Following the conclusion of an unforgettable 2012 campaign two weeks ago, the fifth edition of The Race to Dubai is launched in South Africa this week when Royal Durban Golf Club hosts the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa, the first event of the 2013 European Tour season.
Just 11 days after World Number One Rory McIlroy signed off a remarkable 2012 season with victory in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, the battle to succeed him as European Number One begins, with the first of six tournaments on the 2013 European Tour International Schedule on South African soil.
There will be a strong home contingent in the field, led by South African golf’s latest star, Branden Grace, a four-time winner on The European Tour last season.
After securing his card at the 2011 Qualifying School, Grace won back-to-back events on home soil in January at the start of 2012, first claiming the Joburg Open in Johannesburg and then defeating legendary compatriots Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off to win the Volvo Golf Champions in George.
He went on to add the Volvo China Open in April before landing his biggest win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, in Scotland, in October, ending the campaign in sixth position on The Race to Dubai.
Grace returned home for the SA Open Championship last month before signing off his season with a sixth place finish in Dubai, and he is looking forward to beginning the new season by being an ambassador for a tournament supported by one of South African’s most significant figures, former President Nelson Mandela.
“It’s the first time that he (Mandela) has done something like this, putting his name to a golf tournament,” said Grace. “What he has done for South Africa is amazing. He has turned things round and everyone looks up to him.
“I am an ambassador for the event and that gives you an extra thrill. I’m going to go out there and try to do the job.
“Royal Durban is a great venue. I played this course a long time ago so I’m looking forward to going back.
“I really enjoyed the SA Open a couple of weeks ago where I got a lot of credit for what I have did last year, but with that comes pressure and responsibility.”
Grace will be ably supported by a number of compatriots including George Coetzee, who finished 21st on The Race to Dubai last season. Coetzee is still chasing a maiden European Tour title after equalling his best finish to date last month, finishing runner up to Henrik Stenson in the SA Open.
Also in the field is Englishman John Parry who will be looking to hit the ground running in the 2013 season after securing his return to The European Tour by winning last week’s Qualifying School.
Similarly, Norway’s Espen Kofstad will be aiming for a strong start to the new campaign after leading last year’s European Challenge Tour Rankings.
The €1,000,000 tournament, which is co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour, is sponsored by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund – a charity established by South Africa’s founding democratic President as an expression of his commitment to the cause of children.
Presenting sponsor ISPS Handa, another charitable cause which aims to promote blind and disabled golf around the world, also sponsored the Wales Open and Perth International last season, as well as several European Senior Tour events in recent seasons.
Launched with this new event, The 2013 Race to Dubai features a minimum of 45 tournaments around the world, with the 12 month golfing odyssey culminating in the new four-tournament swing known as ‘The Final Series’, which ends with the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai from November 14-17, 2013.