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Vodacom Bulls CEO sees shared philosophy of success at Sunshine Tour

30th August 2021

Vodacom Bulls CEO sees shared philosophy of success at Sunshine Tour

The pandemic’s impact on professional sport has been pervasive, but a few teams and federations have embraced the challenge and together with their sponsors are rare examples of growth in these challenging times. The Vodacom Bulls have been one such franchise to lead the way both on and off the field. And their CEO Edgar Rathbone says he’s seen a similar model of success at the Sunshine Tour, Southern Africa’s professional golf circuit.

Rathbone was an invited guest at the recent Vodacom Origins of Golf Series at Sishen Golf Club and of event rights holders Flooid. And he was particularly impressed with the relationships the Sunshine Tour has built and nurtured over decades now, and which have clearly helped the Tour negotiate the challenges of a total sports lockdown in 2020 and the varying lockdown levels since.

“I think when it comes to the Vodacom Bulls and the Sunshine Tour there are a lot of similarities there in terms of relationships and building on these,” Rathbone said.

“I think the pandemic has highlighted the fact that it’s not just about putting a logo on a team jersey, or in the case of professional golf on tee boxes. It’s about building that relationship and finding value in different ways because the traditional avenues aren’t there at the moment.”

The pandemic has indeed changed the sponsorship model for both sponsors and the teams and federations they support. But the forward-thinking actions of a brand such as Vodacom has found fertile ground in the likes of the Vodacom Bulls and the Sunshine Tour and their equal willingness to think differently about their relationship.

A prime example is the way Vodacom worked with the Vodacom Bulls to lead a vaccination drive encouraging South African sports fans to get vaccinated. The Sunshine Tour has in turn taken this further with a pioneering vaccination effort at its tournaments, and which was launched at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Series at Sishen Golf Club. Professional golfers and their caddies will be able to get vaccinated on site at the events.

Other similarities include how they have worked together to help their respective communities. The Vodacom Bulls have been involved in several efforts with Vodacom to provide food hampers to needy families. Similarly, the Sunshine Tour has worked with Vodacom to provide a relief fund in support of accredited Tour caddies who were unable to earn a living during the hard lockdown last year.

It’s these kinds of relationships and initiatives that Rathbone believes the pandemic has shone a spotlight on as the way forward for the sports industry.

“At the Vodacom Bulls we have looked very closely at brands that we enjoy working with it. We recently signed a new six-month deal with a sponsor on the basis that we first wanted to see how we could work together, and from that came a four-year deal. I believe that’s how you should do things. Rather than just asking all the time, I think it’s a case of working together and showing the value and then building on that with a longer conversation. It’s a different way of thinking that’s been brought on by the times and challenges we’re facing.”

The experience at the Vodacom Origins of Golf was also an eye opener for Rathbone in the sense of providing a workable solution to the lack of fans at sports events at present.

“I must compliment the Sunshine Tour on taking the lead in having events during the Covid-19 pandemic. They were the first to get a limited and controlled form of hospitality back at golf tournaments. They also have a highly professional Covid-19 testing and screening procedure at their events. I think there’s a lot for other federations to take from that. I’ve been at the Vodacom Bulls now for 13 months and I haven’t had one supporter in the stadium. It’s frustrating, especially when the team is having the kind of success it currently is. But we have a philosophy that we’re planting the small tree now and giving it water, and we’re working towards that day when we can sit in its shade.”

Clearly, the careful nurturing of these sponsorship relationships in difficult times is where the real growth in sport will be seen. – Michael Vlismas

Photo Credit: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Hot Haindl on fire in freezing Sishen

28th August 2021

Hot Haindl on fire in freezing Sishen

Bloemfontein professional Alex Haindl claimed his second victory in three months when he won the Vodacom Origins of Golf in a thrilling final round at Sishen Golf Club on Saturday.

Haindl closed with a level-par 72 to win on three under par, one stroke clear of Peter Karmis, Hennie Otto, Ockie Strydom and Jayden Schaper.

It’s his second victory on the Vodacom Origins of Golf Series after a win in 2018, the fifth of his Sunshine Tour career and, most importantly, his second this year.

“It feels great. It’s always great to win and to feel like you’re getting the reward for the hard work you’re putting in,” he said.

It was a dramatic final round with more twists and turns than an underground mineshaft in this mining town. Haindl’s winning total was one of the highest in the history of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series, coming close to Steve Basson’s 54-hole total of one under that won him the final of the series in 2005.

