Omicron variant plunges SA golf into uncertainty after Covid-19 travel ban
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JOHANNESBURG - As the sun rose on Randpark Golf Club on Thursday morning, the anticipation for the new season of the DP World Tour (formerly European Tour) and Sunshine Tour was palpable as the Joburg Open began.
A total of 163 professional golfers teed it up in search of a top performance in the co-sanctioned event, but by Thursday evening the tournament was left reeling after the United Kingdom prepared to institute a travel ban on South Africa due to a new Covid-19 variant, the Omicron variant, which had been discovered by local scientists.
By Friday morning, 21 European players had withdrawn from the event as they hurried to book a ticket on a flight out of the country before the travel ban came into effect at 12 noon.
Later on Friday, it was announced that the SA Open next week at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City had been stripped of its status as a European Tour event, and will now be run solely as a Sunshine Tour event. The Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek starting on December 9, was scrapped altogether.
Finally on Friday, at just after 9pm it was announced that the Joburg Open would be reduced to three rounds, or 54 holes instead of 72.
This was in an effort to give the overseas players more time to make travel arrangements and to help navigate the strict quarantine regulations in some countries.
The SA Open is the flagship event for the Sunshine Tour, and had been co-sanctioned with the European Tour since 1997. To be relegated to a regular Sunshine Tour event will come as a crushing blow for tournament organisers and local players, in the second oldest national open in all of golf after The Open.
Now, as the Joburg Open on Saturday begins what would have been the penultimate round in appropriately cold, windy, overcast and somewhat sombre conditions, it’s with a tinge of sadness as local golf in South Africa is once again plunged into uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
African News Agency (ANA)