Ken Payet, the tournament director for the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, had just returned from a golf cart ride around the Gary Player Country Club when he again realised that what he refers to as the biggest sports event in South Africa was one day closer to teeing off.
“You know, I get goosebumps every now and then when I drive around the course and see the grandstands and the infrastructure. We spend a year planning for this tournament. It’s the biggest sports event in South Africa and it takes a huge effort on the part of so many people,” says Payet.
It’s now only four weeks until another edition of “Africa’s Major” tees off at Sun City. This will be a big year for the tournament as it undergoes a few significant changes as part of its elevated status on the European Tour’s elite Rolex Series.
Most notably, there is the sizeable increase in first place prize money from $1.25 million (R18 million) to $2.5 million, and the increase in Race to Dubai points from 7 500 to 10 000. This is also the 40th anniversary of both Sun City and the Gary Player Country Club.
So even more eyes than usual will be focused on this golf course in the Pilanesberg in the North West for one of the biggest weeks in world golf. And Payet is ready for them.
“I’ve attended some big tournaments around the world and I can tell you with full confidence that the Nedbank Golf Challenge is right up there with the best in the game,” he says. “This year is going to be very exciting, and we’ve improved the experience of the general spectator even more.”
Of the big-name players already announced, defending champion Lee Westwood will be back to try to become the first player to win the title four times. He will be joined by Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson and European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, and a few more big names set to be announced soon.
The Gary Player Country Club will once again provide the best challenge for this major European Tour event, with the course set to close to the public this week as the final preparations begin.
“Our course preparation starts in July already. The course is looking great. We haven’t had as much rain as we would’ve liked and we’ve been through two heatwaves, but Mother Nature has her own way and we can’t interfere too much.
“It would be great if we could get some good rain every evening leading up the tournament. But we’re pretty much on track. So now we’re just fine-tuning everything before the tournament starts.”
And for Payet and his team, that’s when the real goosebumps will start as well.