Fourteen-year old Ashleigh Simon, the leading female amateur in South Africa, was invited play in the Sunshine Tours final summer event, the Tour Championship, which will be played at Leopard Creek, Feb. 19-22.
Sunshine Tour chairman Johann Rupert, who invited Simon to play in this event, said his first love is amateur golf and the development thereof.
It is only when you have a healthy amateur game that the members of the professional game can flourish,' Rupert said.
Rupert added that he was approached by professional golfer Gavan Levenson with the idea to invite Ashley to play in the Tour Championship.
From the beginning it was one of my prerequisites to invite amateurs to Leopard Creek, just as the case is with The Masters at Augusta, Rupert said.
Simon said she is very excited and extremely honored to be invited to play in the Tour Championship. Speaking from Port Elizabeth last night where she is about to tee off in the Port Elizabeth Championship tournament, Simon said she has not played Leopard Creek before.
For me this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I will take it as it comes and look forward to the week at Leopard Creek, Simon said.
Amid the current debate surrounding women in professional mens tournaments around the world, Rupert said professional golfers are not impaired by the participation of amateurs in the event, whether they are male or female.
There is no cut-off point in the Tour Championship, therefore the argument that an invitation of a woman to a mens event is unjust, is not applicable,' he said.
According to Rupert they will make a small adjustment to the course before the event.
Last year a few of the male players had trouble reaching the fairway, especially on the 1st and the 14th tee. So this year Ive asked my female superintendent, Sue de Zwarte, to cut the fairways closer to the tees, Rupert said.
Simon, who started to play golf when she was six years old, is a member of Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, which she joined in May 1999 at the age of 10. She played her first tournament at the age of 11.
Amongst several victories so far in her career, Simon was the best amateur for the 2003 WPGA Tour. She won both the junior and senior strokeplay
titles in the KwaZulu Natal Championships, as well as the match-play championship.
She also won the Gauteng Ladies Open Matchplay Championship, the Champion of Champions Tournament and was the stroke-play winner in the Northern Gauteng Ladies Championships in July last year.
This year she was the joint winner of the Compleat Golfer of the Year Award for best female amateur. She will play in the South African Amateur Championship two weeks after the Tour Championship.