IN JUST over a period of two and a half years since it hosted golfing legend, Gary Player’s 80th birthday celebration in 2015, the Soweto Country Club golf course, in its current layout of two separate 9-holers, will soon realise its long-promised revamp of turning it into a world class 18 hole venue.
The official approval was at last stamped onto it with a sod-turning ceremony officiated by Joburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, Sunshine Tour executive director, Selwyn Nathan, PGA Tour executive president Global Business Affairs, Ty Votaw and Rivonia Trialist, Andrew Mlangeni, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon at its Pimville location.
With grey clouds hanging above, peradventure as an acknowledgement of the heralding of good tidings in African customs, an enthusiastic crowd of playing members, construction workers, community members, metro police officers and even PSL chairman, Irvin Khoza – came to bear witness to the City of Johannesburg joining hands with the R & A [Royal & Ancient – administrators of The Open Championship] and the PGA, European, Asian and Sunshine Tours, to officially break ground on the revitalization of the golf course by Gary Player’s design team.
According to Nathan’s projections, the course is tentatively set to open its gates in October of 2018, and Mashaba, in his speech, passionately promised the delivery of what he described as, inter alia, a development base for young black golfers and one which will effectively render a 25% mark-up on house prices in the surrounding neighbourhood.
On the basis of work already either completed or nearly completed on the other two phases of the project such as the club house, the conference centre, a halfway house and the golf academy to be named after Mlangeni – such is the affinity and impression of the role the South African golfing community as represented by the likes of Johan Rupert have played in PGA history, that its exulted representative, Ty Votaw – didn’t hesitate in approving the development to be under-written by the US PGA Tour.
Clearly in his element savouring the moment, the Sunshine Tour’s Nathan spoke of how, through his involvement of some 40 years in golf, the project gave him so much satisfaction.
A figure who revels in thrusting his own brand of humour forth, he diverted from his prepared speech by revealing to attendees that Orlando Pirates’ chairman, Irvin Khoza was once a caddie for Harold Henning – whilst expressing gratitude to the PGA Tour, the City of Johannesburg and a plethora of companies contributing toward the realisation of the long and much talked about project.
Nathan also took care to mention the role a framed monochromatic portrait of the old club house inscribed with Mlangeni’s impressions turned into something of a bidder’s piece when captains of industries voted with their purses in purchasing the initial photographic image and its re-prints – with the monies accrued adding to the generic coffer underpinning the underway construction.
Intimated the City of Johannesburg’s promoter of the Joburg Open, after the SCC sod turning, Bongi Mokaba, “When Selwyn Nathan knocks on your door, it makes us smile, because we know that money is going to pour in!”
The Soweto Country Club’s vice president, Roger Skidow, who mentioned that he’d been a member of the club for 18 years after taking up the sporting code at the relatively old age of 35 – recalled how other players from other clubs used to insultingly refer to members of the SCC as playing their golf in the bush!
Visibly grateful at the nature of the occasion, Skidow drew from the Holy Writ by claiming that, “it was the day that the Lord had made.”
If Mayor Mashaba’s excitement was palpable for the audience not to miss, he’d be excused since he’s walked the talk in little over a year of becoming Joburg’s first citizen through also contributing to the golf club’s development by raising a million rand via a golf day he hosted, earlier on.
The Championship committee member of R & A, Pat Crowson, who’s in the country for the Joburg Open [which segues as a qualifier to the British major] and Jason Nestadt [a representative of private entities who have pooled their monetary resources into the refurbishment] later partook in the joint cutting of a red ribbon in front of a structure which will serve as a South African Golf Development Board chapter under the name of Mlangeni – in honour of the long-standing member of the club.
With the instantly recognisable and coveted Claret Jug on display in the midst of the momentous affair, the quadruple figures of Mashaba, Nathan, Votaw and Mlangeni were thereafter posing with shiny spades on the bumpy fairway near the course’s first tee, ready for the media entourage to record the main sod turning moment – whilst officials, officers, golfers and other guests took it all in, ahead of the closure of the course in order for serious work to commence!
According to the Soweto Country Club Refurbishment Project communications director’s communique, new fairways, bunkers, tee boxes, greens and an irrigation system are all planned.
Officials are currently in the process of finalizing the golf course construction service provider, with the guidance and approval of newly-inducted South Africa Sports Hall of Fame – as well as World Golf Hall of Fame legend, Gary Player.