By Michael Vlismas
English professional Robert Rock smiled as he saw children from five schools take part in the Tshwane Open golf clinic at the Mabopane Driving Range on Wednesday. For the man who has beaten Tiger Woods to one of his two European Tour victories, it reflected exactly why South African golf is so strong.
“This is what you need – free events at public facilities like this. This is how it should start, with a free golf facility for the kids. We don’t do enough of this at other tournaments in the world, and it’s so important. There is no shortage of great golfers in South Africa but you always need to keep an eye on where the game starts just to make sure it is starting. For example, the development of golf is slow in the UK because people have taken their eye off the ball the last 10 years.”
The golf development clinics that partner so many of South Africa’s top tournaments are a success story in their own. South Africa is easily one of the leaders on the European Tour when it comes to successfully focusing its golf development initiatives in this way.
And Rock’s assessment of the driving range and clinic on the outskirts of Pretoria was like the feeling of a sweetly struck four iron to those involved in this project.
“We’ve revamped the facility and have a programme in place to make it more effective going forward,” said Nomasonto Ndlovu, the SED for Communications, Marketing, Events for the City of Tshwane.
“We know that golf contributes to our economy. Now with this driving range we’re hoping that we can get the industry more interested in Mabopane and this part of the city. As a City we are so excited about this tournament. It gives us the opportunity to take golf and use it as a catalyst to stimulate economic growth and tourism.”
The Tshwane Open is becoming an interesting blueprint for golf development, with the host course of this lucrative European and Sunshine Tour event, The Els Club Copperleaf, also involved in the Mabopane initiative.
“The City wanted this tournament to represent more than just Copperleaf, and to take golf to the community. We have helped with some human resources and we’ve put money into helping surface the driving range and look after it. We have our greenkeeper helping with that as well. We’ve also helped the development team here prepare budgets and so on for the City of Tshwane. And once we’ve created a blueprint with this facility, there’s no reason why we can’t roll it out to other areas of Tshwane as well. The Mayor of Tshwane wants to leave a legacy through golf, and we buy into that,” said Dave Usendorff, the Golf Director at The Els Club Copperleaf.
The initiative has even caught the interest of the European Tour’s newly-formed Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability division.
“We really want to grow our relationship with all our partners, such as the Tshwane Open. So we’re putting more of a structure behind our own development to bring another dimension to it. This is a very important part of what we do. Without more golfers or more people interested in golf, professional golf doesn’t grow. And this Tshwane Open clinic is an incredible example of this,” said Fredrik Lindgren, the head of this new division.
At the pinnacle of the game, this week’s Tshwane Open will again feature a strong South African challenge against a European contingent that has come to accept how tough it is to win in this country.
“It’s always a good field here. You’ve always got the South Africans supporting the event, which is nice,” said Rock.
And as he watched another child hit his first golf shot, he added, “And your guys always win them as well, which is getting quite annoying.”