SA Open goes ahead without co-sanctioned status for first time in 25 years
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Johannesburg – Not since Ernie Els won his second SA Open title in 1996, has the second oldest national open in all of golf not been sanctioned by the European Tour (now called the DP World Tour), but that will be the case when the 2021 edition of the event begins, at Gary Player Country Club, at Sun City on Thursday.
The SA Open is the flagship event for the Sunshine Tour, and had been co-sanctioned with the European Tour since 1997. To be relegated to a regular Sunshine Tour event will come as a crushing blow for tournament organisers and local players, as the event was reduced in status due to the new travel bans on South Africa imposed last week.
This came after SA scientists discovered the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, and were swiftly slapped with hasty travel restrictions.
The Omicron variant discovery and subsequent travel restrictions came during the Joburg Open last week, after the first round at Randpark Golf Club on Thursday. With the news of the travel ban filtering through, 21 European players immediately withdrew from the tournament before the second round. Late on Friday, the tournament was reduced to 54 holes. Ironically, the third round ended up being scrapped altogether due to lightning in the area.
Now the SA Open, which would have been the second tournament in a three-week stretch of co-sanctioned Sunshine and DP World Tour events, has also been reduced from a 1.5m US dollar to 500 00 US dollar prize money event.
Still, a stellar SA contingent will still be gunning for the most coveted golf trophy in the Rainbow Nation. The 111th playing of the national Open has drawn a field that includes defending champions Christiaan Bezuidenhout, PGA Tour winner Garrick Higgo; former South African Open champions Brandon Stone, Richard Sterne and James Kingston; multiple DP World Tour champions Dean Burmester, George Coetzee and Justin Harding; rising young South African professionals Jovan Rebula and Martin Vorster; and South Africa’s top five amateurs led by number one Christiaan Maas.
Meanwhile, the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek which was scheduled to start on December 9, was scrapped altogether. It means the SA golf calendar has been left in tatters, and with two more SA events co-sanctioned with the DP World Tour in March (The Pecanwood Classic and Steyn City Championship) it remains to be seen if they will go ahead.
African News Agency (ANA)