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31st January 2022

The Vodacom Origins – still going further together in golf

SUN CITY, North West – In 2004, after a phone call from Selwyn Nathan, then the head of SAIL Sport and Entertainment, sponsorship specialist Michelle van Eyden began ordering plus four pants, vintage flat caps, Argyle sweaters, and even a few vintage cars. Then, nobody understood why. Now, 100 Vodacom Origins of Golf events later, everybody understands why.

From that first Vodacom Origins of Golf Series in 2004 to the current series, including this past weekend’s 100th tournament at Sun City, it has defined itself as one of the premier pro-am series’ on the Sunshine Tour. It has showcased South Africa’s leading golf talent and premier golf courses. It has launched the professional careers of South Africa’s brightest young stars. It has consistently led the way and raised the bar in terms of the amateur golfer’s experience of what life as a professional golfer is like. And it remains at the forefront of what is happening in golf and how this translates to the avid weekend golfer and, most importantly, to Vodacom’s VIP clients who are invited to compete alongside the Sunshine Tour professionals in the pro-am element of the series.

Quite simply, it has been an iconic series of so many defining dimensions.

“When we first came up with the concept, it was against the background that although Vodacom was involved in golf in South Africa, we felt there was more we could do for their VIP clients,” says Nathan, now the Executive Director of the Sunshine Tour.

“In that first year we had the theme of Ben Hogan, so we used his image, how he dressed, the style and cars of the time. Since then we’ve had various themes for each series. But all of it has been underpinned by the desire to add more value to the Vodacom brand and their relationships with their key clients.

“The fact that we’ve celebrated the 100th tournament shows you the success of the original concept and how it contributes to Vodacom’s desire to reward its clients with a unique experience and through a shared love of golf.”

When Nathan presented the concept to his team back in 2004, it was so revolutionary that even Van Eyden wondered how they would make it a reality.

“Selwyn was always the visionary. He was the dreamer, and I was fortunate that he allowed me to be the dream maker and he gave me the freedom to run with this idea. But I’ll never forget when he came with the idea that he wanted amateur golfers to experience the world of professional golfers. He still said we need to embroider people’s names on their golf shoes. It felt surreal at that stage because it was a revolutionary idea in 2004. At the time I wasn’t even sure how we were going to create this whole vision. But I’m grateful for Selwyn’s belief in me and our team to make it happen,” says Van Eyden.

Over many years and various evolutions of the series and the teams of people who have worked on it, one thing has remained a constant. Innovation.

“Our philosophy for the Vodacom Origins of Golf was always to be pushing the boundaries and improving on the experience every single year. Still today it remains an unbelievable experience for the amateur golfers who take part. It’s evolved to become the must attend event in golf. What’s important is that from the start we took the series around the country to all the top golf courses, so it wasn’t just played in the same venue all the time. And it has continued to evolve, which you need to do. It now even includes the leading Sunshine Ladies Tour professionals.”

The milestone of 100 events is significant. When Vodacom started with this sponsorship in 2004, Louis Oosthuizen was just starting his professional career. He won his first Sunshine Tour event on the series that year. Thomas Aiken was a young pro who won three times on the series that year. Des Terblanche was still on Tour. Steve van Vuuren and Nic Henning were still winning tournaments on the series. This sheer longevity has a symmetry with the ethos of Vodacom’s sponsorship philosophy.

“Vodacom’s sponsorships are extremely loyal. In South African football we’ve been involved since 1998, and in rugby since 1996. It’s within Vodacom’s DNA to be a loyal sponsor and develop a long-term relationship that allows you to grow an event or property to the extent that you can reach 100 events on a Vodacom Origins of Golf Series, and keep improving,” says Van Eyden.

As he also reflects on 100 tournaments on the series, Nathan says this is a tribute to the people involved.

“These things don’t just happen. We’ve had leaders in Vodacom who over the years have taken this series forward and supported its vision. So too with the people like Michelle and then those who came after her on the events side of the series. And then our leaders and staff at the Sunshine Tour over the years. All have worked on this series and helped to move it forward. This week you will see that collective effort and passion of 100 Vodacom Origins of Golf events in practice at Sun City. The thanks go out to the people who have worked all these years in growing this concept to what it is.”

