Four-time Sunshine Tour champion Michiel Bothma has embraced his role as the first Ambassador of the IGT Challenge Tour.
'I have been an ambassador for golf all my life and love what I do, so to have an opportunity to promote South Africa's premier golf development circuit and to help to make it become stronger and better is a fantastic opportunity,' said Bothma.
The appointment was made official on Sunday, ahead of the 13th event in the Race to Q-School series at Modderfontein Golf Club from Monday to Wednesday.
Bothma campaigned on the IGT Challenge Tour at the start of the season to prepare for the Qualifying Round of the BMW SA Open.
The 2002 SA PGA Championship winner fired a five-under-par 67 to win the Modderfontein Golf Club qualifier after his first IGT start. On Friday, the 44-year-old from Pretoria shot six-under-par 66 in the final round of the Race to Q-School #13 to seal a top 20 finish at Centurion Country Club.
'I am so fired up to compete again,' said Bothma. 'I gave up golf two years ago after my left big toe had to be amputated due to circulation issues in my lower left leg. I had balance issues and I struggled to generate power, so I packed it in and I was going to try out for the Senior Tour at 50.
'I hadn't touched a club for eight months when a friend persuaded me to play again late last year. I played some really great golf, then another solid round and that was it. I had my mojo again.
'So I played the IGT Challenge Tour to get the rust off and I was blown away by the level of competitiveness, the high standard and the all-round positive vibe. Just imagine if we had a circuit like the IGT Challenge Tour back in 1993.
'When I turned pro, you had two choices. You tried to get on the Sunshine Tour or you headed overseas. I made it onto the Sunshine Tour in 1993, but it was an ongoing battle to keep my card for the first six years.
'The transition from amateur golf to the pro circuit is massive, especially for South African amateurs, because we are so isolated. The costs to play abroad are astronomical. I went to the United States and played the Golden Bear Tour for 15 weeks in 1999; then to Europe where I competed on the EuroPro Tour for two seasons. Back then it cost me roughly R300 000 to play in the States and R200 000 in Europe per season. The benefit was immediate, as I won the Telkom PGA Championship as soon as I came home. But now you are looking at $2 000 for membership and $1 000 per event in the States and at least €150 per event in Europe.
'The IGT Challenge Tour is a professional, well-run outfit and the standard is on par with the feeder circuits abroad. It's fantastic to have a circuit right here at home where a season of 32 events will only run you around R72 000. And if you look at the statistics over the last five years, the success of the tour is undeniable.'
IGT Challenge Tour graduates have dominated the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School since 2012, taking 80% of the 30 cards on offer. Over the last seven years, the scoring average for the top 30 at Sunshine Q-School has improved by 7.2 strokes.
Sunshine Tour winners Danie van Tonder, Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout all campaigned on the IGT Challenge Tour as amateurs before they turned pro and count among multiple winners on the Sunshine and European Tours. In 2017, five graduates - JC Ritchie, MJ Viljoen, Tyrone Ryan, Hennie du Plessis and Jaco Prinsloo - became first time winners on the Sunshine Tour. And the last five Sunshine Tour Rookie of Year winners were also IGT Challenge Tour graduates.
'The circuit runs throughout the year, offering 54-hole events with a 36-hole cut and what I love about it is that it offers the amateurs a platform to compete on against the pros without compromising their amateur status,' said Bothma.
'The amateurs have somewhere to learn between amateur events, the pros have a circuit where they can stay competitive between Sunshine Tour events and it's perfect for guys like me, or pros who have lost their card, to keep competitive. It's open to the ladies, too, so the ladies also have a circuit where they can prepare for the annual Sunshine Ladies Tour or the LPGA and Ladies European Tour Qualifying Schools.
'Since the start of 2017, the Gary Player School of 2017 members have also been playing on the IGT Challenge Tour and they are blossoming. It's the perfect bridge for them onto the Sunshine Tour.'
IGT Challenge Tour commissioner Cois du Plooy said when he decided to appoint an ambassador, it was important to select someone to represent and promote the IGT Challenge Tour that understood all the levels of the Tour.
'We needed a person who understood the benefits for the amateurs, the professionals, the ladies and our collaboration with the Sunshine Tour on their development initiatives, namely the Gary Player School of 2017 and the Big Easy Tour,' said Du Plooy.
'We launched in 2010 and we've known Michiel for almost that long. He is one of the true gentlemen of the game and he was the natural choice for the job, both as a player and as a person who is truly passionate about golf development. We are very excited to collaborate with Michiel to keep growing the IGT Challenge Tour.'
Picture of Bothma sharing his knowledge with amateurs and rookie professionals during the final round of the Race to Q-School #13 at Centurion Country Club courtesy of CJ du Plooy. (From left to right): Sean Bradley from Cape Town, Ruan Conradie, Danielle du Toit and Albert Venter from Pretoria, Pieter Moolman from Benoni, Louis Albertse from Rustenburg, and Estiaan Conradie from Pretoria