I’m a golf writer who writes mostly about birdies and bogeys and how players perform, and I know precious little about high finance and the corporate world. But I did get to thinking this past week as to just why the Sunshine Tour is going through the roof, and here I’m talking about people and sponsors seemingly falling over themselves to put up money for tournaments in this country.
My musings intensified on Tuesday, a momentous day for the tour as it was announced that South Africa will this summer host two new big-money events – the Nelson Mandela Championship and the Tshwane Open – which will be co-sanctioned with the European Tour, and will no doubt feature some of the world’s leading golfers. This brings to six (more than any other country in the world) the number of co-sanctioned events which will be held here from late November through to March, each offering lucrative purses of between R10-million and R15-m. There’s also the Volvo Golf Champions, a R20-m shootout purely for European Tour winners in 2012 and which was first held in South Africa last summer. Talk then was that it would head somewhere else in the world in 2013 but apparently it was such a success at Fancourt last time that it’s coming back.
Then there’s the regular – close to 30 of them – summer and winter Sunshine Tour events held throughout the year, mostly in South Africa but a handful in neighbouring countries, and with purses ranging from R500 000 to R3.5-m. And let’s not forget the Big Easy development tour – 10 events each worth R100 000 plus a R250 000 Tour Championship – for young professionals finding their feet in the game.
So why? How come? Well, we do have fine courses and fine weather and world class golfers that win Majors. And let’s face it, the game has a lot of pull these days. Not only is there no cheating in golf, and no drugs, but it’s pretty exciting when an Els or a Tiger or a McIlroy is charging down the stretch.
This is all very well. But I had this sneaking suspicion that ultimately the success of the Sunshine Tour is all down to good governance, hard work and people in key positions with a passion for the game. So I made a few phone calls to people in the know about these things and let’s just say my suspicions were confirmed in each instance. Basically, when the Tour promises sponsors a good deal they get it. And more besides. They deliver, and they’ve been delivering for 30 years. So the credibility is there and the word gets around. And who are these people that deliver? Well, it might not be too well known but the 15 or so directors of the Sunshine Tour – made up of people (as executive director Selwyn Nathan points out) of different colour, race and religion – don’t get paid fees for their input. Does that mean there is no corruption, no funny business? Yes, precisely.
It helps that Sunshine Tour chairman Johann Rupert is such a great benefactor of the game, while I’m told that Nathan – who also doubles as chairman of the SA Golf Development Board – is a pretty good salesman. He just chuckles at the thought. “Maybe I am. But then it’s up to the team to deliver. And they do.”