The Sunshine Tour’s swift and decisive action and the fact that they have the means to do it was a welcome ‘good news’ story, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
The Covid-19 pandemic – now with over a million confirmed cases – is wrecking economies, bringing sporting unions to their knees and leaving many wondering about how they will be fulfilling their financial obligations.
Professional golfers feel like us amateurs now. Confined to their homes. Sure, some have higher quality training areas but … without face the uncertainty of when next they will return to their jobs.
Speaking to Compleat Golfer shortly after announcing the Sunshine Tour’s relief programme, commissioner Selwyn Nathan was quick to praise the organisation from top to bottom.
‘Once the President made his speech, it lit the fuse and we all pulled together to ensure the stability of the Tour which means everyone, from the players and caddies, to our sponsors and partners,’ Nathan said.
The timing of the lockdown came after the conclusion of both the men’s and women’s tours although in these modern days of wrap-around seasons, Nathan and his team were put quickly to work to postpone affected events and ensure the buy-in of relevant sponsors would remain.
‘We’ve managed to move the events now to later dates but we are facing unique times, with unique challenges. We will have to look at the bigger picture when it is safe to return to the course. That means re-engaging with sponsors and partners, getting the green light from health authorities etc … but we are fortunate that we have free weeks in our calendar later in the year.’
The fact that events are being shifted out and not cancelled outright will come as a comfort to players and those involved in the tour.
But how players and caddies would make do in these times was a part of the puzzle that needed urgent attention.
The Tour will pay monthly stipends to the top 160+ players on the Sunshine Tour for April and May, a figure which Nathan feels is generous. The top 100 players will receive an equal amount with the next band less. The cash boost has been well received by players on Tour and comes directly from the coffers of the Tour; a sign of long-term stability and sound business practice.
‘Our chairman, Mr [Johann] Rupert, laid the platform for this organisation. We have some of the best minds in business looking after the Tour. Our board members don’t travel on our dime and don’t earn executive fees.
‘Mr Rupert put together people with great stature and our investment committee was able to be prudent with our resources to be able to provide two decades on. We saved for this “rainy day”.’
Nathan was impressed with his US colleagues with the PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan suspending his pay.
‘When someone like that makes that decision. It sticks with you. When golf’s biggest tour acts, how can we not? My staff have been brilliant and all volunteered to do the same if the time comes.
‘We have a wonderful family-like environment on Tour, a wonderful sport that we all care about in a wonderful industry. Each federation around the world are doing their bit. If our stimulus package was announced as one of the first, then that’s a feather in our cap but we aren’t focussed on accolades but trying to keep our tour going in these tough times.’
As it stands, the Tour is ready to return when the lockdown is lifted but Nathan realises that the landscape may change. It’s a global crisis far from over and that when the time comes for professional sport to resume, it will in itself be a unique scenario.
‘We know this too will pass. When it does we will need our sponsors and partners to do what the calendar says. It’s too early to imagine what that might look like but we’ll be ready.’
Moving into winter offers its own hurdles but the Tour is ready.
‘We have a problem with hours in the day during that time. But what’s to say we won’t play the first two rounds over three days to make sure we can continue to offer the field size we want to?’ It’s that kind of out of box thinking that is going to be needed before the game stabilises to what we previously knew as the norm.
Talking to Nathan, you can tell that he and his team are ahead of the game. Planning started before the lockdown and is continuing albeit remotely. It is something they can rightly be proud of. The commissioner was firm in shifting the narrative onto his team, for their commitment and support and willingness to go above and above.
‘We thank our team for their efforts. We know health and safety is the most important thing for now,’ Nathan adds.
The Tour is in good hands despite facing one of the biggest financial storms to hit world sport. Maybe you could say #gr8tness does indeed begin here?
Photo: Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images