“I’ve never been the biggest fan of tournaments that are just putting competitions. I like the tougher golf courses,” said Haindl.

The field was certainly given a challenge on the final day.

Schaper shared the lead with Strydom going into a final round of bitterly cold temperatures. Hennie O’Kennedy then emerged as the immediate threat and was leading before a triple bogey seven on the 18th cost him the title. Strydom fell off the pace with a final round of 75. Schaper struggled with an outward nine of 40 and then found form and shared the lead with Haindl after three consecutive birdies on the back nine, but saw his title hopes dashed by a bogey on the last.

“It was very tricky out there,” said Haindl. “I tried to just focus on my own game and told myself that whatever the others did I had no control over.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Schaper chasing maiden Sunshine Tour win in Sishen

27th August 2021

Schaper chasing maiden Sunshine Tour win in Sishen

Jayden Schaper has taken another positive step towards a maiden Sunshine Tour title and will head into Saturday’s final round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament in a share of the lead with Ockie Strydom at Sishen Golf Club.

Schaper signed for a 68 on Friday to climb to five under par and tied for the lead with Strydom, who kept his place at the top of the leaderboard with a second round of 69.

They are two strokes clear of their nearest challengers, Rupert Kaminski and Alex Haindl. And three strokes back sits a strong chasing pack that includes the experience of Jaco Ahlers and Hennie Otto as well as the youth of James Hart du Preez and Deon Germishuys.

Strydom is looking to successfully defend his title, which he won here in 2019 and with the 2020 series cancelled because of the pandemic.

But Schaper in particular has been building towards being ready for this moment. In fact, he returned from 11 weeks playing in Europe for exactly this purpose – to build his confidence with performances such as this one.

“It’s been a rough two years with COVID-19 and all of that. I’ve been in Europe the past few weeks and I just felt a bit drained. So, I chatted to my team and we agreed I should come back home and reset here a bit. Reset my mind and my golf, and just have some fun with my golf again. It seems to be working because I’m feeling a lot more confident,” said Schaper.

As the newest young star of South African golf, Schaper signalled his intent when he challenged for the South African Open in January 2020 and finished sixth there while still an amateur.

As a professional he had four top-10s on the Sunshine Tour during a disruptive 2020 season and came close to winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship before finishing second to Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

And apart from a difficult run of three missed cuts in the three Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned tournaments this year, he’s had two top-10s leading up to this event.

“I’ve been in a couple of final groups now and I’ve been close. I’ll just stick to my gameplan on Saturday. This course can be tricky and there are so many good players in this field.”

If Schaper can hold on for a win on Saturday, he will find himself in illustrious company with golfers who have made their professional breakthroughs on this Vodacom Origins of Golf series.

Both Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Aiken claimed their maiden Sunshine Tour victories on the series in 2004. George Coetzee and Justin Harding are also amongst those who have used this series to open their Sunshine Tour accounts. – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Kalahari is good for the soul of Strydom, and his golf

26th August 2021

Kalahari is good for the soul of Strydom

Ockie Strydom describes the Kalahari atmosphere as “good for the soul”, and it’s once again proved good for his golf game as well. The winner of the last Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament played at Sishen Golf Club also claimed a share of the first-round lead of this year’s tournament on Thursday.

Strydom opened with a two-under-par 70 to share the lead with Rourke van der Spuy. They are one stroke clear of five players, including the talented young duo of Deon Germishuys and Jayden Schaper.

Strydom won the 2019 Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament here. The 2020 series was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. But Strydom says when they returned this week, he felt right at home – literally.

“I’m staying with family of my wife. They have a home right by the 11th tee box on the golf course. It’s just so peaceful. I think that’s what I love about this golf course and this tournament. The atmosphere here in the bush calms me down. You don’t hear any cars or planes or anything. It’s just peaceful and good for the soul.”

There was a moment in his round when Strydom’s peace was disturbed, though, and that came with a double-bogey on the par-three 13th.

“I was irritated with that because I three-putted from six feet. But my caddie told me to just keep being patient because the scores won’t be great. We had quite a bit of wind, and some overnight rain softened the course, so the ball wasn’t running as far on the fairways as it did in the pro-am. So I stayed patient and it paid off,” he said.

