The children from the South African Golf Development Board’s (SAGDB) Riverside Farm project were treated to the golf experience of a lifetime when they joined some of the professionals in this week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship in a golf clinic at Leopard Creek Country Club on Saturday.
And it wasn’t just the kids who were impressed with what the pros were teaching them.
After watching 15-year-old Vorster Thwala hit three shots, multiple European Tour winner Thomas Aiken said, “There’s actually not too much I can teach you. Your swing looks great. Just keep doing what you’re doing”.
The children all stay on the nearby Riverside Farm where their coach and mentor Samuel Lukhele helps them with everything from their golf swings to their daily homework.
“The kids come from school, do their homework and then we practice for about two hours. They love it. On the days they don’t go to school, they’ll just practice all day if they can,” says Lukhele.
“But we don’t just focus on their golf. We try and develop them socially as well. We have an excellent relationship with the teachers and principal at their school.”
The pros were astounded by the skills of the children, who have only been playing golf for just over one year.
“It’s fantastic that we can give back like this,” said Aiken. “These kids have amazing natural talent and programmes such as this with the SAGDB just enhances that. With this kind of support, there’s no reason some of these kids can’t turn professional one day.”
The Mpumalanga chapter of the SAGDB caters for roughly 100 children, who also benefit from being able to practice at Malelane Golf Club and Komatipoort Golf Club.
“In 2015 we’re hoping to get them memberships at these golf clubs so they can get official handicaps,” said Edwin Compton, the SAGDB’s Development Manager for Mpumalanga.
For Grant Hepburn, Managing Director of the SAGDB, the Mpumalanga project has been one of the most successful in the country.
“I’ve never seen so many children that are this good in one group. Usually you get about two or three who have real ability, but in this group there’s about 13 of them. It’s so rewarding to see that we’re making a real difference.”
The SAGDB, which was founded by Mr Johann Rupert in 1999 and is the official vehicle for golf development in South Africa, is currently active in 12 provinces, and will soon be operational in all 14. It has 2300 children in its programmes and 70 coaches nationwide.