As much as the series has launched the careers of South African professionals, it’s had another profound impact on the local game.

Thomas Abt was one of those who worked on the pioneering team at SAIL to help launch the Vodacom Origins of Golf in its early years. Today, he is the Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, helping to lead the series into a new future.

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30th January 2022

Rohwer is a Vodacom Origins of Golf champion

SUN CITY, North West – Martin Rohwer claimed his second Sunshine Tour title when he won the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at the Gary Player Country Club on Sunday.

Rohwer led from start to finish and closed off with a 70 to win on 13 under par, two strokes clear of Tristen Strydom who came surging through the field with a final round of 64. Wilco Nienaber, Lucca Filippi and Germany’s Freddy Schott shared third place on eight under par.

The victory sees Rohwer join some of the biggest names in South African golf to have won on the Vodacom Origins of Golf Series, which celebrated its 100thtournament with this event. This is his first victory on the iconic series.

“Vodacom been a massive sponsor on the Sunshine Tour for so many years now, and to have a series of events like this every year since 2004 has been phenomenal for us as professionals,” said Rohwer.

With a four-shot lead going into the final round, Rohwer bogeyed the second and says he drew heavily on his strategy of focusing on every single shot to overcame that slip-up.

“My strategy helped even more today with the lead I had in terms of staying focused on each shot. “I bogeyed the second, but then to birdie the third was quite nice to settle me. It knew if I just played steady golf it would force the others to be aggressive. I definitely learnt a lot this week which I’ll take forward with me into the rest of the season. We’ve got a whole stretch of big events coming up now so to get off on the front like this is perfect.”

And a win on the legendary Gary Player Country Club is also a boost to his confidence.

“I’ve always loved the course and it’s one of the iconic courses in South Africa. I feel that if your game can hold up under pressure on the Gary Player Country Club course, then it can hold up anywhere.”

This week the Sunshine Tour travels to Irene Country Club in Pretoria for the R1-million Kit Kat Group Pro-Am.

Photo Credits: Sunshine Tour


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29th January 2022

Committed Rohwer on track for Vodacom Origins glory

SUN CITY, North West – Shakespeare wrote it as, “To thine own self be true”. Martin Rohwer defines it “being 100% committed to every shot”. Now Rohwer, to continue to borrow from the bard, is well placed at the top of the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final’s leaderboard going into Sunday’s final act of this Sunshine Tour event.

With rounds of 66 and 67, Rohwer heads the field on 11 under par and will take a four-shot lead into the last day at the Gary Player Country Club.

Alex Haindl remains a very real threat though as his nearest challenger on seven under par following his round of 70 on Saturday, and having won on this golf course as recently as last year’s SunBet Challenge.

But Rohwer does seem to be playing with a confidence in his process that will be hard to beat.

“I’m just staying committed to every shot I hit. I pick my targets and then commit 100% to that. I think that’s been the difference. My attitude has been really good. Even though I haven’t always been swinging it 100%, I’ve been 100% committed and focused,” said Rohwer.

It was a decision he and his coach came to early in January as they plotted the way forward in 2022.

“We looked at what my process will be each week, and we decided that as long as I am improving each week and I’m ticking all the boxes I want, that’s the most important thing. Win or lose.”

The process certainly seems to be working as he’s played two very different rounds of golf to lead this field.

“In the first round, my short game was really good and then in the second round I hit the ball a lot better from tee to green. This is a great golf course, and it’s one where if you can drive the ball well you can take advantage of it.”

Now all that remains for Rohwer is to right the final scene of a victory at Sun City on Sunday.

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28th January 2022

Mostert and Rohwer share Vodacom Origins lead

SUN CITY, North West – Dylan Mostert and Martin Rohwer shared the lead after the first round of the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at the Gary Player Country Club on Friday.

Their rounds of six-under-par 66 earned them a one-stroke lead over Alex Haindl. The quartet of Jason Roets, Pieter Moolman, Luca Filippi and Hennie du Plessis all currently share fourth place on four under par, while Hennie Otto is well placed just three shots off the lead.

