Despite Politics, Sun City Retains Allure : Golf: Apartheid boycott takes a back seat when a mediocre performance can earn more than $100,000.
There’s nothing like a million dollars to make a professional golfer forget about issues such as apartheid.
“I asked my lawyer about this South Africa thing,” Tim Simpson was overheard telling Chip Beck, Scott Hoch and their wives during a break in the Sun City Million Dollar Golf Challenge, which ended Sunday.
The attorney’s advice was that an appearance at Sun City might generate some criticism of Simpson, ranked sixth on the PGA Tour money list this year, but that his sponsorships were safe.
Ken Green said he never even gave a thought to the international sports boycott, which anti-apartheid activists say is necessary to pressure Pretoria into dismantling the system of racial segregation, giving the black majority the vote and ending white minority-led rule.
“With only 10 players and a chance to win this kind of money, I’d be foolish not to come. I mean, this is a lot of cash,” said Green, who finished second in last year’s Million Dollar. Besides, he added, “I don’t think sports and politics should be combined.”
Simpson, Beck, Hoch and Green were among seven Americans who accepted Sun International’s invitation to an all-expenses-paid week of golf at Sun City, a lavish gambling resort located in one of South Africa’s nominally independent black “homelands.”
All they had to do was play 72 holes of golf over the Gary Player Country Club. First place was worth $1 million; last place was worth $70,000.
David Frost, a former South African policeman who lives in Dallas, shot a 12-under-par 276 to win the title Sunday. It was here at Sun City that Frost, this year’s World Series of Golf winner, got his first victory as a pro.
Three shots back was Hoch, runner-up in the 1989 Masters, who added $300,000 to the $350,000 he had won the week before in an 18-hole skins game at another Sun International resort. Tim Simpson finished four back and won $250,000.
Don Pooley finished three over par for the four days, but still won $200,000. Beck’s six-over-par performance earned him $150,000 and Andy Bean’s seven-over card won him $120,000.
Scott Simpson and Green tied for last at 13 over par and earned $75,000 apiece. Sandy Lyle, of Great Britain, was 11 over par and won $100,000. Fulton Allem of South Africa, collected $90,000 at 12 over.
“It’s not the best field in the world,” said promoter Sam Feldman, who created the tournament. “Sure, I wish we could do better. But we can’t because of politics. Some pros are just very, very weak. But thankfully, a few don’t bow to that pressure.”
Feldman was angry that 1989 Masters champion Nick Faldo had pulled out with “a puny excuse” after signing a contract to play.
“He said he had such a high profile that he was scared” that his appearance might prompt some European countries to join Sweden in banning all golfers who play in South Africa, Feldman said.
Feldman shook his head. “Too many people make a living out of knocking South Africa,” he said. “This isn’t even South Africa. It’s an independent country.”
Sun City is located in the black “homeland” of Bophuthatswana, a self-governing territory created a decade ago by the South African government. Pretoria is the only government in the world that recognizes Bophuthatswana’s independence, but the resort pays taxes in Bophuthatswana and abides by the laws of that homeland. Its topless dancers and casino gambling would be illegal in South Africa.
Golf has long been virtually exempt from the array of boycotts that face athletes who play here and South Africans Frost, Player and Allem have been welcomed on the PGA Tour. Even black American Lee Elder accepted an invitation to play a tournament in South Africa earlier this year.
The dollar signs at Sun City’s annual event once were enough to lure the best players in the world, including Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros, Lanny Wadkins, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Craig Stadler, Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw. But as the sports boycott intensified, pressure grew from sponsors to stay away.
The money isn’t as lucrative as it once was for Americans. Even before the players receive their checks, each prize is slashed by half to pay Bophuthatswana income taxes.
American golfers once were able to deduct those taxes on their U.S. returns, but Congress recently removed the foreign tax exemption for South Africa. And, as far as Congress is concerned, Bophuthatswana is part of South Africa.
Nevertheless, the remainder still is enough for some, especially those who haven’t been making much money on the tour lately.
“I’ll tell you what: That amount of money opens your eyes every morning,” Bean told local reporters upon arriving for last week’s tournament. As he was leaving, however, Bean blamed jet lag on his slow start and his opening round 81, the highest score in the history of the tournament. “I’ve finally got on the right time zone,” Bean said after closing with a 69.
Scott Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open winner from San Diego, told local reporters that he turned down an invitation to the Million Dollar Challenge that year because of a tight schedule “and also partly for political reasons.”
Asked why he had accepted this year, Simpson said: “I guess my views have changed quite a bit over the two years. I used to be more liberal than I am now.”
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