the reality is that many players will not be able to afford to travel abroad to earn status on other Tours. Players not having an income for four months will be put under severe financial pressure.
Golfers will change their focus from trying to move forward in their careers to simply trying to survive. The only way I can see players getting abroad is through financial aid from somewhere else, but that poses another issue.
Surplus funds are not lying around for investment in a professional golfer. Especially when one considers that a trip to European Tour Q-School would work up a bill in excess of R200 000. And if one were to earn their Tour card they can expect their expenses to surpass R1-million. Therefore any corporate/personal sponsorship will be a massive financial risk, with no guarantees. However, there is one thing we haven’t discussed and that is South Africans’ passion and support for local sport.
We love sport, but more importantly, we love supporting ‘our boys’. There’s nothing better than seeing them do well, whether it be Kevin Anderson, Brad Binder or any of our teams. This is why I feel there are still companies and/or individuals who want to give an opportunity to those who deserve it.
Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I believe there are few more deserving sportsmen than South African professional golfers. I’m not talking about the guys who play the Nedbank Golf Challenge every year, but rather those on the Sunshine Tour who need a little bit of help, especially now.
So if you’re reading this and have a few extra bucks sitting around, and want to give someone a potentially life-changing opportunity, follow the Sunshine Tour. You’ll be spoilt for choice.