Sadly, the Nedbank Golf Challenge has been cancelled for the second year in a row.
For a decade it was my habit to spend six days in December at Sun City reporting on what was then, and for many still is, the Million Dollar. I first travelled to the Pilanesberg in December 1992, a month after arriving in South Africa for the first time.
When I look back in the archives I find that the 1992 tournament was one of the most controversial, with Nick Price and Nick Faldo being disqualified. It was, I recall, due to the recalcitrance of an American rules official by the name of Buddy Young, but time has healed that wound and my memories are all positive.
I remember, for instance, walking on to the 18th fairway on the Wednesday, pro-am day, and thinking it was a very large green, such was the manicure it had been given. I remember watching Bernhard Langer’s fourball lining up their approaches to the final green which, then as now, involved a treacherous carry over a lake. I recall the stoicism on Langer’s face as, one after another, his playing partners found a watery grave. One chap thinned it so badly that his ball skipped half a dozen times, climbed on to dry land and paused, before finally obeying the law of gravity. He even had the gall to bemoan his bad luck!
But for me the Million Dollar was never about the golf. It was always the peripheral stuff, particularly how spectacularly well the press were treated. In 1992 I had just emerged from an English winter. At one soccer match I covered, the media celebrated being given a cup of weak tea in a polystyrene cup. At Sun City I was the baffled recipient of free accommodation, free phones, free food and drink. And a golf shirt. And a cap. And a pass to the beach party at the Valley of Waves.
I had never been to a casino before Sun City. I stumbled down the stairs into Raffles and entered a new world.
It would be several years before I plucked up the courage to play blackjack, but you could buy a chip for R2 in those far-off days and that bought you a spin on the roulette wheel.
In the small hours when the pubs had closed you could carry on at Raffles, but if money was tight, and in my circles it was always tight, you could go to the staff village bar, if you knew someone on the inside. I sat on a bar stool, sipping a Spook and Diesel, watching the show girls swim laps to warm down from their stage appearances and wondered whether life could possibly get better.
Time marches on and the staff village is now a timeshare estate and the media are kept rather more at arm’s length, Sol Kerzner is dead and we’ve missed two years in a row due to this damn virus. But if memories are all we’ve got, we’ve got a lot.
– This column first appeared in the September 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. The October 2021 issue is on sale now.