Ekurhuleni - The 107th South African Open Championship, proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, will feature one of its strongest local challenges in recent years as South Africa's top professionals seek to return the title to home soil.
The January 11-14 edition of the second oldest national Open in golf, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour, was officially launched at Glendower Golf Club on Monday.
Ernie Els, the player host of the R15 million championship, leads a strong South African challenge including double US Open champion Retief Goosen, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, 2016 champion Brandon Stone, and European Tour winners Branden Grace, George Coetzee, Haydn Porteous, Dean Burmester, Darren Fichardt and Dylan Frittelli.
The South African professionals remain fiercely patriotic about their national Open, and the fact that four of the last six editions of this prestigious championship have been won by foreign golfers provided further impetus behind their commitment to the 2018 championship.
Els has five South African Open titles behind his name and said he is delighted with the response from the leading South African professionals to support the championship's continued growth.
"The 2017 South African Open Championship was highlighted by the fact that we had one of the world's best players, Rory McIlroy, in the field. The 2018 tournament will be highlighted by some of our best local professionals making sure that this title comes back to South Africa," said Els.
Goosen has twice won his national Open, while Stone returns as the last South African to have won the championship in 2016.
England's Graeme Storm took the title in January 2017 following a thrilling playoff with McIlroy at Glendower Golf Club.
Schwartzel has as much incentive as the rest of his fellow South Africans to add this title to his list of global victories, having been beaten by England's Andy Sullivan in a playoff in 2015.
"The tournament has always featured prominently in the careers of South Africa's greatest golfers. It is the common thread running through all of their careers. To have such a strong local contingent going up against the European Tour's finest professionals is a true celebration of what this championship stands for and the South African pride associated with it," said Alexander Baraka, General Manager: Brand Management BMW, Marketing Services.
The City of Ekurhuleni and Glendower Golf Club are once again hosts of one of the great tournaments in world golf.
"We look forward to once again welcoming the international golfers to Ekurhuleni and also placing our full support behind our South African professionals as they seek to return this historic title to its home," said City of Ekurhuleni executive mayor, councilor Mzwandile Masina.
"The record attendance and interest we had in the 2017 South African Open Championship was another resounding endorsement of Ekurhuleni's status as a municipality focused on its people and able to deliver on our growth and development targets."
Selwyn Nathan, executive director of The Sunshine Tour, praised the support of the country's top golfers for the flagship tournament on The Sunshine Tour calendar.
"The South African Open Championship has a rich history on our tour and has been the foundation upon which many of our country's leading professionals have built their illustrious careers.
"This has been a title that our South African golfers have always defended with great pride, and we look forward to one of our homegrown stars adding their name to its incredible history."
The South African Open Championship will be the first 72-hole tournament of the 2018 calendar year on the European Tour.
"We are delighted to return to the City of Ekurhuleni and Glendower as the first 72-hole tournament of the year for our members," said European Tour chief executive officer Keith Pelley.
"The 2017 South African Open Championship set a thrilling tone for the rest of the season, and I have no doubt that South Africa and the support of our partners, the Sunshine Tour, and sponsors BMW and the City of Ekurhuleni, will again make for the start of another exciting year on The European Tour in 2018."