The leaderboard is still very bunched up after round one. MJ Viljoen, who as a boy used to come and watch the Sunshine Tour pros in this event before he started competing against them, is alongside the big-hitting James Hart du Preez and a host of others just two shots off the lead. And the tougher conditions should keep the leaderboard tight.

But that’s not troubling Strydom, because he’s in the Kalahari.

“You know, the Sunshine Tour put out a social media post saying I won here in 2019 and who will be next? I answered it with ‘Ockie Strydom’. So, I have a goal. And every night we have a lovely braai here, and nothing beats the smell of camel thorn wood on a braai fire.”

Ockie Strydom’s soul is indeed happy. – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Pro golfers join vaccination drive

Pro golfers join vaccination drive

South Africa’s golf professionals are joining the drive to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with a pioneering initiative that will make its debut at this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf series on the Sunshine Tour.

The Vodacom Origins of Golf series has partnered with the Sunshine Tour and Clicks to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all the professionals and caddies competing in this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Sishen Golf Club.

On Friday, all the professionals and caddies who did not make the cut in this 54-hole tournament will receive the first Pfizer vaccination injection. The remainder will be vaccinated during Saturday’s final round. Then the second vaccination injection will be administered at the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Humewood in Port Elizabeth at the end of September.

Wimpie du Plessis, the Sunshine Tour’s COVID-19 Chief Compliance Officer, says it’s absolutely essential that professional athletes get vaccinated.

“It is well documented that approximately 25-30% of individuals could experience ongoing symptoms for an extended period of time, known as “Long COVID”. A recent study indicated that up to 89% of patients would experience fatigue for three weeks after contracting the disease. Persistent symptoms similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the effect on the heart muscles means that we currently do not know how long a professional athlete who has contracted COVID-19 without being vaccinated must wait before they can safely start training again. We don’t have that scientific data at present. Professional athletes simply cannot put themselves in such a precarious position when it comes to their livelihoods.”

Du Plessis says she hopes the example set by the Sunshine Tour professionals will spur other South Africans who are still sceptical to also get vaccinated.

“Scientifically there is no proof to indicate that these vaccinations have any side effects that are unexpected. There is so much misinformation out there. What people are not understanding is that the base structure of these vaccines have been developed over decades. They are not new, like some people think.

“The only new element is their stimulation of the antibodies in the body specifically for COVID-19. But there is no difference between this process and what has been done with the flu vaccine for years now. The flu vaccine follows the same process of updating each year according to the new strains that emerge. But the base of the flu vaccine remains the same. Similarly, coronavirus is not new. It’s only this particular strain of it that is new.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo Credit: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour



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The Score - Estiaan Conradie

25th August 2021

The Score with Estiaan Conradie

The Score is the Sunshine Tour’s new Player Blog.

Estiaan Conradie claimed his maiden Sunshine Tour victory in the SunBet Challenge hosted by Time Square Casino at Wingate Park Country Club.

It’s a massive relief for me to win. Especially after coming back from my hip surgery in 2020. I had to go through a lot of rehab and it was a massive process, so to get through it and out the other side is very rewarding. It was a tough few months. It was in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown that I was operated on. It’s tough because you feel bad for everyone else who is struggling with this pandemic and I’m sitting there just wanting to get an operation to get back on the golf course. But I also had to work through what I had to work through. But yes, there is always somebody out there who has it tougher than you do.

The celebrations after that win were awesome. It was so nice to have my friends and family there. We had a couple of drinks on Friday night, and luckily it didn’t continue into Saturday. But I was happy I could celebrate with everyone there with me.

When my brother Ruan won in eSwatini in 2019, I was the only one with him there. So for me to have everyone there at Wingate for my win was really special. I’m sure Ruan would’ve loved the same for his first win. It’s awesome to be able to share all the hard work with the family and friend group, and to show them the result of all that hard work and support.

It’s been years of hard work and dedication to the careers of both me and Ruan. You know, your family is with you through thick and thin. It’s a long journey, and finally they get to enjoy the reward with you and be able to see with their own eyes what the result of all of that hard work and support is.

The bond between me and Ruan has been very close since we’ve been on the Sunshine Tour together. He is two years and two months older than me. At school we were close but we didn’t really do much sport together because we played on different teams and so on. Then after school Ruan had two years where he was playing amateur golf and I didn’t see that much of him. But when I finished school, from then up to when we got our Sunshine Tour cards and up to our first wins now, it’s been a long journey and we’ve stuck together through it. It’s been really good to have him by my side. He’s helped me along the way. It’s been great to have someone alongside you week in and week out working on the same dream. We’ve had fun times and some tough times together as well.

