SA golf development enters new era[Wednesday, March 28, 2018 12:48:44]
Golf development in South Africa will break new ground with the launch of the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour in April.
Born out of a close collaboration between the Sunshine Tour and the IGT Challenge Tour, the co-sanctioned Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour will comprise of 15 tournaments and a Tour Championship at The Els Club Copperleaf.
While The Big Easy Tour and the IGT Challenge Tour both retain their own identities, the stand-alone Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour will form part of the 40-plus events on the IGT Challenge Tour.
The Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour events will be 54-hole tournaments and will carry prize money of R75 000 each. The Tour Championship will boast a purse of R100 000. The tour will have its own Order of Merit and the top 10 ranked players on the final Chase to The Els Club Copperleaf will earn exemption for the 2018/19 Sunshine Tour.
Former South African Golf Development Board golfer Jacquin Hess sealed his playing privileges on the 2018/2019 Sunshine Tour by winning the 2017 Big Easy Tour Order of Merit
“By combining forces with the IGT Challenge Tour we can offer an all-inclusive golf development series aimed at guiding young professionals through the initial hurdles in their transition to the paid ranks and reward the 10 outstanding players of the season direct passage to the Sunshine Tour,” said Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan.
The Sunshine Tour launched the Big Easy Tour in 2014 as a mini-tour designed to give a wider cross-section of professionals the chance to play in competitive professional events, with the top five players at the end of each season progressing on to the Sunshine Tour.
The IGT Challenge Tour, which started in 2010, has evolved into South Africa’s premier golf development circuit. Supported by the success of their alumni, the IGT Challenge Tour has become a proven springboard to the Sunshine Tour.
“Both tours enjoyed tremendous success and the achievements of the Gary Player School members who campaigned on the IGT Challenge Tour in 2017 further motivated us to look for a way to combine the two circuits to advance the growth and development of golf in South Africa,” Nathan said.
“This new joint venture enables us to stretch the existing Big Easy Tour from eight to 16 events and this will undoubtedly benefit our up-and-coming players.”
IGT Challenge Tour commissioner Cois du Plooy welcomed the collaboration, saying that joining forces with the Sunshine Tour is a major step in ensuring a sustainable golf development programme in South Africa.
“It is a very well documented fact that development tours are critical to a player’s progress,” said Du Plooy. “It is important, especially for amateurs, to play a full season to learn the necessary skills and required for a future in competitive golf.
“We offer a season-long schedule of 54-hole and 72-hole events with a 36-hole cut where they can learn to play under pressure and cope with fluctuations in performance so that they can make an informed decision about their future. Our schedule is built around different varieties of championship courses to expose players to any type of course they may face at the highest level.
“Partnering with the Sunshine Tour to host the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour will create an even stronger competitive platform that will enable local players to prepare here on home soil for the next level in their careers.”
The new venture offers added incentives for Big Easy Tour and IGT Challenge Tour members, which Nathan and Du Plooy believe will further raise the standard of competition on the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour.
“The field size for the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour events will be 120,” Nathan explained. “Once the Big Easy Tour members have entered, the IGT Challenge Tour members will fill the field according to their Order of Merit rankings.
“Furthermore, IGT Challenge Tour members can have their earnings count towards the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour Chase to The Els Club Copperleaf by taking out affiliated membership of R1 000. The leading five IGT Challenge Tour players and ties will automatically qualify for the next Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour event.”
Du Plooy added: “The top 10 ranked players the final Chase to The Els Club Copperleaf will qualify for the Sunshine Tour and, in addition, players ranked 11 - 25 and the top 15 players on the IGT Challenge Tour Race to Q-School Order of Merit will also automatically qualify for the Final Stage of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School. All these incentives make for a very competitive golf development programme.”
Sunshine Tour Players Committee Chairman Oliver Bekker applauded the new venture.
“By combining their resources, the Sunshine Tour and IGT Challenge Tour now can offer a comprehensive golf development tour geared at giving the players the best of both worlds. The up-side is a highly competitive circuit for all the participants with plenty of incentives that will reward those truly committed to taking the next step in their golfing careers.”
The IGT Challenge Tour’s PGA and R&A certified staff will run the tournament administration in conjunction with a tournament director from the Sunshine Tour and the Sunshine Tour will administer the prize money payments for the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour.
The 2018 Chase to The Els Club Copperleaf will launch on 3 April 2018 with the first Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour event at Killarney Country Club.