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The day that Codi Ruiters fell off building machinery and broke his ankle in the Heideveld squatter camp where he lived with his family in a shack with no running water, electricity or toilets and in the heart of the ganglands of the Cape Flats, turned out to be the best day of his life.

On that day, in a neighbourhood where children no longer flinch at the sound of gunshots, Ruiters’ life changed forever. The machinery belonged to Nedsteel, a company owned by Charles Fourie, who came from this same neighbourhood and was busy with building work for the government.

That was the day his path crossed with a young boy who was described as a lost cause — and the game of golf changed that.

As 13-year-old Ruiters hit shots on the driving range at Royal Cape Golf Club this week as part of the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open golf development clinic with the Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour professionals and a group of SA Golf Development Board (SAGDB) golfers, Fourie recalled the journey he has been on with Ruiters.

“When Codi injured himself on our site, I decided to take him under my wing and arranged for him to be treated and got him to a biokeneticist when his cast came off. I grew up in that area and was lucky to get out of there a long time ago,” says Fourie.

“When Codi came to me he couldn’t read. His school principal told me that I’m wasting my time. He said Codi was a bully and wasn’t even going to pass the year and that he’s a lost cause. I arranged that he gets tutoring three times a week. Now he’s a prefect at the school, a top 10 student there and he plays chess for his school,” Fourie says.

Ruiters and his family lived in a small shack before he recently helped them to get a flat in the area. The prevalence of poverty, drugs and violence is still overwhelming, and the SAGDB’s golf programme is a vital escape.

Peter Little, an SAGDB co-ordinator in the Western Province, has seen at first-hand the influence golf has had on changing a boy like Ruiters’ reality.

“We have kids who come from the ganglands and some very rough environments. Many of them didn’t know anything about golf and in a year they get down to single-figure handicaps. We get letters from the local schools congratulating us as the SAGDB for the players that we have from there and how their marks have improved.

“Western Province won the last Under-19 Interprovincial and the team had two players from the SAGDB, and one of them was voted the MVP (most valuable player) in the A Division. We’ve also had four tournament victories by SAGDB golfers this year so far. There is a lot of talent around here.”

Ruiters himself has come down to a six handicap and is a member of the SAGDB National Squad. “I’ve been playing golf for three years now. I love the game because golf can take you far in life. I’d like to be a professional one day like my hero on the Sunshine Tour, Robin Williams.”

It’s exactly what Fourie wants to see happen for Ruiters as he knows the power of sport, and specifically golf, to create opportunities.

“It’s a rough area these kids come from and they grow up in an aggressive lifestyle. But you know, since we’ve been working with Codi and seen the change in him, it’s also helped his family. His father is no longer using drugs because of the change he’s seen in his son’s life. You can’t help everybody, but you can change one boy’s life.”

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