SA Open trophy’s origins not entirely clear

Stars such as Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Henrik Stenson will be competing for one of South Africa’s iconic trophies in the102nd South African Open Championship at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate.

There is a record in an advertisement in 1909 which refers to the ‘Open Championship Floating Trophy’, which was to be held by the amateur or professional with the lowest score in the Open. But there is no indication, either then or since, in the SA Golf Association records regarding how or when the trophy was first acquired or by whom it was presented. It is referred to in all instances as the ‘Open Championship Cup’ or ‘Trophy’.

The South African Open was inaugurated in 1903 after a series of exhibition matches had been played in the decade prior to it. It is the second-oldest national open golf championship in the world, with the Open Championship being the oldest. It is also the second-oldest sporting competition in South Africa after the Currie Cup, which was first played for in 1893.

The tournament was a 36-hole event until 1908 when it became 72 holes. However, for the next 60 years it was a three-day event as 36 holes were played on the final day. It was only at the 1969 event at Durban Country Club that it became a four-day event – the format it still maintains today.

In 1997, the European Tour co-sanctioned the event for the first time and the tournament has remained co-sanctioned ever since. The tournament has grown over the years and now offers an impressive total prize fund of €1-million.

Over four decades, Gary Player won an astonishing 13 SA Open titles which is comfortably the most of any golfer. He and Bobby Locke hold the record for the most consecutive wins with five. Locke also holds the record for being the youngest winner courtesy of his triumph in 1935 when he was just 17, while Sid Brews is the oldest champion with his title in 1952 having come at the age of 53.

Last year Hennie Otto claimed his maiden SA Open title to continue South Africa’s dominance on the trophy since the turn of the century. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay broke an eight-year stranglehold that South African golfers had on the tournament when he won at Pearl Valley in 2009, but with Ernie Els winning in 2010 and Otto claiming victory last year, the golfers from the Republic have re-asserted their dominance.

South Africa’s national open has a long and prestigious history, and getting one’s name on such a trophy is a proud achievement for any golfer, regardless of nationality. It will thus be all to play for at Serengeti as the players in the field this week will be after the lucrative winner’s cheque of €158,500 (R1,754,595). However, the player who lifts the trophy on Sunday will also join a wonderful list of champions and etch themselves in golfing history.

By Michael Todt

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