The European Tour staged its last tournament under that name in Dubai on November 28. The following week, the Joburg Open marked the launch of its renaissance as the DP World Tour, this inaugural event being a joint promotion with the South African Sunshine Tour. When the event ended, the headline on the Tour’s website read: ‘[Thriston] Lawrence becomes the first winner of DP World Tour era’. Which didn’t really tell the whole story.

The tournament had in fact been reduced to 36 holes, in part because of bad weather on the weekend, but it had already been reduced to 54 holes in order to allow a charter flight to evacuate European golfers, first to Qatar (and then, in the case of the Brits to the UK) in order to avoid the quarantine regulations that had been rapidly introduced in the wake of the discovery in South Africa of a new – shortly thereafter named as Omicron – variant of the coronavirus. 

(Incidentally, you will know the virus is named after letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta to begin with. Epsilon, the fifth letter, and seven other subsequent ones have been used but those strains have mostly died out. The next letter in line was ‘Nu’ but the World Health Organisation decided not to use that for reasons of potential confusion and the one after that would be ‘Xi’ which the WHO rejected because it’s a common surname, not least in China (Wuhan and all that), where it’s the name of the president. As a consequence of this forethought, and bearing in mind that the Delta variant has been the most pernicious, we are now saddled with an anagrammatical combo of ‘delta’ and ‘omicron’ which creates ‘media control’ – a gift to conspiracy theorists everywhere.)

Back to the golf. The grand idea had been that the final three tournaments of 2021 would involve a stretch of playing in South Africa: the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club, the South African Open at Sun City and the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek. The finding of a new covid variant meant the DP World Tour dropped its involvement, causing the purse for the South African Open (which was won yesterday by Daniel van Tonder) to be cut by a third and its status reduced to being a Sunshine Tour event only. The Alfred Dunhill, scheduled to begin on Thursday, got canned completely. 

Speaking as to the wider ramifications, Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, suggested his country was being punished for its comparatively advanced medical facilities and its transparency for revealing so quickly what it knew about Omicron. He said the UK and other countries were adopting preventive methods that were “not informed by science, nor effective in preventing the spread of this variant [and this would] further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to the pandemic”. 

People frequently try to keep sport out of politics, usually in vain, but when a virus gets into the mix that becomes extra hard. As things stand, the second event of the nascent DP World Tour will get underway in Abu Dhabi on January 20. Covid permitting, of course. 

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