The South African Golf Association (SAGA) has welcomed a groundbreaking initiative from the Sunshine Tour to offer the country’s leading amateurs the chance to test the waters on the professional circuit during this year’s Sunshine Big Easy Tour, presented by Stonehage.
“The Sunshine Tour has afforded 40 amateurs the opportunity to compete on the professional circuit this year,” said SAGA president Colin Burger.
“One player each from the SAGA, SAGDB, Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and the SAGA Junior Golf will be given a spot to tee it up in each of the 10 tournaments that make up the 2012 Big Easy Tour.
“This translates to 40 playing opportunities for our leading amateurs to gain invaluable experience and test themselves against the professionals. It will also afford them the chance to gain invaluable insight into the pressures lying ahead when they join the paid ranks.”
Burger said this opportunity follows a determined effort between the SAGA and the Sunshine Tour over the last 18 months to bridge the traditional divide between the amateur and professional ranks in South Africa.
“The SAGA and the Sunshine Tour are determined to bridge the gap between the amateur and pro ranks and we welcome this development initiative from the Sunshine Tour,” he said.
“There exists a much better understanding between ourselves and the Sunshine Tour these days and this step forward is a direct result of the improved relationship between our organisations. I believe this announcement will even further strengthen the relationship between us.”
Selwyn Nathan, Chief Executive of the Sunshine Tour, echoed Burger’s sentiments, saying that the Sunshine Tour sees this as a major step forward in developing golf in South Africa.
“Junior golfers from the SAGDB, Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and South African Junior Golf all feed into the SAGA, as the custodians of amateur golf in South Africa,” Nathan explained.
“The SAGA, in turn, feed their amateurs onto the Sunshine Tour. In the past, the view was held that the amateur ranks lost players when they joined the pro circuit, when in fact, it is exactly the opposite.
“As the official governing body for amateur golf, the SAGA actually provides the platform for the next generation of stars to prepare for the pro stage. The result was that the Sunshine Tour and SAGA operated in isolation and this situation was not mutually beneficial.
“We have worked very hard at improving the status quo and I believe our decision to invite these amateurs to compete with the professionals, will further strengthen the relationship between the Tour and the SAGA.”
The Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage was launched in March 2011. As a mini-tour within the regular Sunshine Tour schedule, the series comprises 10 tournaments followed by a Tour Championship.
Stonehage Chief Executive Officer, Giuseppe Ciucci, welcomed the inclusion of the country’s top amateur golfers to compete alongside professionals in a series that is aimed to offer a wider cross section of professionals the chance to play in competitive professional events. “Stonehage has supported the development of golf through Ernie and his Foundation for over 10 years and we are very proud to be involved with the Big Easy Tour.
“The inclusion of four top amateurs at each event gives us yet another opportunity to contribute further to the development of the game in South Africa and to assist with the discovery and development of real golfing talent under tournament conditions within our borders.”
The golf clubs are scheduled to host this year’s tournaments include Houghton, Observatory, Modderfontein, Kempton Park, ERPM, Benoni, Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, Maccauvlei, Irene and Glendower, with the Tour Championship at The Els Club Copperleaf.
Burger said that the SAGA wished to give different amateurs the chance to compete, but the selection criteria still needed some refinement.
“With all 10 tournaments in the Gauteng, Gauteng North and Ekurhuleni, we will have to look at how we can ensure that 10 different leading amateurs and leading junior amateurs get to enjoy this opportunity and I am sure that the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and the SAGDB will aim to do the same,” he said.
“There is no doubt that this is a fantastic initiative. The chance to compete on a professional level affords the amateurs the chance to assess the state of their games and encourages an informed decision about their future in golf.”