FOR almost two decades, the Zimbabwe Open was one of the premier events on the Sunshine Tour. Its list of champions includes Zimbabwe natives Nick Price and Mark McNulty and Fiji’s Vijay Singh.
Success at the Zimbabwe Open launched each of these players to greater heights in the world of golf. Price and Singh went on to win three major championships each, while McNulty earned a major title on the European Tour (1996 Volvo Masters) and the US Champions Tour (2007 JELD-WEN Tradition).
Now, for almost a decade, there has been a void on the Sunshine Tour schedule where the Zimbabwe Open once was. An uncertain economic climate led sponsors to withdraw their support from the event.
But the void has been filled.
Next weekend, the Zimbabwe Open returns to the Sunshine Tour schedule and Royal Harare Golf Club with Africom as the title sponsor. Africom is a company specialising in communications technology.
“I tell you, I am on Cloud 9,” Zimbabwe native and Sunshine Tour pro TC Charamba told 7CsGOLF.com. “It’s probably the best thing that has ever happened in my golfing career.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks to all the corporations and individuals involved in putting this prestigious event back on the map.”
Charamba might have more reasons than most to be excited about the event. Besides getting a major Sunshine Tour event back in his homeland, Charamba gets to play at a course that has been very kind to him.
Just last month, Charamba won the NetOne PGA Championship, which served as a qualifier for the Africom Zimbabwe Open, at Royal Harare. His win included a blistering second-round 64.
But his history at Royal Harare goes even deeper. He won four junior titles and three amateur titles there as well.
“I love the Royal Harare design, and it just suits my eye,” said Charamba.
Fellow Zimbabwean Darren Bismark-Pettit was also ecstatic to see the event return to the Sunshine Tour calendar. He’s even more excited to be playing in it; he finished in the top 10 at the NetOne PGA Championship to qualify.
“The feeling of qualifying for the Zimbabwe Open was great. I was so happy,” he said. “It meant a lot as I have never had the chance to play in such a big tournament in my own country since I turned pro in 2006.
“It (having the tournament) means a great deal for golf, not only pro golf but golf on the whole in Zimbabwe. For pro golf it’s nice to see we are getting big sponsors who are interested in holding the tournament. I think there are better things to come, and I feel the Zimbabwe Open is just the start.”
Though Royal Harare is not particularly lengthy, it is no less challenging. Both Charamba and Bismark-Pettit stressed the importance of hitting the ball cleanly off the tee and avoiding the thick rough.
Many of the greens are raised and surrounded by bunkers, making approach shots difficult. Charamba calls the putting surfaces “a true test of championship play”.
“It’s a great championship course,” added Bismark-Pettit. “I love playing this course. It’s got some tough holes and then it has some easier scoring holes. I have played a couple of tournaments here, and the course is always in great shape.”
There will be plenty of big names vying for the championship at the revived Zimbabwe Open. Nine-time Sunshine Tour winner Hennie Otto, who won last month’s Vodacom Championship with a stunning 28-under-par score, and five-time winner Jaco Van Zyl headline the field.
Other past Sunshine Tour winners among the list of entries are Trevor Fisher Jr (four wins), Anton Haig (two) and Jbe Kruger (the reigning Zambia Open champ). Reigning Vusi Ngubeni Q School winner Toto Thimba also is among the entries.
But a strong challenge should also come from the home contingent. Nine-time Tour winner Marc Cayeux heads the Zimbabwe charge along with Charamba and Ignatius Mketekete, who was second in the NetOne event.
Both Charamba and Bismark-Pettit agreed that winning their national open would be a dream come true.
“Winning my national open would be great for the development of the game in the country and the continent as a whole,” said Charamba. “I have always wanted to win this event. Getting the big one would cement my dream, and having home-grown talent winning the Open will open doors for other upcoming players and more corporate involvement in the sport.”
“It would be the greatest thing I would have achieved so far in my golfing career,” said Bismark-Pettit. “It would guarantee a two-year exemption on the Sunshine Tour, which would open many doors for me. For a Zimbabwean to win it would be awesome, especially with all the hometown supporters out watching.”
Given the long absence of the event, there’s little doubt that plenty of spectators will be on hand to cheer the return of Zimbabwe’s cherished national open.
Spokesman for the Open, Henry Manzungu, said: “The golf fraternity in Zimbabwe really missed this tournament. The expectation is so huge, even across our boarders. We’ve received enquiries saying ‘is this thing really on?’”