As Gary Player reflects on what the Nedbank Golf Challenge has meant to him since he helped launch ‘Africa’s Major’ over four decades ago, it’s perhaps best also expressed in the words of the world’s leading golfers about what this DP World Tour event means to them.
Since the first tournament in 1981 in which Player himself played and helped to bring together the field, the Nedbank Golf Challenge has captivated the imagination of the world’s leading golfers, from a young Seve Ballesteros duelling with Johnny Miller for the inaugural title, to current champion Tommy Fleetwood growing up watching the tournament on TV with his father and dreaming of his own success there.
This year will be no different as the US$6,000,000 tournament returns to the Gary Player Country Club from November 9-12, with an exclusive 64-man field vying for honours as well as an increased number of 2023 Race to Dubai Ranking Points and a place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” reflects Player. “You start with nothing – not even a golf course. We had to first build the golf course. Then you have an idea. A dream for a tournament. So now, all these years later, to see this dream become the dream of so many others as well is the true legacy of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.”
“Today a professional golfer wins this great tournament, and at the same time a young golfer watching it formulates a dream for himself to one day do the same. That is the power of this dream that started all those years ago.”
It’s a dream defending champion Tommy Fleetwood certainly shares.
“This is a very special event for me,” said Fleetwood. “I’m not South African but I grew up watching this event with my dad every year. I love the history behind it and the winners. When you walk down the ninth hole on the left and you see all the winners from all the years on that walkway, I often thought it would be great to add my name on there.”
Major champion and Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose, who returns to the tournament this year, feels a definite kinship with the event having been born in Johannesburg.
“South Africa is very close to my heart, and to play in front of a South African crowd who love their sport is always good fun.”
Former world number one and triple Major champion Nick Price, winner of three Nedbank Golf Challenge titles and who held the tournament record of 24 under par before it was surpassed by Ernie Els, said the tournament exceeded his own expectations when he was dominating it.
“This tournament has to be one of the best in the world from the players’ point of view. We were treated royally, like kings. It was a different kind of experience for me. I felt conscious of everything that went on, even when I was eating dinner.”
For Ernie Els, an icon of this event, it has always been a special week for him.
“The hospitality towards the players is always at the highest level at Sun City. They look after the players, family, friends and entourage very well indeed. That’s why so many players have wanted to play there over the years. The hospitality is simply wonderful. It’s called ‘Africa’s Major’ and it certainly feels like one.”
European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald has equally fond memories of this tournament.
“It’s an event I’ve always loved coming to. We’ve seen some great champions there and I’ve always loved coming to Africa. It’s just a great place with great people and a very challenging golf course. It’s a long way to come but it’s always worth the trip.”
South Africa’s George Coetzee was a young golfer when he attended his first Nedbank Golf Challenge, and he picked one of the most memorable as he watched the famous playoff between Nick Price and Tiger Woods in 1998.
“I got Nick Price’s ball with his name on it. I also grew up a big Ernie Els fan. I remember really disliking Bernhard Langer because he kept on beating Ernie in this event. For us growing up in South Africa and watching this event, you aspired to work hard and become a professional golfer and to hopefully one day play in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.”
Retief Goosen, one of the elder statesmen of South African golf and a Nedbank Golf Challenge winner in 2004, said the tournament feels exactly like a Major for him.
“This event has always been one of the best in the world. The effort that goes into it is amazing. Around the 18th green with all the grandstands there it feels like you’re playing in a Major Championship.”
Swede Alex Noren said he had to pinch himself when he finally secured a place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and then won it in 2016.
“It’s unbelievable. I tried to get in this tournament for so many years, and when I got in here, to end up winning, it was unbelievable.”
Since 1981, the Nedbank Golf Challenge has inspired the dreams of some of golf’s greats, and it continues to do so in a new era of the game.
The 2023 Nedbank Golf Challenge will once again be included on the DP World Tour schedule in partnership with Nedbank and Sun International and will be the penultimate event before the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.