A matchplay tournament has been absent from South Africa’s major golf tour for about 25 years and Sunshine Tour executive director Selwyn Nathan said he was delighted to reintroduce the head-to-head golfing contest on the schedule.
“It was almost 25 years ago that the last matchplay tournament was played, at Sun City, and we are thrilled to have it back on the schedule. It’s such an exciting format and the players don’t often get the chance to experience it in tournament play once they turn professional,” Nathan said in Sandton on Monday at the launch of the event.
The tournament has been made possible by the support of ISPS – the International Sports Promotion Society, which was set up by Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa to support charitable causes throughout the sporting world.
Handa is passionate about disabled golf and is considered the father of blind golf, ever since he played nine holes with a golfer with 5% vision in Perth 25 years ago. Handa lost and it has become his mission for golf to be included in the Paralympics.
Because of the ISPS’s involvement, the SA Matchplay Championship will feature a concurrent tournament for 16 disabled golfers, including some from the On Course Foundation they support in the United Kingdom, which gives seriously injured members of the British Armed Forces the opportunity to play golf.
There will be a field of 128 golfers, 16 of them to be seeded, in the main event and they will compete over seven rounds. Once the field is down to 64 golfers, they will be divided into four brackets and Saturday’s semi-final and Sunday’s final will be over 36 holes. The prize pool is R2 million and the winner will walk away with R300 000.
As Nathan pointed out, first-round losers will walk away with about R4 700 and the event is another fantastic addition to the Sunshine Tour schedule.
SuperSport golf broadcaster Dale Hayes, whose passion is the health of the game in South Africa, will be intimately involved in the tournament because Zwartkop has been associated with his family since 1940, with his father, Otway, being the club pro for 56 years. The Hayes family have been official owners of the club since 2001.
“We need to get more people playing golf. Because of the recession, people have stopped playing because of economics. But we need to reverse that, and we’ll be giving away 30 000 free tickets in the Centurion and Pretoria region. If you have to pay for a ticket to the tournament, then you clearly have a social problem!” Hayes joked.
“It would be very nice if Tony Johnstone entered, he was the winner of the last matchplay event and he also won the ICL International at Zwartkop in 1987 and 1988,” Hayes added.
“It’s also wonderful to have the disabled department in the tournament. There are very few sports that the disabled can participate in against the able-bodied, but golf is one of them because of the handicap system.”
Sunshine Tour marketing and communications director Duncan Cruikshank said some of South Africa’s leading overseas campaigners have already expressed an interest in the tournament.
“The timing is good because they’re usually back in the country at that time of year, so the field won’t be based strictly on the order of merit, although it will be for our money-list. It’s the start of our summer swing and it will be mostly Sunshine Tour members, but also some international invites which ISPS are assisting with,” Cruikshank said.
While Zwartkop is a country club in the truest sense of the words, it is also a top-class golf course with a classic parkland layout and there is a vast amount of water with the Hennops River running parallel to practically every hole!
The Sunshine Tour will also be fulfilling their development obligations after the tournament.
“There will definitely be some sort of leave-behind, with a development chapter being started at Zwartkop for youngsters in the area,” Cruikshank said.
Midori Miyazaki, ISPS’s executive director of international affairs, said they hoped their involvement in the tournament would provide a platform for them to promote golf as a Paralympics sport.
“Men’s and women’s professional golf around the world has provided an excellent platform to promote blind and disabled golf and we are trying to build a disabled component into our events in Europe, the British senior tour, the Ladies European Tour, the Australian tours and the US Senior Women’s Tour,” Miyazaki said.
“We are trying to get support for our Paralympic bid and the difficulty in disabled golf is formalising the rules to suit all the different types of disability. We like the exposure at the top level, but we have to work at all the different levels. We’re trying to pull all the different platforms together,” she said.