- The Sunshine Tour returns for the first time next week since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to delay their 2020/21 season.
- All players, caddies and tournament staff will need to adhere to GolfRSA’s Covid-19 Risk Mitigation Strategy.
- Any golfer who fails to screen themselves using the HealthDocs App will not play in the tournament.
Professional golf is back and next week the Sunshine Tour is set to restart its 2020 schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The last Sunshine Tour event came in February at the 2019/20 season-ending Tour Championship, which was won by South Africa’s Garrick Higgo.
The Sunshine Tour confirmed last week that their 2020 season will kick off on 19 August with a five-tournament Rise-Up Series.
The tour will be implementing GolfRSA’s Covid-19 Risk Mitigation Strategy, which was approved by the Department of Sport and Recreation.
Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan told Sport24 on Wednesday that thanks to social golf reopening from 13 June, the professionals now have an idea of what to expect.
“The clubs have been open for a few weeks, we’ve seen how the protocols work. You arrive, you get your tee time time, you can go to the practice tee and then go hit some putts and then off you go to start your round.”
The Sunshine Tour’s 2020 season will kick off with the Betway Championship at Killarney Country Club on 19 August.
Sport24 takes a look at health and safety measures on professional golf’s return in SA:
Players, caddies and staff will not live in a “bubble” as is the case on other sports.
On the European Tour, all players and caddies must stay within the bubble, which is the course and the hotel. This has already resulted in certain golfers withdrawing from tournaments after breaching Covid-19 protocol.
Meanwhile, on the PGA Tour, there is no bubble but there are various measures like providing chartered jets and “host hotels” for golfers.
Sunshine Tour deputy commissioner Thomas Abt revealed on Tuesday in a press conference that it was difficult for the Tour to create a bio-secure bubble.
“We’ve got players and caddies coming all over the country as well as the support staff,” said Abt.
The Rise-Up Series will be held in the province of Gauteng, which has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa, with 194 093 positive cases as of 12 August.
“This concept has been on the table for a while before Gauteng was the hotspot,” said Abt.
“Gauteng has always been the place to be purely based on golf on the Sunshine Tour, our professional membership base is up here. We have a plethora of really top quality golf courses in a smaller area than if you were to go to Durban or one of the other provinces.”
Screening – not testing
Abt told reporters that the Tour will not be testing any players, caddies or staff but will be screening them every morning as they enter the golf course.
Prior to next week’s resumption, all players have had to go through a screening process a minimum of two weeks before a tournament starts. This will be done through the HealthDocs App.
The App is a Covid-19 corporate compliance system, which manages the risk for golf members and staff during the pandemic.
Abt told Sport24 on Wednesday that any player who misses a day or fail to screen themselves will have to withdraw from the tournament.
“All our players, who will be playing in the event, will be screening themselves and have been screening themselves to ensure that they track those 14-days. If a player doesn’t screen himself or miss a day, unfortunately he won’t be able to play,” he said.
Abt also confirmed that caddies will not be using the HealthDocs App but will be screened every morning before entering the golf course.
The temperature of each individual is to be taken at the remote screening station using a non-touch thermometer.
Everyone to wear a mask in the clubhouse
All players, caddies and golfers will need to wear masks and physically distance themselves in the clubhouse. However, on the golf course, players are allowed to remove their masks.
The GolfRSA’s Risk Mitigation Guidelines also notes that during windy conditions, “airborne transmission risks are increased and thus the advice to use masks at all times when conditions justify this”.
On tournament day
Only Sunshine Tour staff and officials, professional golfers and their registered caddies, as well as limited media and TV crew will be allowed on-site at each tournament.
Before entering the golf course, every individual will be screened and will be encouraged to download the free HealthDocs App.
“We’ve also got a Risk Mitigation officer, who we’ve tasked within the Sunshine Tour to ensure that we are adhering to all of the protocols and to cover all of the regulations that are gazetted,” said Abt.
Nathan stated that it’s not clear on whether or not there will be full fields in the Rise-Up Series.
“Depending on the entries there will be up to 125-132 players. Normally around this time (August) we have around 132 golfers playing and that’s in non-Covid times,” said Nathan.
More or less 132 golfers, plus caddies, tournament staff and rules officials means that there could be a lot of people in one specific area, however Nathan reassures that this won’t be problem thanks to the nature of golf.
“It’ll be the same as a Saturday at any golf course. Golfers will go off in three-balls and be separated for 10-12 minutes. You don’t have 130 people in one place at the same time, you have 130 people over 60 hectares,” added Nathan.
“There’s never more than three people around. Maybe at the secretary, who takes your card, but we’ve got separators and rules to prevent people of being close to each other.”
What’s out of bounds
There will be no spectators or player support staff allowed at the the golf courses on tournament days.
During the Rise-Up Series, there will be no hospitality facilities for the professional golfers and their caddies. There will also be no Pro-Ams leading up to the start of the tournament.
Caddies and golfers will not be allowed to use a rake bunkers, but instead smooth the sand by using their club and/or their feet.
Players and caddies are encouraged to keep the flagstick in when on the green. A hole liner will be put in place to restrict the ball from falling into the hole below the surface of the putting green.
Live-streaming and DSTV Now
The final round of each tournament will be streamed live on the Sunshine Tour streaming platforms and DStv Now. This will be only for three and a half hours.
Currently, only co-sanctioned European Tour events in South Africa (SA Open, Alfred Dunhill Championships, Nedbank Golf Challenge) are broadcasted live on SuperSport. This move by the Sunshine Tour is unprecedented since South Africans
“We’ve gone that extra step to take golf a little further, we’ll be streaming the last three and a half hours on the final round of each event,” said Abt.
Abt admitted that it’ll be a while before a full Sunshine Tour event will be showed on television.
“SuperSport is a contact of the Sunshine Tour and we’re engaging with them almost on a daily basis on how we can get as much golf onto TV,” said Abt.
“Where we stand right now, unfortunately the cost of broadcasting onto SuperSport right now is prohibited for us… We’d say we’ll rather give the money to the players than rather put it into a broadcast platform right now so that’s why we’ve gone the streaming element.”