Golf | 07 Jan 2020 | By Sun International

Bigger and better 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge draws record crowds

The Nedbank Golf Challenge, hosted by Gary Player, reaffirmed its status as one of world golf's premier events, as the 2019 edition in November delivered record attendance figures, sold-out hospitality offerings, an unprecedented fan focus and a product that captures the attention of fans and casual observers alike.

This was "Africa's Major" in every sense, as the increased prize money, quality field, expanded Public Hospitality Village, exciting new activations and Sun City's 40th anniversary resonated with those who attended this prestigious Rolex Series tournament.

The total attendance figure for the 2019 tournament was 76 383, up from 74 978 in 2018. Over 20 000 people streamed into Sun City on both the Saturday and Sunday of the tournament, an increase of almost 2% on 2018's weekend attendance figures.

The attendance figures mark a record for the event since it became part of the European Tour in 2013.

The Nedbank Golf Challenge remains South African sport's premier hospitality event, with hospitality sales increasing by 25% from 2017 to 2018. In 2019, the Circa 18th Green package – the flagship hospitality offering – sold out weeks before the tournament.

And the action on the course didn't disappoint. The strong challenge of South Africa's Zander Lombard and Louis Oosthuizen going into the final round and a late charge by European Ryder Cup hero Tommy Fleetwood to overcome a six-shot deficit and win "Africa's Major" appealed to every fan's sense of drama.

Better fan experience

The major focus this year was on enhancing the fan experience of one of the great sporting spectacles on the planet. The highlight was the debut of "Africa's Mini-Major", which gave fans the opportunity to be part of the golfing action.

The competition included a six-hole putt-putt course, with holes located around the Gary Player Country Club. After registering on the Nedbank Golf Challenge App, spectators went from hole to hole, testing their putting skills against each other over the four days of the tournament.

Each day, fans who ended the day tied in first place on the live leaderboard on the app had to putt-out on the iconic ninth green to decide the day's champion.

The daily winners then went through to the grand finale, which took place right on the 18th green shortly after Fleetwood had holed his winning putt, and in front of thousands of cheering fans, with commentary by Dale Hayes.

"Africa's Mini-Major" proved an instant hit, as Nedbank, Honda, DStv, Circa and FedEx shared sponsorship of the event. A total of 3 359 holes were played in over the course of the tournament, which was won by Allan Hutchinson.

The competition helped make the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge the most interactive in its history.

The Public Hospitality Village was transformed to become an even greater hub of entertainment and, for the first time, was a completely cashless environment. Spectators were were issued with their own unique tournament payment card, powered by Nedbank, with several top-up points on-site.

A floating stage was constructed on the Soho hotel pool and flanked by two big screens to showcase the golf and live entertainment on each of the tournament days after play. Fans were encouraged to test their golf skills at the Stella Artois Golf Challenge and refresh themselves at the Stella Artois Pop-Up Restaurant, as well as the new Callaway Corner, where they could chip to a floating target in the pool or onto a giant inflatable dartboard, with a host of incredible prizes on offer.

Hungry and thirsty punters had their choice of the new Beefeater Gin Garden, the SunBar, a Nespresso Coffee Bar and an Amarula pop-up bar. There was live entertainment every day after play from top acts, such as the internationally acclaimed Locnville and Euphonik.

Bigger community involvement

In 2019, there was a focus on involving the local community in the success of the Nedbank Golf Challenge through partnerships with local artists and entrepreneurs.

Community involvement was taken further with the introduction of "yarn bombing" and "bird art" as exciting new creative elements.

"Yarn bombing" is the action of covering objects or structures in public places with decorative knitted or crocheted material. It is a groundbreaking concept for a major golf tournament, bringing the visual power of "crochet graffiti" to golf in a way that is sensitive to the environment.

The 2019 tournament also featured works by local artist Isaac Jaycee Motau who specialises in recycling old tyres and repurposing them into flowerpots, hanging baskets for plants, bird or animal feeders, and swings for kids' playgrounds. For the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge, he created 12 iconic birds as décor, while his flowerpot and hanging basket creations were used to bring colour to the overall look and feel of the event.

Over the past few years, the Nedbank Golf Challenge has transformed its procurement criteria to include a 40% local eligible spend.

This is big!

The scale of the Nedbank Golf Challenge is reflected in the infrastructure required to deliver the tournament. Some 3 kilometres of picket fencing, 13 kilometres of green shade netting, 20 kilometres of fibre cabling, 14 327 square metres of marquee infrastructure, 514 000 cable ties, 1 400 tonnes of scaffolding and 230 litres of paint are used in the production of Africa's Major.

There are elements that mark the tournament as unique in the world of golf, such as the massive Nedbank Chairman's Deck, raised among the trees around the Gary Player Country Club clubhouse to give a true feeling of Africa.

And the first-tee experience is unlike any other in the game. Charismatic South African golf personality Dale Hayes is on the first tee each morning, introducing the players, welcoming the VIPs and entertaining the crowds.

Gary Player is also a regular visitor to the first tee, watching each group tee off, shaking their hands or joining Hayes on the tee box to share some great stories.

The Nedbank Golf Challenge remains an experience unlike any other in golf. It is indeed a #StrokeofGenius.