Each event carries a R100,000 purse, while the season finale carries a pot of R250,000, yet the major value of the development tour is the tournament experience pros receive.
Last year’s Big Easy Tour saw Louis Calitz emerge triumphant at the Tour Championship, which led to him taking the Order of Merit. The top five finishers on the Order of Merit all received Sunshine Tour cards and have taken advantage of the opportunity.
2012’s schedule has changed slightly – the Tour bids farewell to Crown Mines Golf Club and heads to Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
The Tour will continue its tradition of hosting events around the city of Johannesburg, with the exception of the Maccauvlei tournament, which is situated within the bounds of Vereeniging.
Named after three-time major winner Ernie Els in recognition of his continued commitment to the development of the game in South Africa, the Big Easy Tour offers a lifeline to South-African-based players during the Sunshine Tour’s quiet months, providing earnings and valuable tournament experience.
Players who received their cards at the Sunshine Tour 2012 Qualifying School played in Bloemfontein, and the top 30 at the Vusi Ngubeni Strokeplay, played in Johannesburg, are eligible to play on the tour, as are those who finished from 71st to the last player to have earned money on the 2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
Just ask Lyle Rowe, who won at Benoni Golf Club in August and has since recorded five top-20 finishes on the main tour, including a share of 13th at the 2011 SA Open Championship and a share of eighth at the Africa Open in January. “It's tournament play for us, which is the biggest thing in professional golf - you have to keep playing with your top peers and that refines your game for the big stage,” he said.
Ockie Strydom took second place at three Big Easy Tour events over the course of 2011. He finished third at the 2011 SA Open Championship alongside Thomas Aiken, and just three strokes shy of winner Hennie Otto. He attributed much of his success to the Big Easy tour, and said: “If you’re in contention in the Big Easy Tour, then you learn about a tournament mindset. Suddenly you’re playing one or two shots behind in a European Tour event, but you’ve learnt to just play the same game,” he said.
Bryce Easton, winner at Crown Mines Golf Club, went on to take three Sunshine Tour top 10s during the course of the year and closed out the season with a share of 20th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which is an event co-sanctioned with the European Tour.
The success of the Big Easy Tour can be continually highlighted - Dean O’Riley, who finished third in the Rookie of the Year Race, won at Kempton Park. Albert Pistorius gave golf one last shot, had his hopes restored with his win at Glendower and went on to record eight top-25 finishes on the Sunshine Tour.
With a brand new season ahead, the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage is set to once again launch tomorrow’s stars into golf’s spotlight.
2012 BIG EASY TOUR SCHEDULE
(SUBJECT TO CHANGES)
MARCH 06-07 Houghton Golf Club
MARCH 27-28 Observatory Golf Club
APRIL 12-13 Modderfontein Golf Club
MAY 10-11 Kempton Park Golf Club
MAY 24-25 ERPM Golf Club
JUNE 21-22 Benoni Country Club
JULY 17-18 Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club (East course)
AUGUST 07-08 Maccauvlei Golf Club
AUGUST 14-15 Irene Country Club
AUGUST 30-31 Glendower Golf Club
SEPTEMBER 19-21 Tour Championship at The Els Club, Copperleaf