South Africa’s Zander Lombard will make his debut in the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge, and is the first player to qualify for the Rolex Series tournament following his first-place finish on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit last season.

As the winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit for 2018-2019, Lombard qualifies automatically for the penultimate tournament on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, which will be played at the Gary Player Country Club course at Sun City from November 14-17, 2019.

And “Africa’s Major” will offer even more value than ever before this year as Sun International has announced an Early Bird ticket special for this year’s tournament. Fans purchasing tickets from now until 19 May will do so at 2018 prices, offering an incredible incentive for this leading Rolex Series tournament. Tickets can be purchased here.

Lombard makes his debut in a significant year for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, with the partnership between Nedbank, the European Tour and Sun International having been renewed until 2021, and Sun City also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The tournament also features a number of exciting changes as it occupies an even more significant place on the Rolex Series.

The winner this year will take home US$2.5 million, an increase on the US$1.25 million won by England’s Lee Westwood for his 2018 victory. The overall prize fund remains at US$7.5 million, with the balance of the field from second place onwards playing for a US$5 million prize fund. This year’s tournament also offers an increased haul of Race to Dubai points from 7 500 to 10 000.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to secure my place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, which is an iconic tournament for every South African golfer. It’s a tournament you really want to play in because of the fantastic local support the South African golfers receive, and then hopefully one day to be able to win it,”said Lombard.

The young South African secured his first Sunshine Tour Order of Merit triumph on the back of a 2018 in which he won his maiden professional title on the Tour in the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Zebula. In November he regained his playing privileges on the European Tour when he finished tied first in the Qualifying School Final Stage in Spain.

“Winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit was always a goal of mine because of the opportunities it creates, such as playing in the Rolex Series tournaments. The Rolex Series is the pinnacle of tournaments you want to be competing in on the European Tour. They are a great opportunity for all of us on the Tour who are looking to take our careers to the next level. To be able to qualify for the Rolex Series is an indication that your career is headed in the right direction.”

Anthony Leeming, Chief Executive of Sun International, welcomed Lombard’s participation in such a significant year for the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

“There have been so many incredible milestones throughout the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and this year is certainly one of the most significant with the new changes to the Rolex Series. We are delighted to have renewed our partnership with Nedbank and the European Tour in a year in which we celebrate the 40th anniversary of South Africa’s most iconic resort.”

The Gary Player Country Club, one of Gary Player Design’s most prestigious courses, will likewise celebrate its 40th anniversary this year as the annual home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

“It’s an incredible moment to see how this golf course and resort have grown together over the years and played a role in not only the developments in world golf, but also as wonderful adverts for South Africa and taking the beauty of our country to an international audience,”said tournament host Gary Player.

With total prize money of US$7.5 million, the Nedbank Golf Challenge is the second richest tournament on the Rolex Series after the season-ending US$8 million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. The increase in the winner’s prize money makes for two of the most lucrative weeks in world golf, with the following week’s DP World Tour Championship now offering the richest first prize in world golf as the winner pockets a cheque for US$3 million.

“We are thrilled to not only have extended our partnership with the European Tour and Sun International for another three years, but to also have entrenched the Nedbank Golf Challenge’s status as one of the premier tournaments in world golf,”said Mike Brown, Chief Executive, Nedbank Group.

“The increase in the first-place prize money and changes to the points system enhance the tournament’s status as an event for the world’s top players to participate in.”

The field size for the 2019 tournament will be 64 players, which is part of the progressive reduction of the field sizes of the final three Rolex Series tournaments of the season – the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and the DP World Tour Championship. The leading 70 players on the Race to Dubai will qualify to play in Turkey, then the leading 60 (plus four invites that includes the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner) thereafter progressing to South Africa, and the leading 50 thereafter lining up in Dubai.