THE SOWETO Country Club received the ideal test run when it played ‘hostess’ to the Sunshine Ladies Tour-sanctioned, Joburg Ladies Open.
Having had its gates shut since the most part of the preceding year for a much-needed refurbishment, the Pimville-located 18-hole golf course – the only one of its kind in a South African area demarcated as a township – finally, although not officially (as per the wont of bureaucrats who are sticklers for pomp and ceremony), opened the self-same gates to the bevy of wood-hitting beauties chasing a tidy figure of R500 000 in total prize money!
Played over the pre-Easter school holidays, the tournament had the crème de la crème of the tour’s leading stars such as eSwatini’s Nobuhle Dlamini, history-maker, Lejan Lewthwaite, the Duma sisters, Siviwe and Yolanda, up-coming amateur, Zethu Myeki and Stacy Bregman – to mention but a few – descend on the rather impressively manicured course!
The star array of the galaxy yonder must have been generously aligned, for – in addition to a club of its historical background notching the distinction of hosting an event of such calibre for the first time in its timeline – it was also the very first time in the entire Sunshine Ladies Tour’s 9 tournament calendar that all-four players of African descent strutting their stuff on the South African circuit, namely, the Duma siblings, Myeki as well as Dlamini, all made the cut (to 30 and ties), in the Joburg Ladies Open!
Contested by a field of 42 broken into 36 professionals and seven amateurs, the competition teed-off with a pro-am and then followed by three rounds of play in the course of weather conditions which veered from cloudy to breezy and sunny – with the rain, although needed for the meandering fairways, never actually coming to so much as disrupting the schedule.
Play in Pimville constituting the fourth time the City of Johannesburg-sponsored open had been contested, apart from the impressive locals’ field, players representing eight other countries ranging from Sweden, Puerto Rico, France, India, Nigeria, Namibia, Madagascar and eSwatini, vied for the R70 000 first prize, played for on a three rounds (54 holes) with a cut to 30 and ties after two rounds format! With 650 points up for grabs in the Investec Property Fund Order of Merit system, the tournament also constituted the final event of the 2019 Sunshine Ladies Tour, with the tour itself being in its sixth season and featuring a single South African (Ashleigh Buhai) amongst past winner.
Points race leader, Dlamini – already a triple Sunshine Ladies Tour winner heading into the Joburg Ladies Open – hit the course running as she blazed a trail which saw her romp to a two-under 214 total victory in Pimville.
Bagging the Joburg Ladies Open for her fourth Tour triumph and following on her earlier success in the Dimension Data Ladies Challenge, the 27-year old’s performance was enough to earn her the status of the order of merit champion, whilst also banking her a bonus of R100 000 in the process.
For some of the local young girls who had accompanied their guardians to the club and presently enjoying their vacation from school, witnessing the heroics of a Black golfer on a classy course located in a predominantly African neighbourhood must have set their imagination a flutter! Also the parallel achievement of Myeki, who scooped the amateur honours on offer, must have crossed their developing aspirations that maybe – upon experiencing up-close-and-personal adult sisters of their hue holding their own in a sporting code deemed classist – there could just well be a future for them in it too!
A GolfRSA Elite Squad member coincidentally completing a trio (with the others being the Duma sisters) in the field hailing from boxing-crazy Mdantsane, Myeki tied for 13th with Lewthwaite enroute to carding rounds of 80, 76 and 73.
At the prize-giving ceremony on the 18th, Dlamini’s on-the-nail remarks must have found even further resonance with the youngsters looking on from a makeshift grandstand: “When they first told us that the Joburg Ladies Open would be hosted here, I couldn’t believe it.” Informing the attendees regarding her earlier impression of the course, she said, “The greens were not good and the fairways were bumpy.” Reflecting on its current state, she pronounced, “It was like coming to a whole different course when we played the pro-am here on Monday. I was so pleasantly surprised and impressed!”
Continued the Swazi lass, “I know a lot of golfers who live in Soweto and who had to travel by taxi to go and practice at the better courses in Johannesburg. One of them lives two minutes away from the course. He came to support me in the first round and cannot wait to start practising here.”
In a race-polarised and unequal society such as South Africa, and where misleading urban legends abound around golf being invariably another colour or status’ sport, the quadruplet females – three of whom are still in their 20’s – are welcome debunkers of stale myths suspiciously intended to keep others in protracted states of discomfiture whilst ensuring the non-disruption of the inter-generational status quo savoured by a few!
