Grog, glitz, glam, superstars ... er, scotch that last one

Sport

Grog, glitz, glam, superstars ... er, scotch that last one

It’s always a hoot for spectators, but the Nedbank Golf Challenge needs to get out of the austerity trap

Journalist


Perhaps befitting its volcanic crater setting, the Sun City Million Dollar Challenge arrived with a bang in 1981.
The previous incarnation of the Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC) rocked the golf fraternity with the sport’s first ever million dollar purse. The stakes were high as the newly built resort had to be placed on the map, while the players faced a potential backlash for breaking the sports boycott.
Headline acts and headline makers used to be par for the course as the tournament tied itself at the hip with glitz and glamour.
Its distance from the two major metropolitan areas meant the tournament was accessible. The fact that it was located in a former homeland, however, created the boozy illusion that nothing was off limits.
During the day the wildlife displayed some human characteristics in their consumption. At night, all too often, the roles were reversed. It was where white mischief met black servitude. These days things are a little blurred with battle lines drawn across class. In TV parlance it is Men Behaving Badly meets Benidorm.
The tournament, however, has retained its allure as an event where people want to be seen. More traditional events may struggle to find that balance between remaining a prestige tournament with strong golfing traditions, and one that recognises the changing face of the spectator.
The NGC has always rolled with the punches and almost from its inception has positioned itself more as an occasion than an actual golf tournament.
For the last few years, though, it has attempted to embed itself as a serious tournament on the European Tour. As the second last tournament in the finals series in the Race to Dubai it is supposed to attract the European Tour’s elite, while providing an interesting diversion for those who primarily campaign on the PGA Tour.
This year’s field proved disappointing with Rory McIlroy headlining just six players from the game’s top 50 opting to fly south. That will have to change if the tournament is going to remain relevant.
Increasingly the NGC feels like an event bathed in austerity rather than sun.

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