“Excited" seems inadequate as a word to contain the full spectrum of emotions experienced when talking about the return of the Joburg Open, taking place at Randpark Golf Club from 19 – 22 November 2020.
Words fail me, but I am beyond excited for two reasons. Firstly that we are back to supporting the Joburg Open after a two-year absence. Hosting this tournament under the City of Joburg municipality, perfectly aligns with our agenda to position the City as an event destination of choice.
Secondly, the fact that the Joburg Open is the first of three Sunshine Tour international golf tournaments to be played during the lowering of lockdown levels of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa in 2020, is another indescribable highlight for us.
In line with the President's recent announcement to the South African National Assembly that a range of measures would be initiated to set the country on a new path of growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Joburg is thrilled that the Joburg Open is one of the events on the City of Joburg and Sunshine Tour's calendars, which will play a definitive role towards boosting the economy from an international sports and tourism perspective.
Since the country has decided to open up the economy, allowing businesses to trade and for sporting activities to continue, we face hosting this event during the global pandemic with some mixed emotions too. We are certainly chartering new territories and it is heartening that the tournament is happening, but the flipside is that we have to pull it off while working under the constraints of very stringent COVID-19 adherence protocols.
To start, we've had to reduce the size of the field for the first time in the history of tournament. The Joburg Open has always been able to boast the biggest field of any South African tournament with a field of around 204 players and being played across two courses. This year we are down to half the field size with 156 players and only playing on one course, at Firethorn at Randpark Golf Club. Losing such a large chunk of the players means that we don't have as much variety of the some of the top players in the European and Sunshine Tours.
Hosting the tournament requires the strictest protocols to be adhered particularly for the safety of the players, caddies and event management teams. Naturally, there are major limitations as to what can be done at an event during COVID-19, and everything that is planned and executed, is being done with the health and safety measures of the people as the primary concern. From the players, to the tournament officials, caddies, event, medical and support staff, everything is being done with the safety of everyone in mind.
Our COVID-19 compliance strategy requires all players, particularly those arriving from international travel destinations, to produce a COVID-19 negative certificate not older than 72 hours upon arrival in the country. A few days prior to commencement of the tournament, all players and staff will be retested or tested for COVID-19 at our Medical Testing Hub set up at the Randpark Golf Club, with a 4-hour waiting period for results. Once a COVID-19 negative result is received, the player or staff member will be initiated into the Bio Bubble System we have set up. This comprises of an Inner Bubble, consisting of the professional golfers, caddies and limited tournament staff. A second Outer Bubble, of further support staff to the tournament will be placed in this second system. All players and staff, will be accommodated in tournament accommodation at various hotels and B&B's within an 8km radius of the golf club, and will remain in the Bio Bubble System, traveling only from their accommodation to the golf course for the duration of the tournament days.
In addition, everyone involved in the Joburg Open will undergo daily on site temperature and questionnaire screening at the Medical Testing Hub checkpoint, prior to entering the golf facility at Randpark Golf Club for the day.
The health and safety protocols alone are indicative of just how business “unusual" this year's tournament is. But also for the first time in the history of sport globally, there has been a “spectator black out" at sporting arenas and venues, forcing fans to sit at home and consume the sport through other mediums like television and digital platforms. The same is the case with the Joburg Open this year, leaving fans to watch the tournament from home on SuperSport Channel 213 from Thursday to Sunday.
Other ways in which the tournament is different this year, is that since the commencement of the tournament in 2007, we have supported emerging entrepreneurs from all walks of life by giving them an opportunity to showcase and market their products at our event at the Public Welcome Centre. This year, due to no public attendance, we unfortunately cannot do that. Post the pandemic, we will certainly reinstate this initiative.
Each year we also host the annual City's Legacy Programme - Golf Coaching Clinic, where 10 of the tournament pro golfers, spend a morning teaching and coaching between 80 to 100 young people in the game of golf. This is another crucial initiative that cannot take place this year, but which will be reinstated once the global pandemic has lifted.
We will not be able to enjoy the usual networking and social functions for City and Sunshine Tour guests, sponsors and stakeholders, due to heeding to stringent Social Distancing and complying with the number of people allowed for public gatherings. The players cannot attend the Pro Am prize giving, due to the “bio bubbles" we've had to create for health and safety reasons, so it's unfortunate that this year, the “Stars" are unable to attend the one function we have planned.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
We understand and accept that in order to uphold the COVID-19 compliance mandatories, we cannot do some of the aforementioned initiatives that the Joburg Open has become renowned for. But there are some encouraging innovations and highlights for us, one of which is certainly bringing back some of the “normal" with the return of a live sporting event even under strict COVID compliance. Just being able to watch fresh new sporting events such as the Joburg Open on TV, and not old reruns of former events, plays a major role in removing some of the doom and gloom, and heaviness felt by the country. We can watch live golf again, and that is exciting for fans.
The City has used its three Sponsor Invites, to again invite three young professional golfers, who have just recently completed qualifying school and received their golf tour card with an opportunity to come and play in the Joburg Open tournament, to gain experience of playing at international tournament level. Having done this for the past few years, has had a major impact on giving a major boost to the careers and confidence of the three or four different players selected each year for this amazing initiative over the years.
We've also placed a large focus on thinking of ways to engage with fans and were very intentional about how best we could still contribute towards employment opportunities for the local community and SMME's through the tournament.
To this end, although on a smaller scale, the tournament is still contributing to job creation, by providing temporary employment to young people and some SMME's through contracting their services for the duration of the tournament. To do be in a position to do this again, during a year when the world came to a standstill economically, is an enormous privilege for us.
We've had to be innovative with how we engage with the golf loving fans so that they too still feel part of the tournament. To this end we've designed and run competitions across various media and social media platforms, giving four fans a chance to win spots to play in the Pro Am. We're also offering various Joburg Open merchandize and memorabilia giveaways to fans who engage with us via the various platforms. We're hoping that in this way, the loyal fans who usually come out to walk the course and watch the Joburg Open each year, still feel like they are part of the event in 2020.
In responding to the President's decision to open the economy and to the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa's call to reinstate sporting events, with the aim of fueling the economy again, the City of Joburg is truly proud of its ability to host the international Joburg Open in 2020 during COVID-19 pandemic.
COJ Event Management Director & Tournament Promoter