One hundred occasions later, Vodacom Origins of Golf became an iconic series.
In 2004, after a phone call from Selwyn Nathan, then head of SAIL Sport and Entertainment, sponsorship specialist Michelle van Eyden began ordering plus-four pants, vintage flat caps, Argyle jerseys and even some vintage cars. Then no one understood why. Now, 100 Vodacom Origins of Golf events later, everyone understands why.
From that first Vodacom Origins of Golf series in 2004 to the current series, including last weekend’s 100th tournament at Sun City, it has defined itself as one of the leading pro-am series on the Sunshine Tour.
It showcased South Africa’s leading golf talent and leading golf courses. It launched the professional careers of South Africa’s brightest young stars. It has consistently led the way and raised the bar in terms of the amateur golfer’s experience of what life is like as a professional golfer.
And it stays at the forefront of what’s happening in golf and how it’s translated to the avid weekend golfer and, most importantly, to Vodacom’s VIP customers who are invited to join the Sunshine Tour professionals in the pro-am- element of the series to compete.
It was simply an iconic series of so many defining dimensions.
“When we first came up with the concept, it was against the background that although Vodacom was involved in golf in South Africa, we felt there was more we could do for their GDP customers,” says Nathan, now the executive director of the Sunshine. Tour.
“In that first year we had the theme of Ben Hogan, so we used his image, how he dressed, the style and cars of that time. Since then, we have had several themes for each series. But all of this was supported by the desire to add more value to the Vodacom brand and their relationships with their key customers.
“The fact that we celebrated the 100th tournament shows you the success of the original concept and how it contributes to Vodacom’s desire to reward its customers with a unique experience and through a shared love of golf.”
When Nathan presented the concept to his team in 2004, it was so revolutionary that even Van Eyden wondered how they would make it a reality.
“Selwyn has always been the visionary. He was the dreamer, and I was happy that he allowed me to be the dreamer and he gave me the freedom to run with this idea. But I will never forget when he came up with the idea that he wanted amateur golfers to experience the world of professional golfers. He still said we should embroider people’s names on their golf shoes.
“It felt surreal at that stage, because it was a revolutionary idea in 2004. I was not even sure then how we were going to create this whole vision. But I am grateful for Selwyn’s faith in me and our team to make it happen. ”
Over many years and several evolutions of the series and the teams of people who worked on it, one thing remained constant: innovation.
“Our philosophy for the Vodacom Origins of Golf has always been to push the boundaries and improve the experience every year. Today, it still remains an incredible experience for the amateur golfers who participate. It has evolved to become the must-attend event in golf.
“What is important is that from the beginning we took the series nationwide to all the top golf courses, so it was not just played in the same venue all the time. And it continued to evolve, which you have to do. This now includes even the leading Sunshine Ladies Tour professionals. ”
The milestone of 100 events is significant. When Vodacom started this sponsorship in 2004, Louis Oosthuizen was just starting his professional career. He won his first Sunshine Tour event on the series that year. Thomas Aiken was a young pro who won three times in the series that year. Des Terblanche was still on tour. Steve van Vuuren and Nic Henning still won tournaments in the series. This sheer longevity has a symmetry with the ethos of Vodacom’s sponsorship philosophy.
“Vodacom’s sponsorships are extremely loyal,” says Van Eyden. “We have been involved in South African football since 1998, and in rugby since 1996. It is within Vodacom’s DNA to be a loyal sponsor and to develop a long-term relationship that allows you to grow an opportunity or property into the extent to which you can reach 100 events on a Vodacom Origins of Golf range, and keep improving. ”
While also thinking about 100 tournaments in the series, Nathan says it’s a tribute to the people involved.
“These things do not just happen. We have had leaders in Vodacom who have taken this range forward over the years and supported its vision. So too with the people like Michelle and then those who came after her at the event side of the series. And then our leaders and staff at the Sunshine Tour over the years. Everyone worked on this series and helped move it forward.
“This week you will see that collective effort and passion of 100 Vodacom Origins of Golf events in practice at Sun City. The thanks go out to the people who have worked all these years to grow this concept to what it is. ”
As much as the series started the careers of South African professionals, it still had a huge impact on the local game.
Thomas Abt was one of those who worked on the pioneering team at SAIL to help introduce the Vodacom Origins of Golf in its early years. Today, he is the commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, which helps usher in the series into a new future.