Mostert certainly has an appetite for the Gary Player Country Club having finished second in the Blue Label Challenge played here in October last year, which is his best finish to date on the Sunshine Tour.

His confidence around this golf course showed as he hit driver on most of the holes on Friday.

“My driver was very good today. I kept it in play quite a bit. I hit driver on most of the holes. It’s nice to hit driver around here because you leave yourself far easier shots into these greens.

But I also hit a few good iron shots, and my putting was also very good,” he said.

Behind the leading pair, Haindl is a very real threat over the weekend.

His 67 on Friday was bogey-free and showed his own composure on this golf course where he won the SunBet Challenge in 2021. Haindl is also hunting his second Vodacom Origins of Golf title following his victory in the Vodacom Origins of Golf in Sishen in 2021.

Of some of the young stars in the field, both Jovan Rebula and Wilco Nienaber opened with rounds of one-over-par 73, while Jayden Schaper signed for a two-over-par 74.

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26th January 2022

Sunshine Tour’s young stars hoping for some Vodacom Origins magic

SUN CITY, North West – The Vodacom Origins of Golf Series has launched the careers of some of South African golf’s brightest young talents since it first teed off in 2004, and several of the current generation of stars will be hoping for the same in this week’s historic 100th tournament on this longstanding Sunshine Tour series.

It’s entirely apt that the Sunshine Tour should tee off with its first event of 2022 as the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final, and played at the equally iconic Gary Player Country Club at Sun City.

The sheer longevity of this incredible series – featuring six tournaments a year with a prestigious pro-am that has become one of the most sought-after invitations in South African golf – is staggering when you consider that Major champion and current world number 12 Louis Oosthuizen won his first Sunshine Tour title on this series in its inaugural year in 2004.

Thomas Aiken, George Coetzee and Justin Harding are just some of the international campaigners who broke through with their maiden professional titles on this series. And as recently as 2019, Thriston Lawrence won his maiden Sunshine Tour title in the Vodacom Origins of Golf in Stellenbosch. Then, two years later, he was a DP World Tour champion with his Joburg Open victory.

It’s this kind of career progression that the likes of Jovan Rebula, Jayden Schaper, Dylan Naidoo, Wilco Nienaber and Tristen Strydom will be hoping for at Sun City this week.

“The Vodacom Origins of Golf Series is always such a cool series to take part in, especially with the pro-am. The golf courses we play are always the best in the country, and for us youngsters this is the opportunity to move to the next level,” says Strydom.

Rebula in particular is looking for a solid start to his year and equally to his professional career on the Sunshine Tour.

“The Sunshine Tour is very competitive and it’s such a great place to start your professional career. There’s no doubt that the guys can play here, and they’re all extremely competitive. So many of the game’s greatest stars came through the Sunshine Tour. So this is my main focus for now, and I’m excited about what lies ahead,” he said.

It’s certainly set up well for him this week. He finished tied 10th in the last tournament played here, the South African Open in December. And with the Vodacom Origins of Golf Series’ penchant for living up to the sponsor’s corporate slogan of “Further Together”, Rebula and his fellow young stars will certainly be hoping this week does indeed spark and long and fruitful journey on the professional fairways.

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25th January 2022

New Mangaung Open brings international golf to Bloemfontein

Bloemfontein will take its place on the international golf schedule with the new $250 000 Mangaung Open to be played in the city in March.

The tournament is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour and will feature a selection of South African and international professionals competing at both the Schoeman Park Golf Club and Bloemfontein Golf Club from 3-6 March.

The Mangaung Open forms a key part of a record six South African tournaments that will feature on the Challenge Tour schedule between February and March this year, and which will put the focus of an international audience on the city of Bloemfontein and the greater Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.

“We are extremely excited to bring an event of international magnitude to Bloemfontein, which will provide not only much-needed economic stimulus to our local economy, but also international exposure in terms of what our city and this magnificent region of South Africa has to offer tourists,” Cllr. Mxolisi Siyonzana, the Executive Mayor of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, said at the official launch of the Mangaung Open at Bloemfontein Golf Club on Tuesday.

