OUTLINED AGAINST a make-believe palace in a phony lost city
featuring a pretend volcano guarded by a knockoff sphinx near a
simulated ocean crashing against a man-made beach in a former
puppet republic, Corey Pavin tapped his dimpled golf ball into a
plastic cup on Sunday for a simple par faux and made himself a
pile of cash.
It was the winner-take-most Million Dollar Challenge at the Gary
Player Golf Course in Sun City, South Africa, the tournament
that used to prove that golf has no conscience and now,
depending on your stance on giant rhinestone monkeys in silk
coconut trees, just proves it has no taste. (Not that plaid was
having much problem.)
All Pavin had to do was hang a final-round six-under 66 on 11 of
the world's best golfers, good enough for a framed embossed
patch, a small crystal trophy and one million bananas. Nick
Price, tied with Pavin for the lead with 18 holes to play,
needed five more strokes, and they cost him $150,000 each, as
second paid $750,000 less.
Money motivated six of the top seven and 12 of the top 24
Sony-ranked golfers to play Sun City. Of course, for enough
money, golfers will play in the Mussolini Open. They proved that
in the first 14 years in Sun City, when it was part of the
"homeland" of Bophuthatswana, a stooge republic that was created
by the South African government, conveniently independent from
the big country and its racist apartheid system. However, no
United Nations members recognized its independence, and most
athletes shunned the place. But not golfers. Despite the
international athletic boycott against South Africa and despite
letters of warning from the U.S. State Department, they all
came--Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd. One big name refused
all those years--Tom Watson--though Craig Stadler signed a pledge
not to return after having played there twice.
Arthur Ashe used to call huge South African sports purses a
"guilt premium," but it was actually an American golfer who put
the guilted edge on the Challenge. In 1979 Trevino suggested to
South African hotel czar Sol Kerzner that if he put up a million
and "let 'em play for it," his nothing little tournament would
be big time. Apartheid in South Africa finally fell four years
ago, followed shortly by the trick republics, but the
eye-goggling money is still here--the Purse That Apartheid Built.
Now that freedom reigns, the only reason to stay away from Sun
City is a distaste for 14-hour flights or an allergy to giant
"Let's face it," Pavin said Saturday, "we're here for the money.
If this event was giving out $400,000, they wouldn't have this
Not that there's nothing to look at. Sun City is the Pamela
Anderson of resorts--you know it's all phony, but you can't help
admiring the effort. Ninety miles from Johannesburg, sitting in
the middle of miles of African brush, it is Las Vegas on
steroids. There are 10 mammoth stone elephants flanking each
side of the Bridge of Time, which shakes exactly two millimeters
every hour on the hour with the fake volcano's eruption, which
you can hear inside the huge Hall of Treasures (slot machines),
which features Africa's largest and, come to think of it, only
fiber-optic Milky Way ceiling, which is not far from the Valley
of Waves, which is where the world's most sophisticated
wave-making machine produces six-footers, which wash up on the
shores of a vast beach made of crushed marble, which is just
below the 57-foot Slide of Courage, which is so steep you cannot
see most of it from the top, which is why Pavin took two years
to get up the courage to try it. "The lady at the top kept
wanting to push me," he says.
Steve Wynn should dream this big. There are massive man-made
waterfalls, perilous (phony) hanging bridges, faked "ancient"
amphitheaters with actual "toppled" columns and even a giant
penned-in game preserve with trucked-in rhinos for your viewing
pleasure. There is the Temple of Creation and the Gong of the
Sun Lion and the Sacred Monkey Plaza, and after three days you
are very Sick of This.
It is not just over the top. It is a toll call from the top.
Gary Player, for instance, calls the 13th hole at Lost City, the
resort's other golf course--which, like the main one, he
designed--"even more spectacular than the 16th at Cypress Point."
Just for the record, the hole he's talking about is a downhill
par-3 featuring a green shaped like Africa surrounded by bunkers
with three colors of sand and a pit with 38 live crocodiles. You
sure this isn't an Alistair Mackenzie design? Once, an American
walked into the clubhouse and announced to the golf pro that he
had saved par out of the crocodile hazard.
"Are you crazy?" the pro said. "There are crocs in there!"
"Yeah, yeah," the American replied. "They're all plastic."
No, they are not plastic, they are the real live brothers of the
ones at the Kwena Gardens Crocodile Sanctuary, which invites you
to "Come see the jumping crocodiles" and, afterward, dine on
"crocodile delicacies." Hey, Sol, the crocodiles would like to
speak to you about the word sanctuary.
The Challenge tends to be just as wild. This is the tournament
at which John Daly reportedly lost more money in the casino than
he won on the golf course (his eighth place was worth $120,000)
and then won by TKO over his hotel room. This is the place where
Trevino once bogeyed a crucial hole after a baboon screamed on
his backswing. And this is where Nick Faldo won his million last
year and a couple of weeks later issued the single greatest golf
quote of the '90s: "After I won, I asked my wife what she
wanted. She said a divorce. I said I wasn't thinking of anything
that expensive." A year later, she almost has it.
There were the days when this tournament didn't quite know what
it was. For a while it was five players, then 10, then eight.
For a while it was pros with celebrities, but that ended not
long after officials had to tell Hulk Hogan he was out of the
tournament after he whiffed his first five tries. For a while it
was winner take all. And in 1986, it was almost nothing at all.
