IN THE HOT SEAT
New tournament director Dan Sevel outlines his hopes for the Nedbank Challenge, in its second year as part of the Race to Dubai Finals.
New tournament director Dan Sevel outlines his hopes for the Nedbank Challenge. By Stuart McLean
Dan Sevel has stepped into big shoes as the new Tournament Director at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Sevel is the successor to Alastair Roper, who held the position for 20 years until his retirement a year ago. Sevel is a keen golfer, a member at Killarney GC in Johannesburg, so when we chat, it’s soon after he’s come off a quick nine holes on the Gary Player Country Club course. He reports that the course is looking good, although, as usual, everyone at Sun City is crossing fingers for early summer rains prior to the 37th Nedbank Challenge starting on November 9.
“The rough is looking a bit sparse, so we need the rain to help toughen the course for the tournament,” he says.
It might be Sevel’s first year in the hot seat, but he’s had a wealth of experience serving under Roper going back to the start of the millennium.“I worked under Alastair from the 2000 tournament through to 2008 – before going on to work in hospitality at the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and start my own business – and he was a huge mentor. He gave me lots of responsibilities and opportunities during that time, so I feel prepared to make the step up.When Alastair knew the date of his retirement he earmarked me as his successor, and I resumed working at the tournament in 2015. Last year he handed over the mantle, following our first 72-man tournament as part of the Race to Dubai Finals.”
The Nedbank Challenge, from its beginnings as an outrageously rich outing for five of the world’s best players in 1981, now occupies a lofty profile on the global calendar, as the penultimate event of the Finals, and also the European Tour’s inaugural Rolex Series. It’s a far cry from those original Million Dollar tournaments which excited and thrilled South African golf fans through three decades (1980s to the Noughties) with their small, selected 12-man fields. It was essentially an exhibition event up until the size of the field increased to 30 with the 2013 event.
There’s one aspect of the old days that Sevel wishes was still in place. “By having an invitation list each year, the big advantage for the tournament director was in hyping the quality of the field well in advance,” he says. “We knew exactly who was going to play, having worked on our invitations throughout the year.
“We already have defending champion Alex Noren confirmed for this year, plus two of our major annual drawcards in Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson. And Tommy Fleetwood, the Race to Dubai leader, has signalled his intention to be at Sun City. But there’s no commitment as yet from some of the other leaders challenging to win the Race to Dubai.They tend to leave the decision pretty late.
“My wish list of entries does include Masters champion Sergio Garcia, and young Spanish star Jon Rahm.As we talk, they are second and third respectively in the Race to Dubai standings behind Fleetwood. If they play, we have a fantastic field.”
Garcia won the title as a young man in 2001 and 2003, but his last appearance at Sun City was in 2013, when he was runner-up to Thomas Bjorn.
After last year’s tournament there was talk of a change in finishing holes for
the Nedbank Challenge, with tournament host Gary Player suggesting that the par-5 ninth, with its island green, might be a better closing hole than the par-4 18th.“That will definitely not be happening this year,” said Sevel, “but it’s an idea thas not been entirely discarded.”
While the Nedbank Challenge has moved three weeks forward in the calendar compared to its traditional old December date, the change has not affected attendance figures, even though it’s now out of the school holidays. Sevel confirmed that Sun City had 68 000 fans last year, against an average figure of about 60 000 for the tournament. Adult ticket prices are R200 for the Thursday to Saturday, and R220 on Sunday. Kids under 12 are allowed free entry, and those aged 12 to 17 pay R100.
“We’re doing everything to improve the experience for fans and families coming to Sun City that week.Although there’s a huge focus on corporate hospitality, we also have fantastic public areas.This year it will be centred close to the swimming pool of the main Sun City hotel.We rolled out our NGC App last year, and this will again be operational, with prizes to be won.There will be WiFi on the course for the first time.”
With prize money this year increasing to $7.5 million – the winner will receive $1.25 million, and last place is $12 000 – Sevel revealed that the total cost of the tournament to Sun International is in the region of R160 million.
One area where Sun International have saved money is that budget which used to be spent on pampering the players.“Part of the attraction of an invite in days gone, before we became part of the Race to Dubai Finals, were the free flights to South Africa for all the invited players and their families,” said Sevel.“Now, the only thing we give them is a complimentary room in either the Cascades or Lost City Palace.The caddies are offered a discounted room in the Cabanas.”
TV coverage of the tournament is by EuropeanTour Productions, and their commentary team will include the likes of Tony Johnstone, Ewen Murray, Sam Torrance, Dougie Donnelly, Dale Hayes and Denis Hutchinson. While SuperSport no longer has any presence on the golf course, they will be producing a morning buildup show each day starting at 8am.
Louis Oosthuizen (above) was in contention last year; Gary Player congratulates 2016 winner Alex Noren.