by Michael Vlismas
The three people dressed in blue who wandered between the roughly 50 schoolchildren during the Joburg Open development clinic on Wednesday 5 February could never have imagined the impact their presence at the Alexandra Driving Range would make.
As representatives of the Royal & Ancient, the three individuals were there to herald a new era for the Joburg Open as it joins the global collection of Open Qualifying Series tournaments.
By Sunday evening, three professionals who finish in the top 10 and ties, who are not already exempt, of the Joburg Open will secure a place in the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in July. The Joburg Open is one of only 14 tournaments worldwide afforded this honour.
But they were also there to witness the impact in South Africa of the kind of golf development their organisation supports worldwide.
We were extremely impressed with what we saw at the development clinic. It’s a wonderful project and to see all of these children hitting golf balls is a dream come true. The R&A has a huge history and deep connection with South Africa, as does the Open Championship. We’ve had some wonderful Open champions from South Africa in Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen. I really hope one of these kids goes on to lift the claret jug one day,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, Executive Director-Championships at the Royal and Ancient.
The annual Joburg Open development clinic brought together 10 professionals, five each from the Sunshine Tour and European Tour, to coach children from the nearby Alexandra township.
“I never dreamt we’d see a full delegation from the R&A with us at the Alexandra Driving Range to witness the work done by residents from Alex as they teach the kids golf. It’s a huge milestone for this tournament,” said Bongi Mokaba, the director of events for the City of Johannesburg.
Swedish professional Joel Sjöholm is one of the European Tour professionals who has long supported the development clinic. “It’s all about giving back, and if we can touch one of these kids and they can go away wanting to become professionals, then we’ve achieved something,” he said.
And Welshman Phillip Price has also been a strong supporter over the past few years. “The kids are so keen to learn and if we can give them some of our time and a few tips then it’s fantastic. This is a great effort. We had 10 tournament professionals hitting with the kids for more than an hour. This set-up is as good as anything I’ve seen in the world.”
About the Joburg Open
The Joburg Open is a 72-hole stroke play championship co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Sunshine Tour. The field comprises 206 professionals. The first two days of the tournament will be played on both the East and West courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, with the final two rounds played solely on the East Course. The cut will be to the top 65 and ties. The Joburg Open is one of the official qualifying tournaments for the 2014 Open Championship. The top three players within the top 10 of the Joburg Open not already exempt for the Open will gain entry into the Major.
Swedish professional Joel Sjöholm watches as kids from Alexandra take part in the Joburg Open Development Clinic. Credit: Tyrone Winfield.