A golfer plays his approach shot at the Gary Player Country Club during the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Picture: SUPPLIED
A golfer plays his approach shot at the Gary Player Country Club during the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to takes its toll on the world’s sporting events, with the latest, in a succession of victims, being the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

For non-golfers this might sound like a rather “ho-hum” piece of news that only effects the golfing fraternity. However, this take on the event’s significance would be overly simplistic. It would miss that this is another blow to SA’s embattled tourism industry, while also missing the nature of the event itself.

Why did this event “bite the dust”, to paraphrase Queen’s song, given the successful reintroduction of tournaments, albeit spectator free, on the pro tours?

Was it down to the travel concerns? Possibly, but this would be a great shame as the Golf Challenge would have been an ideal showcase to demonstrate SA’s capability to manage a major sporting event safely, with all the new and mandatory health protocols in place.

However, before even getting to Sun City, there would have been the need to come through various international airports and then transit safely, both in real and health terms, through the OR Tambo International Airport terminal and then via whatever the selected mode of transport to get to Sun City.

Was it the decision of the venue? Sun City may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it for all its less obvious treasures such as the walks and gardens. However, when it is in full flow this venue is like a well-oiled machine and should have been more than capable of ensuring a safe environment for the players and officials.

This is also a well-established event, so that many of the systems are already in place and just require the button to be pushed to get the process of delivering the event rolling.

Was it the players’ decision? Given the fallout of players at the US Open tennis and SA’s current infection levels, this is a real possibility. During a recent telephone discussion about the resumption of the official world golf rankings, Keith Waters, COO of the European Tour, told me the final say, on whether to hold the Ryder Cup in 2020, had been down to the players.

Waters’s comment, he is a former player himself, does reinforce the belief that the tours’ management are attuned to their members and listen to what they have to say.

Was it perhaps Nedbank’s call? Nedbank has been about as loyal a supporter of a tournament as one could hope to have. However, the group makes a huge annual investment in supporting the running of this event and the hospitality element is one of the main attractions.

I have said before that this event has become as much of a social occasion, akin to “being seen” at a Henley or a Wimbledon, as a sports event and is now far more than being just about the golf.

On such an occasion, the lack of any hospitality and spectators, which gives any event but especially one such as this its buzz, would be hard to imagine. If it has been Nedbank’s decision to cancel the event, then it would be entirely justified.

The rumour mills will grind along, as is their nature. This will be especially true as the decision was phrased as having been a joint one between the European Tour, Sun International and Nedbank.

However, any speculation about who or what finally pulled the plug and whatever the final reasons might have been are now moot as Africa’s golf “major” has been officially cancelled. Of added poignancy is that this year would have been the Challenge’s 40th birthday, but these celebrations will now need to be put on ice, along with the champagne, for at least another year.

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