“The slogan of the Mangaung Metro is ‘At the Heart of it All’. In this instance, we are very proud to take our place at the heart of a strong schedule of international golf tournaments being played in South Africa over this period.”

Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, said: “The Sunshine Tour has a long and proud history of working with our major cities and municipalities and using an international golf tournament to help them achieve their economic and tourism objectives. We’re delighted to now be able to add the Mangaung Metro to our schedule through the Mangaung Open.”

“Bloemfontein is no stranger to world-class golf and it was indeed here where Major champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member Retief Goosen won one of his first tournaments on the Sunshine Tour. As a Tour committed to our philosophy that ‘GreatnessBeginsHere’, and in partnership with the Challenge Tour and the international opportunities it offers, we’re sure South Africa’s next generation of stars will use this tournament as the launch for their own careers.”

Jamie Hodges, Head of the Challenge Tour, said: “The new Mangaung Open occupies an important position in not only our South African schedule of tournaments, but also in helping us to provide a truly global schedule for our members. We are excited to work with the Sunshine Tour and the Mangaung Metro in helping to promote this unique part of South Africa to our global audience.”

Photo: Bloemfontein and Sunshine Tour professional Wilco Nienaber at the launch of the new Mangaung Open at Bloemfontein Golf Club on Tuesday. Credit: Sunshine Tour.

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24th January 2022

Vodacom Origins series reaches 100 tournaments on Sunshine Tour

The iconic Vodacom Origins of Golf series on the Sunshine Tour will celebrate its 100th tournament at the Gary Player Country Club this week, which marks a major milestone for a series that has featured prominently in the careers of some of South Africa’s leading professionals.

Since it first teed off in 2004, the six-tournament Vodacom Origins of Golf series redefined the traditional pro-am as it became one of the most sought-after invitations in South African golf, while at the same time serving as the backbone of the Sunshine Tour’s schedule.

This week’s R1-million Vodacom Origins of Golf Final, which will be played at the Gary Player Country Club from Friday to Sunday and will include a two-day pro-am starting on Wednesday, will be a true celebration of one of the longest running series of tournaments in the history of South African professional golf.

It is on this series where Major champion Louis Oosthuizen won his first Sunshine Tour title in 2004. Thomas Aiken also made his professional breakthrough on the series, as did George Coetzee and Justin Harding. And Branden Grace, Daniel van Tonder, Dean Burmester and reigning Joburg Open champion Thriston Lawrence have all won on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series.

“The Vodacom Origins of Golf has been one of the most influential series of tournaments in the history of our Tour,” said Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

“When it teed off in 2004, the vision was for it to offer an unrivaled pro-am experience and for the Sunshine Tour to serve as a partner with Vodacom in achieving its business objectives through golf. This series has achieved this and so much more. It has launched the careers of many of South Africa’s brightest young professionals. It has travelled to all of South Africa’s most iconic golf courses. And it has done an incredible amount of good work for charity. We’re extremely proud of our partnership with Vodacom and we applaud them for this incredible milestone on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series.”

In its early years, the Vodacom Origins of Golf series paid homage to the greats of golf through a theme for each year’s series.

In 2005, the series celebrated the career of one of the legends of the game – Ben Hogan. The amateurs walked the fairways dressed in the cardigans and Andy caps Hogan used to wear. In 2006, Gary Player’s contribution to golf was celebrated, while Ernie Els and Retief Goosen have both had their careers celebrated through the series.

“It’s an incredible honour for me that my achievements in the game have been recognised on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series. I’ve spent most of my life flying the South African flag on fairways around the world, and I’ve always competed to the best of my ability as a proud South African sportsman. It’s very satisfying to know that this is recognised on a series such as the Vodacom Origins of Golf,” Els said.

Goosen echoed this. “Vodacom has played such a key role in supporting golf over the years, and so many of our young stars have been winners on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more of our young champions coming through the ranks.”

