Tomorrow, 8 November 2018, sees the start of the 38th edition of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa.
The tournament was a ground-breaking one when it was first held in 1981. It featured a total prize money pool of $1million (hence the original name, The Million Dollar Challenge) and just five players: Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Johnny Miller.
Miller was the first champion of what would become known as ‘Africa’s Major’, defeating Ballesteros in the ninth hole of a sudden-death playoff to claim a $500,000 winners cheque.
In 1982 the field grew to 10 players and saw Raymond Floyd take home $300,000 (after another playoff for the title). The following two years saw Ballesteros become the first back-to-back champion, Bernhard Langer won on debut in 1985, and the tournament finally had an African champion in 1986 when Zimbabwe’s Mark McNulty won by three strokes.
In 1987 the tournament went for a winner-takes-all approach which saw Welshman Ian Woosnam take home a $1million cheque, while in 1988 and 1989 the host nation South Africa had its first champions in Fulton Allem and David Frost.
By this stage the winner-takes-all approach had been dropped, but the prize money for the champion remained at a cool $1million. The format of the elite tournament relatively unchanged through the 1990s and early 2000s – a period of dominance for Ernie Els. The ‘Big Easy’ won three titles in the space of four years (1999, 2000 & 2002) and also set tournament records for the aggregate score (263) and to par (-25) in his first triumph.
In 2006, the tournament carried World Rankings points for the first time since 1999, while 2013 saw it expanded to 30 players. The 2016 event was part of the European Tour Final Series, replacing the BMW Masters, while in 2017 the event was part of the new Rolex Series.
Since 2016, the field of 72 consists of the top 64 available players from the current year Race to Dubai standings, the defending champion, the winner of the Sunshine Tour order of merit from previous year, and tournament invitations.
Last year South Africa’s Branden Grace became the first home winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in a decade, edging Scotland’s Scott Jamieson by one stroke.