It definitely feels different to be a Sunshine Tour winner now. Everybody at the next event greets you differently. You feel different. You kind of have to manage the expectations now because you can’t win every week on Tour. But hopefully if I go through the same process each week then I can build on that win, which is what I want  to do.

I think the best congratulations I received were all the messages on Facebook and Instagram from my girlfriend, Cindy. She’s posted and reposted a lot of the Sunshine Tour content from my win. She’s been with me through it all now and she means so much to me.

I’m exempt on the Tour now which is great. But it also means I no longer have an excuse to skip any family events. I am skipping one event to go to a wedding in my girlfriend’s family. I can’t miss those anymore. I have no excuses now.

I just want to say a massive thanks for what the Sunshine Tour has been doing for us during this Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve really stood by us and the caddies and their staff. They have done a tremendous job and we really appreciate them. They have been working really hard behind the scenes and I just want to say a big thanks to them for that.

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Viljoen inspired by boyhood memories of Vodacom Origins

24th August 2021

Viljoen inspired by boyhood memories of Vodacom Origins

When MJ Viljoen tees it up in this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Sishen Golf Club, it will take him back to memories of being a young boy and watching the Sunshine Tour professionals in this exact tournament, and standing at the back of the 18th green asking for golf balls as they came off.

Such is the long and illustrious history of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series, which teed off on the Tour in 2004, that a 26-year-old professional like Viljoen has literally grown up with it.

Growing up in Bloemfontein, Viljoen remembers well that whenever the Sunshine Tour came to this part of the world for the Vodacom Origins of Golf, it was a special occasion for an aspiring young golfer.

“My dad was very involved with the Nomads, and with this tournament in particular my dad actually took me out of school to come and watch this tournament and help with the leaderboard scoring,” Viljoen said at Sishen Golf Club on Tuesday.

“I was that young boy who asked for golf balls from the professionals. I remember Doug McGuigan, Des Terblanche and Hennie Otto giving me golf balls. It was always great for me to come to this event and see the Sunshine Tour pros.

“And now to be playing with many of them is amazing. It’s quite special to know that this tournament has come so far, and that I’m now playing with the guys who used to give me golf balls when I was a kid coming to watch.”

Viljoen is hoping to use some of his local knowledge to give him an advantage this week when the 54-hole tournament tees off on Thursday.

“It’s a beautiful golf course. It’s a different layout to your standard golf course. One of the most interesting things about this course is that if you hit a tree here (the course meanders through what was once a kameeldoring forest) the chances of your ball staying in the tree is good.

“This course is quite demanding off the tee box. But my feeling is that you should still take it on off the tee box. You’re going to hit the ball in trouble a few times this week, but I feel like you need to still take this course on a bit. I feel if you’re too soft on the course it’s going to cost you even more.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Sunshine Tour signs new partnership deal with Planet Fitness 2

23rd August 2021

Sunshine Tour signs new partnership deal with Planet Fitness

The Sunshine Tour is delighted to announce a new partnership with leading health club brand, Planet Fitness, that will give all of its member professionals nationwide gym access for the elite physical training that modern professional golfers require.

The new partnership will see all Sunshine Tour professionals receiving a Planet Fitness Blue Club or Just Gym membership at one of their 50 world-class gyms nationwide.

“It’s a pleasure for us to welcome on board Planet Fitness as one of our newest partners. Our professionals are always looking for that extra edge in competition and being physically prepared for tournaments is a vital part of the training routine of any modern golf professional. Planet Fitness offers our members access to a world-class facility with the latest training methods available,” said Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021, Planet Fitness has established itself as the fastest growing South African owned health and fitness brand in the country, with clubs in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

“We are proud of our South African heritage and are tremendously proud of this country’s sporting professionals – we understand the commitment it takes to build stamina in a sporting career,” says Mannee de Wet, MD of Planet Fitness, who earlier this year backed South African Olympic and Paralympic teams with a four-year Tokyo to Paris commitment which elevated the brand even further as an Official Olympic Team Training Facility.