A selection of the biggest stars in South African sport have also teed it up in the pro-ams over the years, including Abe de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Francois Pienaar, Kevin Curren, Morné du Plessis, Rudolph Straueli, Nic Mallet, Pat Symcox, André Joubert, Allan Donald, Breyton Paulse and Wayne Fyvie.

PHOTO: Jean Hugo has won the most Vodacom Origins of Golf titles in the history of this series since it teed off in 2004 with his 11 victories. Credit: Sunshine Tour.

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20th January 2022

Longbella and Gilson lead Q School group into Final Stage

American Thomas Longbella and South African amateur Gregg Gilson led the golfers who made it through the First Stage of the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School at Maccauvlei Golf Club on Thursday.

Longbella signed for a final round of 72 and Gilson carded a 68 to both finish the 54-hole qualifying tournament on 10 under par. They ended one shot clear of South Africa’s Dean O’Riley and his amateur countryman Christopher Long.

The top 40 players and ties progressed to the Final Stage of Qualifying School, which will be played in April.

Longbella has been top of the leaderboard since round one and was delighted to make it through on his first attempt.

“It feels great to make it through. I’m excited for the Final Stage now, and hopefully the golf then is as good as it was this week. I’m flying back to the United States now and then I’ll be back here in April for the next step on the journey,” he said.

Gilson was equally pleased to advance.

“It was a good week. I’m just more relieved to get through. That was always the goal. To play well was a bonus though, and it will give me some confidence going into the Final Stage.”

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19th January 2022

Weather forces cancellation of round at Q School

The third round of the Sunshine Tour’s First Stage of Qualifying School had to be cancelled on Wednesday because of a waterlogged Maccauvlei Golf Club course.

A severe thunderstorm early in the day forced the golfers into the clubhouse, and thereafter the course was deemed unplayable.

“We pulled the golfers off the course just before a big thunderstorm, and we had about 25 millimetres of rain in 20 minutes. The course was waterlogged as a result of this because the water table here is already pretty high with all the rain they’ve had. After a course inspection we deemed it not possible to play today,” said Reinard Kilian, the Tournament Director.

The tournament has now been reduced to 54 holes, with the third and final round to be played on Thursday.

American Thomas Longbella leads the field on 10 under par overall, two strokes clear of South African amateur Christopher Long. Austria’s Bernard Neumayer, South African Dean O’Riley and his amateur countryman Sean Cronje are all on seven under par.

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American Longbella loving South Africa as he leads Q School

American Thomas Longbella retained his place at the top of the leaderboard after two rounds of the First Stage of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School at Maccauvlei Golf Club on Tuesday, and seems to be benefitting from practising next to a Masters champion before the start of this event.

Longbella added another round of 67 to climb to 10 under par overall and two strokes clear of South African amateur Christopher Long, who posted a second round of 68. Austria’s Bernard Neumayer, South African Dean O’Riley and his amateur countryman Sean Cronje all finished the day on seven under par.

Longbella, who grew up in Wisconsin, says he’s loving the Maccauvlei layout which reminds him of the golf courses he played as a youngster. And without even knowing it, he says he believes he shared the driving range with the Maccauvlei master himself, Charl Schwartzel.

“Last Friday I was on the driving range hitting balls and there was just one other guy there, but he was kind of behind me a bit so I didn’t really get a good look at him. But I could just hear him absolutely flushing every single shot. Then I went out to play nine holes and my local caddie said to me, ‘Do you know who that was? It was Charl Schwartzel’. I had been really focused on my own warm-up so hadn’t really paid attention, but my caddie seemed pretty convinced it was Schwartzel,” said Longbella.

The American has loved his time in South Africa, and it’s certainly showed in his golf as he signed for a bogey-free round on Tuesday.

“It was a good day again today. I hit the ball much better than I did in the first round. I hit a lot of fairways and greens and I kept it in play off the tee. It’s been fun. This is the first time I’ve been across the Atlantic. I’ve been enjoying the monkeys on the course. I’ve never seen a wild monkey in my life and now every day I’m seeing these little guys running around. It’s been great. Everybody here has been so nice.”

The First Stage finishes on Thursday. Only the top 40 professionals and ties will progress to the Final Stage.