When Lt General Henry Torrens arrived to head up the British forces at the Cape Colony in 1885, and only nine days after his arrival started holding meetings about establishing the country’s first golf club, he had no idea what the ramifications of that decision would be.
More than a century later, South African golf is a recognised powerhouse in the world game. With the recent landmark partnership between the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour, the Sunshine Tour is becoming an increasingly important ally in the scramble for global fairway dominance.
Earlier this month, the European Tour announced – with the blessing of its strategic alliance partner, the PGA Tour – that it had established a new partnership that will guarantee Sunshine Tour-European Tour co-sanctioned tournaments until 2025. The agreement adds another three Challenge Tour events to the Sunshine Tour schedule for a total of six.
The South African Open also will benefit from the partnership thanks to a guaranteed minimum prize fund of $1.5 million.
The cash injection this brings to the Sunshine Tour has been described by the two men who worked tirelessly with their board’s support to bring this deal to fruition – Selwyn Nathan, its executive director, and Thomas Abt, its commissioner – as “an unquantifiable amount of money.”
The Sunshine Tour and European Tour have long been partners, a relationship that has worked extremely well for both parties. When the European Tour sought to extend its global reach, the first country it partnered in the so-called co-sanctioning strategy was South Africa. That was the 1995 Lexington PGA Championship. The success of this strategy enabled the European Tour to enhance its international schedule. Since then, the Sunshine Tour and European Tour have co-sanctioned tournaments close to 100 times.
The Sunshine Tour’s strength has always been its administrators’ passion for the game to succeed in South Africa, and at the same time some serious business street smarts that have kept it in a seat at the table in the world golf boardroom.
The obvious benefit for South African golfers has been the opportunity to play their way onto the European Tour, and from there the PGA Tour.
This most recent partnership announcement was built on two very important pillars. The first is the recognition, in these volatile times, of the Sunshine Tour as a viable partner that can be counted on as a member of the traditional ecosystem of world golf.
The Sunshine Tour has long been a favourable breeding ground for global golf talent, with Louis Oosthuizen’s performance at last week’s Open Championship only the most recent example.
It’s not just a host of South African stars who have come through its ranks, but some of golf’s biggest international names. Tom Lehman, John Daly, Corey Pavin, Seve Ballesteros, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and others competed on the Sunshine Tour early in their careers, back when it was called the Safari Circuit.
It remains a viable option for young international professionals seeking top-class competition on world-class golf courses where the weather is perfect for year-round golf.
The second pillar of this partnership is a recognition of the role South African golf has played in the global game. The country has long punched well above its weight with the talent it produces and the tournaments it hosts. That South Africa has for decades sustained a regular tour with a full summer and winter calendar is testament to the administration of the game in the country. With a board consisting of some extremely influential businessmen – headed by Johann Rupert – the Sunshine Tour is one of South Africa’s most efficient, transparent and successful sports federations.
When you combine this level of passion and excellence with quality golf courses, favourable weather, similar excellence in structures such as the South African Golf Development Board, the PGA of South Africa, GolfRSA and a well-run club setup, it explains exactly why a country of roughly 55 million people but only 150,000 registered golfers consistently has produced major winners, world No. 1s, World Golf Hall of Fame inductees and a slew of winners on the European, PGA, Asian and other tours.
Perhaps the Sunshine Tour’s greatest strength is the confidence it has in its place in world golf. Its slogan is “Greatness Begins Here.” It has never sought to compete with the major tours of the world. It has always known itself to be an important partner in the ecosystem of world golf.
This partnership with the European Tour recognises, and appreciates, the Sunshine Tour’s identity even more.
Top: Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen