27th November 2015

Shaping swings, changing lives in Mpumalanga

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By Michael Vlismas; picture: Tyrone Winfield

Clinic_NEWIt is not uncommon to see a football field in most rural areas around South Africa. But it is uncommon to see a football field being used by the local children to practice golf on.

From the football field at the Riverside Farm near Malelane to the world-class practice facility that has been built at Leopard Creek, the young golfers of the South African Golf Development Board’s (SAGDB) Mpumalanga chapter are immersing themselves in their passion for the game.

And at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Friday, 12 of these golfers were given lessons by some of the professionals in the tournament, from 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel to multiple European Tour champion Richard Sterne and several European professionals.

The Riverside Farm golf project has been one of the major success stories of golf development in South Africa.

The 12 kids who live there are coached and mentored by Samuel Lukhele. He in turn works with Edwin Compton, who is the Mpumalanga Development Manager for the SAGDB.

“Golf changed my life. I’m so thankful for what the SAGDB has done for us. The kids are well behaved, and their parents are also thankful. Golf has changed the lives of these children,” said Lukhele.

And Compton is as passionate as anybody about the work they are doing.

“It’s awesome to see them improve not only as golfers but as human beings as well. The discipline of golf improves their school work and other areas of their life.

“It’s incredible because these kids just took to golf, and they love it. The community where they stay on the farm also understands that the soccer starts later, after they have practiced golf on the field. Only then can the older children come and play soccer.”

The incredible practice facility at Leopard Creek was actually a donation by Johann Rupert, founder of the SAGDB, and his wife Gaynor to golf development.

“This facility is not part of Leopard Creek. My wife and I donated it to a golf development trust for amateur golf. We built this facility and the club will rent the facilities to generate income for amateur and development golf,” said Rupert.

According to Compton, the influence of the Rupert family has been immense in terms of the growth of the Mpumalanga chapter of the SAGDB, and specifically the children in the Riverside Farm project.

“Through Mrs Rupert’s golf day we were able to raise enough funds to build synthetic chipping and putting greens on the farm, which has helped the children improve their short game tremendously,” he said.

Compton says another highlight of the programme was an arrangement they were able to make with the nearby Malelane Golf Club which allowed the children to become members and therefore get handicaps.

“All of our kids have handicaps and they are actually playing Mpumalanga junior golf tournaments now. One of them, Vorster Twala, is a 10 handicap. That’s what we want because ultimately our goal is to produce real golfers.”

And he has no doubt that some of these children can go on to become touring professionals one day.

“Absolutely. We’ve seen them come a very long way in only three years and now that they have these practice facilities the progression will be even more. We also get PGA coaching for them now at least twice a month. There’s no doubt in my mind some of them can really go far in the game.”