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South Africans seeking WGC Tournament

South African golf officials and players are campaigning to stage an elite World Golf Championship (WGC) tournament by 2006 and they have a strong case.

Three of the four WGC events, The Accenture World Matchplay, The NEC Invitational and the World Cup, are played in America while the fourth, the American Express Championship, was held in Ireland in 2004.

Although the venue of the World Cup changes each year and the American Express is shared by America, Britain and Ireland, the South Africans want to host a fifth WGC event on an annual basis.

Finding a gap in the calendar, however, and encouraging the American Tour professionals - still the most influential group in world golf - to support the initiative is the biggest obstacle facing South Africa.

The country has hosted a string of successful international events such as the 2003 President's Cup and has two co-sanctioned European Tour events on its calendar.

The 24th annual Sun City Golf Challenge ended on Sunday with Retief Goosen claiming the $1.2-million (R6,8-million)first prize where more than 50 000 spectators passed through the gates over the four days.

Politically the nation is stable after 10 years of democracy, its economy is enjoying a period of strong growth and, above all, it has the facilities to rival the best in the world.

"We want to stage a WGC event and we believe we can for several reasons," Southern Africa PGA Tour Commissioner Johan Immelman said.

"We do not want to take over one of the four current WGC events, but rather to establish our own event."

"We have the courses, the infrastructure and the innovation as a people to make it a truly unique event."

Morally, in terms of success at the majors, southern Africa has produced the most winners outside the United States.

Gary Player claimed nine majors, Bobby Locke won four, Ernie Els and Zimbabwe's Nick Price three each and Goosen two. Since World War 2 no other country can boast such a record.

South Africans won 18 tournaments worldwide in 2004 and 58 players from the Republic participate on the six major tours across the globe.

Player himself is as zealous as ever when discussing this issue.

"This country is truly deserving of a WGC event," he said. "We have produced wonderful players and hosted great sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup, the African Cup of Nations and the Cricket World Cup."

Goosen also entered the debate after his victory at Sun City.

"I think South Africa is deserving of hosting a WGC event," he said. "The quality of the golf courses we have is obvious."

"And South Africa isn't too far for the yanks to travel."

That throwaway line goes to the root of the problem.

To host a WGC tournament requires the blessing of the US PGA Tour, which is difficult to obtain because its members are notoriously reluctant to travel outside of America.

"We know there are very few weeks in the year to be able to host a new event," Immelman said. "But with negotiation and compromise I'm sure we can achieve our dream."

If golfing authorities are serious about golf becoming a global sport then they need to acknowledge venues outside of Britain, Ireland and the US and the most obvious place to start is South Africa.

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