6 January 2014
After a break of almost a month, the European Tour resumes with the prestigious Volvo Golf Champions, which will be hosted for the second successive year by the Durban Country Club, from 9 to 12 January.
The elite field is made up of players who have won on the European Tour in the last year, players who have won 10 or more European Tour titles, and previous winners of the Volvo Golf Champions.
Seven South Africans are in the field. There would have been eight, but Ernie Els pulled out of the event late last week. Nonetheless, defending champion Louis Oosthuizen, former US Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne, Branden Grace, Darren Fichardt, Dawie van der Walt and Thomas Aiken will ensure there is a strong home challenge for the title.
“I am excited to open my season in front of my home fans and to be competing against such a strong field of champions,” Schwartzel said in a statement in December. “It is pretty impressive to have so many South Africans qualifying and with the two past winners also being South African, it is definitely a title I would love to win.”
Guy Kinnings, the Global Head of Golf for IMG, the tournament’s co-owners, commented: “The strength of South African golf is really illustrated by the number of great South African champions who have qualified for this season opening event of 2013 Champions. They join a great field of European and international Champions with some of the Tour’s most exciting young stars and Europe’s most prolific winners. It should be a fantastic week of golf with plenty for the home crowds to cheer about.”
Spanish star Miguel Angel Jiminez will be the oldest man in the field after celebrating his 50th birthday on Sunday. He may be the oldest, but his skills are far from fading as he proved by winning the Hong Kong Open in December. It was his 20th Tour victory and his 13th since he turned 40.
Jiminez has, however, never won in South Africa. Naturally, a number of South Africans have: Louis Oosthuizen, , Richard Sterne, Darren Fichardt, Dawie van der Walt, Thomas Aiken, Charl Schwartzel, and Branden Grace.
Among the competitors from abroad, Jamie Donaldson, Marcel Siem, Morten Orum Madsen and Thomas Bjorn have also tasted victory in the country.
The two Danes won recently, with Madsen claiming the South African Open crown in November, while Bjorn outplayed a strong field to claim the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in December. After securing victory on the Gary Player Country Club course, Bjorn declared: “This is right up there with the biggest victories of my career. The golf I played this week was so good.
“I’m 42 and to start my 14th season like this is unbelievable. This takes me into 2014 with the belief that I can compete with the best in the world.”
The total prize fund is a considerable $4-million (R42.7-million, with the winner set to pocket a cheque for $700 000 (R7.47-million).
A Pro-Am will take place on Wednesday, followed by the first round of the tournament on Thursday. Up to 15 000 spectators can be accommodated on each day of the event.
On Wednesday, tickets cost R50, with juniors getting in for free if accompanied by a full paying adult. On the tournament days, tickets are R120 each or R220 for a season ticket. Children from the age of 12 to 18 pay only R50, but must be able to prove their age if required, while pensioners over the age of 60 will pay R80. Children under the age of 12 get in for free if they are accompanied by a full playing adult.
R10 from each ticket will be donated to the official charity of the Volvo Golf Champions, Star for Life, a South African non-profit organisation, which helps young people fulfill their dreams and supports them in living a healthy and Aids-free lifestyle.