OK, so the horse has probably bolted at my Game of Thrones reference, but winter has certainly arrived for the Sunshine Tour and this year’s run of events is better than ever.
Venues range from Swaziland to Sishen, Humewood to Stellenbosch and the Wild Coast to Mount Edgecombe, all before finally summiting the hill at Simola for the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final.
The schedule includes the ever-intriguing layout at Selborne Country Club and another two events at Royal Swazi, to rack up a total of four events at the same venue. Not to mention that each of these four events will be hosted by a different corporate sponsor: Investec, Lombard Insurance, Sun International and even the King of Swaziland himself!
I have often heard the Winter Tour mistakenly being referred to as a separate entity to the Sunshine Tour. Generally the Summer Tour features between six and 10 events, played between November and March, while the Winter Tour schedule boasts approximately double the number of tournaments (15-18), played between April and October. This combination of summer and winter events brings the tally to around 25 tournaments played each season on the Sunshine Tour.
The reason for the summer/winter misconception is understandable when you break it down. Events in winter are played over 54 holes, while events in summer are over 72. The field in winter events is slightly smaller – 108 players – compared to the 156 on each tournament’s tee sheet throughout the summer.
Not to mention the difference in prize money, as a standard winter event (up until last year) weighed in at R750,000 while the co-sanctioned events in the summer offered purses between R15-R20 million per event.
From this season, the minimum winter purse was set at R1m, which meant a lot to the players.
Most of us regularly remind ourselves how lucky we are. The fiscal reality, however, is that inflation has long eroded what you would earn for a top-10 finish a decade ago, as R15,000 was a lot of money back then. The weekly expenses of travel, accommodation, caddie fees, etc were often less than R5,000 in 2008. Now the same R15,000 for a 10th-place finish would cost you around R8,000 in travel, accommodation and caddie expenses. (This ‘working example’ is all before tax, rent/mortgage and other living expenses.)
But outweighing all these realities is the driving force behind the ‘why’ of journeymen Tour pros forging ahead, despite the numbers often being so stacked against them. There isn’t a single player on Tour who doesn’t believe they are (at some point) destined to break through on to the PGA or European Tours.
What I love about the winter events is not only the locations we get to visit, but also that we still get to see some of the regular ‘Big Tour’ players coming back to support the schedule. Van Rooyen, Coetzee, Harding, Burmester, Bezuidenhout, Lombard, Stone, Van Zyl and others regularly pitch up to these events – without making a big song and dance about it.
Speaking on behalf of us ‘regular pros’, I can tell you it is pretty awesome, and each of those Sunshine Tour ‘graduated players’ are as humble and engaging as ever. It doesn’t hurt that the World Ranking points on offer nearly double when they are in the field, either!