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I had the privilege to watch 110 awesomely talented young women in action at Sun City last week, and it struck me again that golf clubs are a wonderful place for children to spend most of their school holidays.
I remember waiting anxiously for the seniors to arrive so I could get a bag that would pay for my own round later many moons ago. Years later I found out that my uncle, who introduced me to the game, paid the seniors for my services by bribing them with drinks at the 19th hole just to keep me keen on the game. Not sure that says much about my skills as a caddie, but it sure did keep me in golf.
One of my colleagues related how, as a youngster, he would be dropped off at his local course at dawn and be collected at sunset, armed only with an old set of clubs, a handful of golf balls and a few bucks for lunch. He’d play a minimum of 36 holes but could usually fit in 45 holes if play was not too slow. Ah, the vigour of youth.
Times may have changed, but the school holiday period remains a busy one for our junior golfers.
With so many junior tournaments crammed into the amateur golfing calendar nowadays, children can spend most of their holidays travelling with their families from one national or provincial event to the next.
In the recent June-July vacation, the junior boys could tee it up in a sequence of tournaments: the Nomads SA Boys Under-17 Championship at Bloemfontein Golf Club, the Nomads Coastal National Order of Merit (NOoM) at St Francis Links, followed by the Nomads Inland NOom at Modderfontein Golf Club and the Tshwane Junior Open at Waterkloof. That’s four big events with a lot of GolfRSA ranking points spread across the country in just more than two weeks.
For the young ones there was the Sun City U-13 and U-15 Challenge, and for the girls their GolfRSA flagship event, the Nomads SA Girls Championship, both hosted by Sun International at Sun City’s Gary Player Country Club.
I loved my time at the girls’ event, which this year drew 45 first-timers.
Played across four divisions, it was as entertaining to watch the top-level players show off their skills at the Home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, as it was observing the focus and determination among the young C- and D-division contestants.
What enthralled me the most was to see them vigorously celebrate all their small successes, whether it was a trap shot executed well on a second try, or a putt for double bogey drop. The delight on their faces was just indescribable.
At the top level, the standard of golf was incredibly high, and not surprisingly, the A division ended in a play-off and was won in spectacular style by GolfRSA No 1 Gabbi Venter. The 18-year-old Bloemfontein golfer hit a blind shot from 173m out into the island green with a perfect draw to leave herself a three-foot eagle putt for victory. I know pros who would pay good money to execute the kind of approach shot into the par-five ninth that earned Venter her first national title.
While the tournaments come thick and fast over the holiday period, children are not encouraged or expected to tee it up in every event, but there is no denying that these junior events play a major role in the development of players from an early age.
The Nomads Golf Club SA sponsor 12 events annually on the GolfRSA junior circuit and I’d go as far as to say that there is not a single SA player who has made it in the pro ranks that has not benefited from Nomads in some way. Surprisingly, there are many golfers countrywide who have not yet heard of, or paid any attention to, this wonderful organisation.
So, here is the lowdown on the Nomads.
From personal experience after a decade on the Sunshine Tour, I can tell you that I have yet to meet a more fun, generous, and good-hearted bunch of golfers. This group of golf lovers get together once a month — at one of the 12 different Nomads clubs countrywide — to play golf and have a good time, all the while devoting a lot of time and energy to raise money to benefit the development of the game and charities. And they have an absolute blast doing it! One of the many ways they raise money is by running the live scoring system for the Sunshine Tour.
Volunteer Nomads are spread around the course and use hand-held electronic devices to send scores through to their “linkman” in the Golforama caravan. These scores keep the viewer up to date with player scores, whether it is on live TV or the website. And if you ever wonder how the commentators know what clubs the pros are hitting or from what distances, that’s down to the Nomads, too.
One of the things I admire most about these unsung heroes is not just the amount of money they have raised for charity — an incredible R45m over their more than 60-year history — but how they ensure the money is well spent.
Money raised is donated to a preselected beneficiary in the form of a tangible asset — for example, a new vehicle for a children’s home — that has the Nomads emblem displayed on it. So, no cash ever changes hands and the benefit to the charity is immediate.
Without Nomads, SA golf is likely to have looked very different to how we know it now, today, so if you are reading this and you’re not yet a member, go and find out more about joining the organisation — and making a real difference in the lives of many.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.