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.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - BY STU­ART McLEAN

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.

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