The Africa Open got underway on Thursday with Ms Vuyo Zitumane, chairperson of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, hitting the ceremonial first tee shot at East London Golf Club.
The €1-million event, co-sanctioned by The European and Sunshine Tour, is one of six tournaments played in South Africa, making it the highest number of European Tour events in a single country.
The tournament moved into its sixth year, after its humble beginnings in 2008 at the Fish River Sun Country Club where a young Shaun Norris triumphed in windy conditions.
In its second year, it moved to its present home at the East London course, and two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen won by a single stroke from a group of four players.
In 2010, the first year it featured on The European Tour as a co-sanctioned event, Charl Schwartzel made a charge in the final round with a six-under-par 67 to take the title away from Thomas Aiken, and then Louis Oosthuizen won in 2011 in a play-off from Chris Wood and Manuel Quiros.
Oosthuizen went on to defend his title in 2012, racing to 27-under-par in windless conditions to earn a two-stroke victory over Tjaart van der Walt.
Although Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency re-committed itself to long-term future of the tournament by announcing a further five-year sponsorship in 2012, Zitumane said the Africa Open’s future is secure well beyond 2017.
“We are not looking at a five year association with the Africa Open,” Zitumane said. “For us, when you talk Africa Open, you are talking Eastern Cape. It is an event that must be permanently associated with the Eastern Cape, not only because the return on our investment is more than 10 times, but also the huge socio-economic benefits that have spilled over into the local economy.
“Buffalo City and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency has embraced the tournament and we have every reason to keep the Africa Open here in the Eastern Cape. As far as we are concerned, the Africa Open will bring huge spin-offs to the Eastern Cape.
“Five years for us is just the minimum. As far as the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency is concerned, the Africa Open is here for life.”
Tickets to this year’s Africa Open are available at the gate. Entry is free for children under 18 on Thursday and Friday and R5 for Saturday and Sunday. Adults also enter for free on Thursday and Friday and tickets cost R25 per day on the weekend.