Randpark Club member, Myeki, who not that long ago was doing a degree in Golf Club Management through the Club Managers Association of America, never looked back from when she was 14 years old when, walking home from school, she came across a group of girls hitting golf balls on a soccer field in her hometown of East London.
A South African Golf Development Board graduate, Myeki’s resume include representing South Africa internationally; captaining home region, Border to victory in the SA Women’s Inter-Provincial; breaking the Kloof Country Club course record with a 64 in the 2017 KwaZulu-Natal Championship and beating professionals at the Gary Player Country Club in the Pink Stig Series.
Another product of the SAGDB and the eldest of the Duma sisters, Siviwe (31), is regarded as a role model for many young girls in the Border region where amongst feathers adorning her hat, she’d been the successive winner of her erstwhile home club’s West Bank Club Champion in 2014 and 2015. A friend of Myeki’s – with whom she shares a healthy rivalry – a final of a match play once had them in a see-saw duel which concluded with Duma emerging victorious and walking away with bragging rights!
Kid sibling, Yolanda, who plays out of the East London Golf Club, is a former winner of the Border Match play Championship.
Back on the newly-refurbished course just a stone’s throw away from the scene of the launch of the Freedom Charter back in 1955 in Kliptown, usual suspect, Lejan Lewthwaite – who back in 2018 made history by beating men at their own game in winning the IGT Challenge Tour #12 at Maccauvlei Golf Course and thus becoming the first female champion of South Africa’s premier golf development circuit – discovered to her delight that the phrase: there’s a first time for everything, can indeed ring true when she registered the first hole-in-one of her career!
One of the sponsors, Canon had a billboard on one of the course’s tee boxes promising a prize as a reward to achieving the rare feat.
The former SA Women Masters winner duly took the optics manufacturer up on its offer by hitting just that in the first round of play – in the process taking home a fancy camera!
At the prize-giving ceremony, with the City of Johannesburg mayor, Councillor Herman Mashaba present and a group of ground staff milling around, City of Joburg Director of Events, Bongi Mokaba reminded the audience about the tireless fund-raising endeavours put in by the Sunshine Tour’s Selwyn Nathan (who was absent owing to ill-health) from the inception of the project, up to how it evidently now appeared in the vision of everyone present.
In a brief interview with the Mayor regarding his impression of the club, Mashaba retorted that it was the real deal upon the author offering that it was shaping up well. A participant in the tournament and a spectator seemed to be in agreement, albeit remarking separately, that rain would do it a power of good!
On a sunny Thursday Autumnal afternoon in the Pimville neighbourhood of Soweto, pigeons and wild doves assembled on one of the accordingly mowed fairways in the background picking their beaks on the ground only to periodically take flight en masse – akin to the liberties which come with exploring the nooks and crannies of a new abode – destined to another part of the expansive golf course!
The palpability already felt around the impending opening of the Soweto Country Club must be akin to the anxiousness accompanying the unveiling of English soccer club, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium with both their openings having to be preceded by requisite test runs geared toward the attainment of regulatory certification. On the evidence of the last day of play in the Joburg Ladies Open and the enthusiasm brimming from everyone involved with the project – it appears to be all clear ahead of the golf course’s April opening!
Established back in 1974 and having underwent numerous name changes, the golf club – whose mere hosting of the recently-concluded tournament translated to it making history by virtue of being the very first in a South African township to stage a professional event – prides itself in producing professionals currently playing or who have played on the Sunshine Tour such as Solly Sepeng, Theo Manyama, Norman Mashaba, John Mashigo, Mononga Nomwa, Makhosonke Mlotshwa, Rocky Tlhabanyani, Bafana Hlope and many others.
From here on in, the newly-refurbished venue heralds an era of sporting pride, development and hopefully, foreseeable future glories for those lined-up to utilize its facilities – including the young schoolgirls who got to learn of the existence of the trio of female players who hail from a township such as they do – and in the knowledge that availability of a club such as the Soweto Country Club can propel them to athletic possibilities, were they to opt to pick up clubs and roam with the domestic pigeons and wild doves!
Image ( eSwatini’s Nobuhle Dlamini, won the Joburg Ladies Open held at the revamped Soweto Country Club.) Jacob MAWELA.