Player Pursuits News

Beyond the Majors: The History and Impact of the Sunshine Tour

Based in Southern and East Africa, the Sunshine Tour is a men’s professional golf tour with a long and rich history of producing some of the best golfers in the world. The tour traces its roots all the way back to 1903, when the first South African Open was held at Port Elizabeth Golf Club. The tournament was won by Laurie Waters, who beat a field of 14 players. The South African Open became the flagship event of the South African Tour, which was officially established in 1913. This tour consisted of a series of tournaments held across South Africa, mainly during the summer months when the weather was more favorable for golf.

Honorary Starter Gary Player of South Africa hits a tee shot to begin the 1st round of the 2018 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on April 5, 2018. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

The tour went on to attract many international players, especially from Britain and Australia, who were enticed by the warm climate and challenging courses. Some of the notable alumni names who played on the tour included Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle, Harold Henning, and Bobby Cole. The tour also helped to develop local talent, most notably Gary Player, who won his first South African Open in 1956 at age 21 and went on to become one of the greatest golfers of all time, winning nine major championships and completing the elusive career Grand Slam.

The South African Tour underwent several changes over the years, reflecting the political and social changes in South Africa. In 1969, it became known as the Sunshine Circuit, as it expanded to include tournaments in neighboring countries such as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Zambia, and Swaziland. In 1978, it was renamed the Southern Africa Tour, and in 1991, it adopted its current name of the Sunshine Tour. The tour faced challenges in its early years due to the apartheid regime in South Africa, leading to international sanctions and boycotts. Many players chose not to play on the tour because of their opposition to apartheid, while others faced difficulties obtaining visas or traveling to South Africa.

The end of apartheid in 1994, however, marked a new era for the Sunshine Tour as it opened up to more opportunities and partnerships. The tour became part of the Official World Golf Ranking system in 1995, which gave its players more recognition and incentives. It also established co-sanctioned events with other tours, such as the European Tour (now the DP World Tour) and the Asian Tour, which increased its exposure and prize money. Some of these events include the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the South African Open Championship, the Joburg Open, and the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Erik van Rooyen of South Africa hits his tee shot on the 3rd hole in the final round of the 2021 Northern Trust as part of of the The FedEx Cup playoffs at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey on Monday, August 23, 2021. Photo by Corey Sipkin/UPI

The Sunshine Tour has become one of the most prolific producers of world-class golfing talent in the world, and it continues to grow and innovate, producing some of the most successful golfers on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour both past and present; Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen, Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Erik Van Rooyen, and Garrick Higgo. For many years, the tour has also attracted international players who enjoy playing in some of the most scenic and diverse golf courses in the world.

The Sunshine Tour is not only committed to developing the men’s game, but also to supporting the growth and empowerment of women’s golf in South Africa. The tour launched the Sunshine Ladies Tour in 2014, a professional women’s tour that offers competitive opportunities and exposure for local and international players. The Sunshine Ladies Tour had seven tournaments on its 2023 schedule, including two co-sanctioned events with the Ladies European Tour: the Joburg Ladies Open and the Investec South African Women’s Open. The tour also features a lucrative Investec Order of Merit, which rewards the most consistent performer of the season with a bonus prize.

The Sunshine Ladies Tour is not only about showcasing the best female golfers in the country, but also about creating a pathway for aspiring young talents to reach their full potential. That’s why the tour has a strong relationship with Golf RSA, the governing body of amateur golf in South Africa, and supports initiatives such as the Golf RSA Elite Squad and the South African Golf Development Board.

Arabella Golf Club

The Sunshine Tour also provides playing opportunities for its members on the Big Easy Tour, a developmental tour for men that was founded in 2011 and named after South African legend Ernie Els. The top five players on the Big Easy Tour earn Sunshine Tour cards, while those who finish 6th to 30th qualify for the final stage of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School.

The Sunshine Tour, the Sunshine Ladies Tour, and the Big Easy Tour are all part of a vision to make golf more accessible, diverse, and inclusive in South Africa and beyond. By providing a platform for professional golfers of both genders to showcase their skills and pursue their dreams, these tours are contributing to the growth and development of the game at all levels. They are also inspiring the next generation of golfers to follow in their footsteps and achieve greatness on and off the course.

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