BMW South African Open 2017
By Ryan ‘Bernie’ Bernberg
The 106th BMW South African Open 2017 is the second oldest national championship in the world after the British Open and has recently seen quite a surge in its popularity.
The names that adorn the trophy are testament to a proud championship. Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Sid Brews, Dennis Hutchinson, Dale Hayes, Wayne Westner, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark (to name a few) all form part of the cornerstones of a successful South African golfing contingent. Add to that big names from abroad such as Vijay Singh, Henrik Stenson and Andy Sullivan to have recently won the trophy gives you a good idea as to the improvement of the tournament over the past few years. The names mentioned are also only winners of the tournament – it excludes many major winners over the past 114 years to have played in the South African Open.
I have been to a few SA Open tournaments over the past couple of years – but the 2017 edition was one which I will personally never forget! The organisers pulled out all the stops and make the tournament one to remember! What was different from the previous tournaments that made 2017 the best one yet?
There are a few factors which made the event a truly world-class one:
- World Number 2
The BMW South African Open 2017 was without a doubt one of the better SA Opens to have attended and it is all due to one person – Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy decided to commit to the South African Open as a return of favour to Ernie Els who played in the Irish Open. This news came with great excitement around all who have the slightest interest in golf.
The fanfare that surrounded this man was truly astonishing! The crowds which gathered around him to watch every single shot bears testament to what he means to our sport. He easily had more support than any of our top-class local players. Accessibility to the world’s best was much easier than travelling to Sun City for the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Whilst following the golf on the internet, I saw that Rory had just finished up on the 12th. The work day was winding down and I knew that if I time it correctly, I could easily stop my car on the side of the road and watch a 4 time Major winner at the peak of his game hit a tee shot on the Par 3 14th. I was right – the timing could not be more perfect, but what astounded me was that I was not the only one with the same thinking. The crash barrier on the side of the road was packed with people from all generations just trying to catch a glimpse of Rory. It was a bit of an effort to see one shot – but one which will stick with me for a very long time.
- Glendower Golf Course
The best part as a spectator is watching the world’s best play on a golf course on which you have had countless amazing and dismal rounds on. The course is a stone’s throw away from the local pub which the SOS lads frequent – and walking around there on the weekend, it was amazing to see what condition it was in. The fairways were immaculate, the greens looked much quicker than our usual weekend round and the facilities and the setup was perfect! A lot of effort went into the organisation of the event with everyone in the surrounding areas well aware as to what will be happening and how they will be affected (eg. Road closures and alternative routes). Shuttles to certain areas with better parking facilities was needed and worked out fantastically – alleviating a lot of space around the course. Glendower has regularly been the host of the SA Open since 2013 – and seeing as how things were organised, it would be difficult to see the tournament being hosted at another course.
The BMW South African Open 2017 obtained the headline sponsorship of BMW for a second year in 2017. With golf joining their key pillars of sports sponsorship alongside motorsport and sailing, BMW helped to make the tournament a spectacular one. From open areas littered with amazing I8’s, to competitions held for the spectators to use an I8 for a weekend, but most importantly, for playing a leading role in getting golf accessible to previously disadvantaged youngsters– it is easy to see why the public bought into the values that BMW attempt to convey.
None more so than our very own Jaco van Zyl who managed to snag himself a BMW I8 as a prize for a hole-in-one on the long Par 3 17th!! The only person who was going to make more money than Jaco van Zyl over the weekend was going to be the winner. I am sure that Jaco is also thankful for BMW sponsoring the event.
- Social Media
The social media presence for this year easily surpassed anything from the prior years. With the “106 reasons” campaign, short video clips were made about the SA Open and why it is such a loved tournament and urged the public to come to Glendower and “create their own reasons” to fall in love with the BMW South African Open 2017. It also painted a picture as to what a great day out with the family on a golf course entails. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, all social media platforms were buzzing about the imminent arrival of Rory McIlroy. All interviews were posted on Facebook through their live feeds and highlights of the day were readily available even during the rounds. The crowds all had their phones out trying to record their favourite players’ swings or get the obligatory selfie with world famous golfers – even these were shared amongst friends trying to one-up each other and make them feel a bit of jealousy! Although most of us were at work, it was easy to follow through the media and internet – but obviously the best would be to have it played live on the TV or actually being there.
- The public
The crowds which gathered for the week in Ekurhuleni were remarkable and I am sure that this event opened the door for the sport to enter into a new age in the country. It was especially pleasing to watch all who gathered be respectful for the game and not act like hooligans (ala USA in the Ryder Cup which borders on the embarrassing). But what struck me the most was the diversity in age amongst all the gatherers. Young kids were awestruck following their hero around the golf course, trying to eke out a ball to be thrown in their direction or waiting patiently for a signature from one of the pro’s.
There are many more reasons which make the BMW SA Open my favourite tournament in South Africa, but with the attention and support it received this year in 2017, I am sure that it will attract even more international stars in the future and vault the tournament to be the most prestigious event on the South African Golf calendar.