South Africa will host the European Tour’s high-profile Volvo Golf Champions event next year after it was moved out of Bahrain because of security concerns.
The European Tour announced in August that the $2.8 million tournament would not return to Bahrain in 2012 because of recent instability in the Gulf state.
Instead, the Links Course at Fancourt on South Africa’s south coast -- which staged the 2003 Presidents Cup -- will now host from Jan. 19-22 and will have an “elite field of champions,” the European Tour said.
The decision announced on Tuesday gives South Africa three successive European Tour events in January with the Africa Open, the Joburg Open and the Golf Champions falling on consecutive weekends.
Englishman Paul Casey won this year’s inaugural Volvo Golf Champions at Bahrain’s Royal Golf Club. The 2012 field will be announced next month, with winners on the 2011 Tour and players who have won 10 or more European Tour titles eligible to compete for the $486,000 winner’s check.
“We are delighted to announce the Volvo Golf Champions will take place at Fancourt Golf Resort in 2012 as the first genuine season-opening tournament of champions, a format we are very pleased to incorporate on our international schedule,” European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady said.
O’Grady added the event could return to Bahrain as early as 2013. Bahrain also lost a Formula 1 Grand Prix this year in the wake of anti-government protests that have left at least 35 dead.
“We know that Bahrain is working hard to address the issues it has faced in recent months, as well as to reach out to the international community,” O’Grady said. “We, together with the European Tour players, look forward to returning and building on that first, very successful, event in the future.”
The shift adds to South Africa’s growing golf portfolio after it was announced in April the country would host a big-money World Golf Championships event at the end of 2012.
The Tournament of Hope -- set to be the richest in the world with a prize fund of $10 million and likely to attract top players -- will take place in late November or early December.
South Africa also has the Alfred Dunhill Championship, South African Open, Africa Open and Joburg Open -- all co-sanctioned by the European Tour and local Sunshine Tour -- and the $5 million Nedbank Golf Challenge, an exhibition that will have top-ranked Luke Donald and No. 2 Lee Westwood playing this year.
Many of the world’s top 50 players are also expected for the Volvo Golf Champions at the Gary Player-designed links layout at Fancourt, near the city of George in South Africa’s Western Cape.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa said: “I have won four of my seven professional titles in South Africa so the fans obviously give me a great home advantage which hopefully will help me in January.”