Sol Kerzner: 1935-2020
Solomon ‘Sol’ Kerzner, the highly successful hotelier and hospitality expert behind Sun City and the Gary Player Country Club, the location for the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, has died at the age of 84.
The accountant-turned-hotelier built a collection of five and six star resorts in idyllic locations across the globe, including the magnificent Sun City which he first saw as a stretch of dormant volcanic land during a helicopter ride in 1978.
Prior to Sun City's highly anticipated opening, Kerzner had already established a name through several upmarket hotels and casinos across Africa, including South Africa’s first five-star hotel and other luxury properties in Botswana and Mauritius.
After securing a gaming licence, despite the strict apartheid gaming laws, there was a buzz around the opening weekend of Sun City on December 7, 1979, with 15,000 people streaming through Sun City's gates to sample South Africa's richest resort.
His work did not stop there, however, as Kerzner was determined to turn Sun City into the entertainment hotspot of South Africa which included building a 6,000-seater entertainment arena to host music icons such as Dolly Parton, Queen, Elton John and Michael Jackson, among many others.
The addition of an 18-hole golf course, designed by nine-time Major Champion and Kerzner’s close friend Gary Player, added to the experience, as did a man-made lake for watersports, and Africa's first monorail, the Skytrain.
In 1984, Kerzner founded Sun International and raised the capital to fund Sun City's first five-star hotel – the R50-million Cascades.
He did not stop there. By the end of the 1980s Sun City had cemented itself as a world-class holiday destination and with things on course, Kerzner turned his attention to his next project: a 338-room luxury hotel built around exotic jungle and designed to inspire the mystery of a lost civilisation.
As one of Kerzner's greatest architectural accomplishments, The Palace of the Lost City oozed African opulence, with its lavish interiors, locally crafted furniture and hand-painted lobby ceiling that was designed to resemble the Vatican’s famous Sistine Chapel.
Kerzner transformed the South African hospitality scene and by the mid-1990s, had seized the opportunity to salvage a bankrupt development in The Bahamas.
He purchased Paradise Island Resort in 1994 and after a massive redevelopment programme, Kerzner rebranded Paradise Island – and launched his new suite of luxury resorts – "Atlantis".
Kerzner’s Atlantis brand has become one of the most recognisable luxury hotel resorts in the world, with further resorts in China and Dubai, the latter of which hosted the final Hero Challenge event of the European Tour’s 2019 Race to Dubai season.
At the 2019 International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, Kerzner received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the hotel and casino industry. As one of the greatest hoteliers of all-time, he will go down in history as one of the most influential self-made entrepreneurs that South Africa has ever produced – one that Forbes Africa once nicknamed "The Five-Star Millionaire".
At the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge, Kerzner returned to the Gary Player Country Club to celebrate the tournament's success and toast the many lifelong friendships that were formed when he created Sun City 40 years ago.
“In 1978 Sol and I flew over what was then an empty bushveld valley in the middle of nowhere and when the helicopter landed he boldly told me of his grand plans to develop Sun City; the golf course, casino, hotels and entertainment centre. said Gary Player, remembering Sol.
“Frankly, I did not believe him and told him as much. He was, of course, right and later asked me to come up with a plan to have the biggest golf event ever. We conceived the Million Dollar Golf Challenge to be played by the four Major Championship winners from that year and a winner takes all $1 million prize that was unheard of at the time."
“That event has since grown into today’s Nedbank Golf Challenge played at the Gary Player Country Club and proudly hosted by myself on the European Tour. Sol was a visionary, a man of action, a great friend and a mensch until the very end. Rest In Peace. We will never forget you.”
Sol Kerzner died on March 21 at his home in Leeukoppie Estate in Cape Town, surrounded by his family.