That was the year Lanny Wadkins saved it. It was the height of
the antiapartheid movement, and most Americans had been scared
off by a State Department letter telling them that their safety
in South Africa could not be ensured. As it was, the tournament
director in those days, Sam Feldman, would not announce which
players were coming until the wheels were up on their jets, thus
sparing them the scorn of antiapartheid groups. But in '86 the
supply of decent players was dwindling to zilch. Kerzner decided
he would cancel the whole thing if no Americans came. Wadkins
was the only one who came. "I never felt afraid there," he says
today. "I thought Bophuthatswana ran a nice government." And his
conscience never bothered him? "I don't think an athlete is
going to make a difference whether a government holds up or not.
All I've got is one vote just like everybody else." Well,
everybody but black South Africans at the time.
But the bad old days are gone now, and no inconvenient political
issues get in the way of a golf superstar's need to think about
swing planes. "It's nice not to have all that pressure,'' says
two-time Sun City winner Bernhard Langer, who finished third
this time around. "I still say that it wouldn't have helped the
blacks if I'd stayed away. I wouldn't have won the one million,
and the tournament wouldn't have been able to give $500,000 of
it [in taxes] to the blacks." Of course, if $500,000 is going to
the Bophuthatswana blacks every year, they are hiding it very
well. Ten minutes outside the bronze gates of Sun City, tin
shanties and blunt poverty are everywhere. Change will take
time. But for now the fans, the VIPs and the management are
mostly still as white as the golf balls themselves. "They tell
us they are helping us," said David, one black Lost City caddie.
"But each time we come to ask, they say, 'No, the jobs are all
During this week, however, David had a job as one of golf's
first-ever caddie caddies. This is true. The week at Sun City is
so decadent that the 12 regular caddies get free luxury lodging,
free food and their own caddies to do everything but carry the
bag: clean clubs, fetch drinks and shag practice balls, among
other things. They are believed to be history's first sublet
caddies. "I think we just found the caddie major," said Phil
Mickelson's regular man, Jim Mackay.
Eventually the players had to leave the Royal Baths and the
$300-per-night suites and play the golf course, where, according
to Player, the greens were "better than Augusta National's"--has
Player been wearing his hat enough?--and the jungle rough was
scary. You didn't want to hit it out there. "There's black
mambas waiting for you," said Tom Lehman.
Pavin and Price hit it there the least and found themselves tied
for the lead after three rounds at six under. Faldo hit a lot of
balls where the elephants go to die and threw up a little 45 on
the front nine Friday, his worst nine holes as a pro.
Sunday, though, was all Pavin's. He went out in a wicked 31.
Price had made the turn two under, at 34, and suddenly trailed
by three. "Every time I made the smallest mistake," he grumbled,
"I was screwed." It has been that kind of year for Price, who
until last month hadn't won anything anywhere. But he had a
little Safari Slam going in Africa, coming off back-to-back wins
at the King Hassan Golf Trophy II in Morocco and the Zimbabwe
Open, where he beat Mark McNulty and three kudu.
He didn't have to contend with Pavin in those shindigs, and on
Sunday the man they call Jockey was about as catchable as a
cheetah. He never made a bogey. Come to think of it, he went the
last 45 holes without making one. His victory put a nice little
candle on a chocolate-filled-pastry kind of year--winning the
U.S. Open, playing heroically at the Ryder Cup and now this.
"We've been saving up to build a house [in Orlando]," he said.
Must be some house. In the past six weeks he has made $265,500
for a second-place tie at the Tour Championship, $225,000 at the
Grand Slam of Golf, $240,000 at the Skins Game and now this.
That's $1.73 million playing in fields of 30, four, four and 12,
respectively. "I guess we'll have a little left over now," he
One man's shack is another man's mansion. Meet Moses Dlidli, the
28-year-old sublet to Pavin's caddie, Eric Schwarz. As Pavin
spoke to the media, Dlidli was giving Schwarz a hearty
handshake. Schwarz had promised Dlidli for three years running
that if his man ever won Sun City, he would pay him $3,000 out
of his $100,000 take. "I figured he'd buy himself a car," said
Schwarz. "He's never had one." Actually, nobody in Dlidli's
family has owned a car, and he has a 30-minute walk to his job
as a caddie each day at Sun City.
But Dlidli had his sights on more than that. He wanted a new
house of his own. He lives in a one-room tin shanty in Ledig, a
few miles beyond the chrome glare of Sun City. It has no
kitchen, no bathroom, two kids, his girlfriend and, on one wall,
a giant poster of Pavin.
On Sunday, Dlidli handed the bag over to Schwarz on the 1st tee
and for the next four hours worked the edges of the gallery, not
breathing over putts, looking to the sky on chips and all the
while praying Zulu prayers. His prayers were answered.
Dlidli said he would build a four-room house--two bedrooms, a
kitchen and a living room, with an outdoor toilet. As he talked
he kept trying to pull the hat over his face to hide his par-5
grin and the tears that would soon follow. No such luck.
"I am so happy," Dlidli said. "So, so happy."
Said an emotional Schwarz, "A house for three thousand bucks?
This is pretty cool!"
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOS BY BOB MARTIN Pavin and Co. can now afford a home only slightly smaller than the Palace in which they were pampered. [Corey Pavin and family holding oversized check for one million dollars; aerial view of building in Sun City, South Africa]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOS BY BOB MARTINSchwarz (left) was paid handsomely, but nobody worked harder for his money than Dlidli. [Eric Schwarz and Moses Dlidli]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOS BY BOB MARTINEven the hazards at Sun City are unique, but the golfers can't say that they haven't been warned. [Crocodiles in pond; "DANGER" sign warning against entering crocodile pond]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOS BY BOB MARTIN Lehman (above) went into a slide on the weekend, while things looked up for the chipper Pavin. [Tom Lehman on waterslide; Corey Pavin]