JC Ritchie, Wilco Nienaber, George Coetzee and Justin Harding headline the field for the Tour Championship, which tees off at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate on Thursday.
The season-ending Sunshine Tour event was last played in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and won by Garrick Higgo on his journey to becoming South Africa’s latest PGA Tour star.
The 2021-22 season was groundbreaking in all respects as the Sunshine Tour concluded a landmark partnership with the DP World Tour, significantly enhanced its longstanding relationship with broadcaster SuperSport, grew its list of sponsors and Tour partners, and expanded its schedule with a host of new events.
Another major new incentive will play out this week when the overall winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit at the end of this tournament is rewarded with a place in the US Open in June.
The expanded DP World Tour partnership included the addition of a further two DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournaments in South Africa for a current total of five.
This partnership also brought with it an injection of a host of new Challenge Tour events in South Africa and which made for a strong South African Swing of six events on the Challenge Tour.
Ritchie took full advantage and won two of these to currently lead the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca rankings.
The benefit for South African professionals was evident in the fact that after this South African Swing, 10 South Africans were ranked in the top 20. The top 20 at the end of the Challenge Tour season will gain promotion to the main DP World Tour.
The enhanced broadcast partnership with SuperSport has been one of the main drivers of the Tour’s growth and includes an even more comprehensive offering with live coverage of the majority of Sunshine Tour tournaments.
The Tour’s growth attracted new brands such as Jonsson Workwear, Stella Artois, Distell, ProItUp, 30South and Jaguar Land Rover. And the Tour even changed its corporate identity as it moved from its previous blue colours to the green and gold that is so iconic of South African sport, and which also reflected the new slogan it unveiled that ‘Greatness Begins Here’.
According to commissioner Thomas Abt, the Tour’s growth was based on a clear message coming out of the Covid-19 lockdown that, “we’re open for business”.
“We came out of lockdown and showed that we were a Tour that could play again in a safe and responsible manner. We sent a clear message to the market that the Sunshine Tour was open to any way you as a brand wanted to step into the golf space and find value.
“We’ve created more tournaments and more opportunities. A South African golfer can now see the progression from playing well on the Sunshine Tour and then moving to the Challenge Tour, playing well on the Challenge Tour and then moving to the DP World Tour.
“But we’re working with a vision that we can do more. Our 2022-23 season will potentially have over 35 tournaments. It’s incredibly exciting.”