Fans out in force for Rory
McIlroy got the people through the gates, now to keep them coming back
THEY came in their thousands. They lined the fairways and surrounded the greens – all to get a look at Rory McIlroy.
It didn’t matter who else was in his group or playing in the South African Open. Heck, not even eventual winner Graeme Storm got much of a look-in. But boy, did the two men produce the goods on a thrilling final day at Glendower on Sunday.
It was, in the words of Sunshine Tour marketing and communications director Duncan Cruickshank, and “absolutely unbelievable” tournament and final day’s play.
“I stood in that media centre (which overlooks the 18th green) and was just amazed at how the crowd rushed forward when they opened up the ropes after Rory had passed. What I hope the four days at Glendower has done is encourage sports fans to give golf a chance. I hope we see those fans coming back, be it the SA Open, Joburg Open or Tshwane Open.”
Cruickshank said in excess of 20000 people streamed through the gates of Glendower over the four days; a massive number for golf in this country.
“We haven’t seen crowds like that at golf in this country for decades. Rory has that kind of pulling power, a magnetism, and the word I got from his management team is he appreciated the warmth of the fans, too. Also, they said he felt the crowds were among the best he’d played in front of and the atmosphere among the best he’s experienced.”
The trick for Cruickshank and Co is to now try and get the likes of McIlroy back next year, or even a Ricky Fowler, Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson. Heck, even Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace wouldn’t be bad.
“The chances of Rory coming back are excellent. He’ll spread the word overseas and with the footage that was beamed all over the world on Sunday I’m sure there will be some golfers who would have looked at that and thought ‘I want to go there’.
“Rory was blown away by his experience at Londolozi (in the bushveld) and I know he had a good time So he could be back sooner than we think,” said Cruickshank. “It’s really all about the relationships these top players have with one another… Ernie Els supported Rory (and his foundation in Ireland) and he paid back the favour by coming out here now, to also help Ernie out (with his Els for Autism foundation).
“The biggest problem for us getting everyone we want to play at the SA Open is the date of the event. Remember it’s a Sunshine Tour event, but then we also have to fall in line with the European Tour, then there are the four majors, the four WGC events, the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup… it’s a real nightmare for a player trying to fit everything in.”
Indeed. It’s also important to keep in mind that the likes of Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Grace – this country’s top three players – are now based in the US, their kids are in school there and their lives are based around what happens in America. And, they’ve got to try and get in a holiday, too, sometimes.
“Yes, and also these guys are on another level now, looking to plan around the PGA Tour season, the majors, getting into the top 10 or 20, trying to get as many world ranking points as possible,” explains Cruickshank.
“But also, we try to encourage these players to not forget about their roots… the Sunshine Tour’s motto is, after all, ‘It begins here’.
“It’s easy for us to point fingers, but they have to do what’s best for their careers. Of course they want to play in their own Open, but it simply isn’t working out for them right now.”
The next big event locally is the Joburg Open, to be played at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club from February 23-26.