By Mark Townsend published
Dale Whitnell was looking to make a fast start to his 2022 season when he headed to the Joburg Open for what he thought would be a three-week spell of action. As things transpired the tournament was reduced to 36 holes, 26 players either withdrew or retired as the new dawn of the DP World Tour got underway to a backdrop of a new 'Omicron' Covid variant.
"I'm now staying at the Radisson Blu at Heathrow with my fiancée Angie. We might be able to go out once a day but that’s not been confirmed – obviously it could be a lot, lot worse but it’s not great. We’ve managed to get some muesli with three berries this morning and a banana, an apple and a couple of milk sachets.
Last week I played in the Joburg Open and, on the Thursday, I played in the morning. I played nicely and shot three under. On the Thursday night I did see something on the news that there was a potential South African variant but I didn’t pay too much attention as, generally, they don't do anything too drastic for a few days. I went to sleep and woke up at about 7.30am, I was teeing off at 12.30pm, and looked at the draw and I saw that there were about a dozen withdrawals from British players. That is a lot and there were players who had shot three under with WD next to their names so something wasn’t right.
They will have been either getting up at 4am for an early tee time or someone might have phoned them that South Africa was going in the red list but, by 7.30am, it was already too late for me to do anything about getting out. Ollie Farr shot three under on the first day but then withdrew as he understandably couldn't risk not being at home with his kids for Christmas while Liam Johnston had withdrawn from the event and then had to come back from the airport as he was turned away at check-in for being a UK citizen and he was travelling via Amsterdam.
We played nine holes of our third round on the Saturday and then the storm came in and we had to wait and wait, that ended up being three hours and they ended up reducing it to 36 holes. They then said that next week would go ahead as a Sunshine Tour event and they were working on getting everybody out which was all fine.
We then got an email saying that there would be a DP World charter flight to Dubai and that was confirmed for the Sunday morning and it would be £1000 and so we put ourselves on that like everybody else who was still there. Then, at about 8.30pm on Saturday, another email said that the Dubai authorities had cancelled our landing permit. They said they were looking at options but that it was a Sunday. There was a flight to Nairobi, with a connection, but we didn’t know whether we might have been stuck there for 14 days.
There were 113 players and caddies and staff from 19 different countries who had to get out and they sent another email at 4.30pm on the Sunday to say there were four business class flights available to London, through Kenya, and that they would be £2,100 each so we took them. Costs wise there were the original flights out there, we had booked a flight back to America at the end of the supposed three weeks, there was the cancelled charter flight, another flight to America six hours after the charter would have landed which was another £800 each and there were the hotels for the two weeks of the tournaments that didn’t happen.
Between rounds on the Saturday, after I had finished my delayed second round, we had to do two Covid tests at the golf club which we had to pay for there and then – we did actually use them, others had to re-do their tests if they didn’t get on the London flight – and they were £100 each. The testing was supposed to start at 8am, it didn’t actually start until 9am, I did mine at 9.35am and I was on the tee at 9.50.
Coming back from South Africa to London we stopped at Nairobi. We are now quarantining in London while those on the same flight, on the connection, can go straight home even though we were all sitting together for eight hours on a flight. How does that make sense?
Trying to get home from SA 🇿🇦 is catastrophic for everyone involved in the @DPWorldTour and the general public. How the UK can leave people out with the washing is beyond me. Flight booked tonight via one of the countries not red listed yet. £15k and counting? @grantshappsNovember 28, 2021
At Heathrow they took all our passports away and we had to stand there for two hours to see if they had transport for us as nothing had been arranged. Then we got on the bus, checked in to the hotel, filled out a load of forms and then chose our food options for the next 10 days.
We’ve got a little WhatsApp group going in the hotel with various caddies and players. Ashley Chesters is in a hotel somewhere, he's getting married in a few weeks and, thankfully, he'll get out just in time. Oli Wilson and Justin Walters were on our flight from Joburg and then got a flight to the States but I saw their bags at Heathrow so I let them know that they wouldn’t be arriving.
I went into the office on the Friday morning and they were understandably swamped with questions but they said that the other tournaments would be carrying on and, by the afternoon, they were cancelled and we were all screwed. We got £1500 compensation from the tour each for our hotel quarantining even though it is £2250 each so, even though I won £6000 from the tournament, I will be around £10,000 down.
Luckily I made the cut and picked up some money and 10 points, which could be crucial, but the reason I played was to make a quick start to the season and take a bit of pressure off and support the tour. I’m in a fortunate position where I earned some good money last season but others, like the caddies, can’t just book a business class flight."
Dale was speaking to Mark Townsend
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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