The Nedbank Golf Challenge Through the Decades
On a July evening in 1981, under the fluorescent glow of newsroom lights, a newspaper editor would have been busy finalising the proofs before deadline.
He would probably have smiled at the report on the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and the reported 700 million that watched it.
Then he would read the words “Golfing Coup of the Century”. A golf tournament was offering the first million-dollar purse, and a first prize of $500 000.
The inaugural field was a strong one, including Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Severiano Ballesteros.
And it was off to the best of starts when in the summer of 1981, Miller and Ballesteros battled it out over nine extra playoff holes before the American took the title.
In 1982, the field grew to 10 players, and again it went to a playoff – this time between Raymond Floyd and Craig Stadler and with Floyd eventually walking off with the $300 000 cheque.
The following two tournaments were dominated by the most exciting new star in the game – Ballesteros as he became the first player to successfully defend his title at Sun City.
In 1985, German Bernhard Langer did what only a handful of players have managed to do throughout the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge and won on his debut in the tournament, after winning his maiden Masters title earlier that year.
A year later and “Africa’s Major” had its first African champion when Zimbabwean Mark McNulty won by three strokes.
In 1987, the tournament took its biggest gamble of all when it awarded a $1 million winner-takes-all prize for the field of only eight golfers. Welshman Ian Woosnam’s stunning eagle on the 17th hole saw him take home the $1 million cheque.
And then 1988 and 1989 South African golf celebrated its first champions as first Fulton Allem and then David Frost each took home what was now a $1 million cheque for the winner and then sizeable payouts for the rest of the field as well.
*Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros 277 (Miller won in a playoff).
*Raymond Floyd, Craig Stadler 280 (Floyd won in a playoff).
Seve Ballesteros 274
Seve Ballesteros 279
Bernhard Langer 278
Mark McNulty 282
Ian Woosnam 274
Fulton Allem 278
David Frost 276
Quote from the Eighties
"To get Jack Nicklaus for that first Nedbank Golf Challenge was a coup. We were in trouble politically. But he still came and played."
The rise and rise of Seve
On 5 December 1983, Nick Price – who made his Nedbank Golf Challenge debut in that 1983 tournament – wrote a column for the Independent Newspaper Group in which he declared, "I can honestly say that the Million was won by the greatest player who has graced the face of the earth. Seve Ballesteros is something else."
In 1983, Ballesteros claimed his first of two Nedbank Golf Challenge titles. And he did so in typically swashbuckling fashion.
The great Spaniard played the last three holes with a cut and damaged ball. His brother and caddie, Vincente, forgot to put extra balls in his bag.
"It didn't really bother me," Ballesteros said afterwards. "When I was a caddie in Spain, I couldn't even afford golf balls. I used to play with a potato." He still carded a final round of 68 and went on to win by five shots over Fuzzy Zoeller.
Jack Nicklaus was the bookies' favourite at 2-1 to win the inaugural Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The Gary Player Country Club Course
Even in 1982, the Gary Player Country Club course was being described as a challenge by the media.
In its preview of the tournament, The Pretoria News highlighted the par-four eighth hole, describing it as "A monster of a hole" and the toughest, which it still ranks as today.
"My driving was a bit off, and this course just eats you up when that happens." Fuzzy Zoeller after losing the 1983 Nedbank Golf Challenge.
"It's so easy to go back and rebuild a course until it is good, but this one was spot on first time" Lee Trevino.