At the end of each year, the Nedbank Golf Challenge consistently draws some of the world’s best golfers to the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City in South Africa’s North West province.
Small wonder: “Africa’s Major” is one of the world’s richest tournaments, with a total prize fund of over US$4.3-million.
First million-dollar golf event
Way back in 1981, it became the first golf tournament ever to offer a prize purse of $1-million, with the winner taking home $500 000. When the field was increased to 10 players the following year, the winner’s share of the million dollars shrunk to $300 000 – still more than the money on offer to the winner of any of golf’s majors.
In 1987, in a once-off, the winner took all of the $1-million prize purse. The following year, while the winner’s prize remained a million dollars, the minor places were also rewarded. And in 2000, the Nedbank Golf Challenge became the first golf tournament ever to offer a cool US$2-million to the winner.
Since then, the prize money has been spread more evenly among the field of 12. The prize money breakdown for 2011 saw $1 250 000 being allocated to the winner, with the runner-up pocketing $660 000. The total prize purse was $5-million, with the player finishing last pocketing a cool $250 000.
Drawing the best players
The Golf Challenge has consistently attracted a quality field featuring many of the world’s greatest golfers. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The venue is fantastic. The Gary Player Country Club course was designed by South Africa’s greatest sportsman of the twentieth century and is situated in the beautiful Sun City resort.
- The course is wonderfully designed both to challenge players and to provide spectators with good viewing. It is one of the toughest courses in southern Africa, but it can be tamed, at least from time to time.
- The huge prize money consistently proves a powerful enough lure to attract the world’s leading players. Previous participants include, among others, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, David Frost, Ian Woosnam, Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabel, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.
- The event is scheduled around the beginning of December every year, after the world’s different leading tours have finished for the year, thus allowing the players to come to South Africa for some golf that is financially well rewarded, as well as to take in some rest and relaxation at the same time.
Three players have won the event three times, and they have all been big favourites with local golf fans. David Frost won in 1989, 1990 and 1992. His 1990 victory at four-under-par was the highest-ever winning total, with 12-under his winning number on the other two occasions.
The likeable Zimbabwean Nick Price, adopted as one of South Africa’s own, recorded victories in 1993, 1997 and 1998. His 1998 win came after a playoff against Tiger Woods, while his 1993 24-under-par effort was a sublime performance by a man completely on top of his game.
Ernie Els won in 1999, 2000, and 2002. His first victory came after he twice finished as runner-up. With close to $8-million in earnings at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, Els has benefited more financially than any other golfer in the history of the event.
Els holds the record for the lowest four rounds in the history of the event. When he won in 1999 he finished on 25-under-par 263 after rounds of 67, 66, 64, and 66.
He has appeared in the event 16 times, more than anyone else.
Els, with 46 sub-par rounds, has gone under par four times more than the next best on the list, Nick Price. However, the record for best stroke average (minimum 12 rounds) belongs to Lee Westwood, followed by Price, in second, and Els in third.
On the subject of low scoring, the lowest rounds Els and Sergio Garcia, both of whom have carded 63s. Padraig Harrington fired a 61 in 2001, but placing was allowed that year.
The record for the worst total belongs to Ian Woosnam, who was 21-over-par in 1993, a staggering 45 shots behind the winner, Nick Price.
Two-time winners include Seve Ballesteros, with consecutive victories in 1983 and 1984, Langer, with wins in 1985 and 1991, Jim Furyk in 2005 and 2006, and Westwood, with back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011.
There have been eight playoffs in the history of the Nedbank Challenge. Sergio Garcia edged Retief Goosen for the title in 2003. He also chipped in on the first extra hole to edge out Ernie Els in 2001, which means he, too, is a two time winner.
In 2009, Robert Allenby became the first Australian winner of the title when he edged out Henrik Stenson in a playoff. In 2000, Els defeated Lee Westwood. In 1998, Nick Price beat Tiger Woods. In 1996, Colin Montgomerie got the better of Els. In 1982, Raymond Floyd beat Craig Stadler. And in 1981, Johnny Miller defeated Seve Ballesteros.
The biggest playoff took place in 2005, when Jim Furyk defeated Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott after extra holes.
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