“We’re extremely excited about our new partnership with the Sunshine Tour and are looking forward to working with the professional golfers to ensure they’re able to perform at their best. Ours is a world of health and fitness and our passion lies in supporting people to reach their fitness goals, ranging from those who just want to lead a healthy lifestyle, to elite athletes such as professional golfers. Our clubs, training programmes, classes and personal trainers are constantly evolving to ensure we are ahead of the game with a reputation for having a smart tech edge and partnering with the world’s best when it comes to equipment and facilities,” said De Wet.

During the pandemic, health and safety has been the number one priority at Planet Fitness, having lobbied with the fitness industry for five months last year during lockdown to set a world-class 20-pg compliance code of protocols. Apart from health clubs and gyms now being one of the most regulated and sanitised environments in the country, all Planet Fitness clubs have a Covid-19 Compliance Officer as part of their process to ensure that gyms are safe for members and staff.

Planet Fitness will be opening 12 brand new health clubs across the country in the next 12 months to complement the 50 it already has, making it even easier to support the training goals of The Sunshine Tour’s professional golfers.

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Conradie breaks through with SunBet Challenge win

20th August 2021

Conradie breaks through with SunBet Challenge win

Estiaan Conradie claimed his maiden Sunshine Tour title when he won the SunBet Challenge hosted by Time Square Casino at Wingate Park Country Club on Friday, and his dad was there to receive a pin flag from the 18th green that his son signed and handed to him.

Conradie closed with a 70 to finish on 10 under par 206, three strokes clear of second-placed Malcolm Mitchell who signed for a final round of 72. Louis Albertse took third place on six under par with a closing 69.

The victory was a sweet one for Conradie as it came on his home course, in front of family and friends, and after a lengthy recovery process from hip surgery which kept him out of the game for four months in 2020.

“I’m very happy that I could get it done this week. It means a lot to me, especially winning at home,” he said.

“It’s a massive relief for me to win. It feels like it’s been so long that I haven’t got it done, and to finally get over the line feels massive. It’s such a boost for my confidence.”

Most importantly, Conradie is now tied on 1-1 with his brother and fellow Sunshine Tour professional Ruan, who won on Tour before him in 2019.

“I can finally tell him he’s got nothing on me anymore. But I suppose the race is now on to see who gets the second win first,” he said.

Conradie went into the final round with a one-stroke lead and was determined to take an aggressive approach on a course he knows so well.

“The gameplan was always to be aggressive. I made an eagle on the second hole which was great. And then I made bogey on the third hole when my ball got stuck in a tree and I had to take an unplayable. From there up to about the 11th hole it was just a mixed bag actually of playing good shots and getting a bad reward and vice versa. But then I made birdie on 12 and that settled me down. I finished nice and strong with four birdies and just one bogey in my last five holes,” he said.

The Sunshine Tour travels to Sishen Golf Club next week for the second tournament on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series. – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

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Home favourite Conradie targets a win at Wingate

19th August 2021

Home favourite Conradie targets a win at Wingate

The long journey back from hip surgery finally showed signs of being over for Estiaan Conradie as he moved to the top of the leaderboard with one round to go in the SunBet Challenge hosted by Time Square Casino at the Wingate Park Country Club.

Local favourite Conradie, playing his home course, added a 65 to his opening 71 to climb to eight under par overall and one stroke clear of Malcolm Mitchell going into Friday’s final round. Jaco Ahlers is well placed on six under par.

The view from the top of the leaderboard is certainly a pleasing one for Conradie, who spent a large part of 2020 recovering from hip surgery.

“I was out for about four months. It was a long and often frustrating process to get back, and I feel like now I’m making good progress again. It definitely feels like it’s moving in the right direction. It’s been a long process but I feel like I’m on the other side of that now,” said Conradie.

The hip operation was a success, but the timing was frustrating for Conradie as he was playing some good golf when he had to make the decision to have the surgery.

“I was feeling so good about my game, and then I had to stop. But I’m happy I went through it because it’s definitely made me stronger.”

Conradie has the confidence of playing his home course this week and says he’ll use that local knowledge in the final round.

“I’ve played a couple of smaller tournaments on this course and I know how to play a final round here. I just need to be patient and wait for my opportunities to come. The benefit is that I know on which holes I can be aggressive. I’m hitting my driver really well at the moment so it helps to know when is the right time to be aggressive off the tee.”

And his brother and fellow Sunshine Tour professional Ruan has provided Conradie with the perfect motivation to claim a victory.

“Ruan won a tournament in 2019, and when I was playing so well before the hip operation I thought that was my time. But now I’ve got another chance.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour