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Far From Par: What’s your handicap? We are

Members and staff of Mitchells Plain Golf Club celebrate their success at an SA Kids Golf Tournament at Arabella Golf Estate. Picture: Supplied

Members and staff of Mitchells Plain Golf Club celebrate their success at an SA Kids Golf Tournament at Arabella Golf Estate. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 25, 2022

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Part 5

Here we are, halfway through my series! A series I never thought would be of little or any interest to anyone but me and my poor wife, whose ears must secretly be bleeding from my constant golf-talk and memes.

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But the overwhelming support I continue to receive for this work that I am so intensely passionate about, validates my belief that the issue of golf transformation is relevant and must be constructively ventilated. But please don’t misunderstand why I do what I do – I don’t do this so that people can pay more affordable green fees, or for golf courses to be built in lower-income communities. Those are, to an extent, prospective positive benefits of meaningful transformation.

The real goal is to stem within golf what we recently witnessed at the SJN Cricket Tribunal: institutionalised and normalised racism that directly contributed to the exclusion and relegation of black and brown professionals.

However, while there are these external barriers to progress, I’d be remiss not to discuss our own self-constructed barriers, honestly and critically. And I’d like to draw your attention to two points in this regard:

The benefit of family support and encouraging the success of your own kids and those of others.

Within the structures of Mitchells Plain Golf Club, we work with 35 – 55 young kids at any given time. We spend a lot of time together practising and participating in tournaments. And because they are family and neighbours too, they spend a lot of time with one another on and off the practice facility (read abandoned and neglected field).

For those not familiar with the family matrix of an average sub-economic household in communities within Mitchells Plain, a household could often consist of one adult parental figure (usually a mother, grandmother, or aunt, but not always so) and three to five kids of varying ages.

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Because of the high rate of teenage pregnancy and absent parents in these communities, a single parental figure has young kids of his/her own to take care of, as well the kids of an absent brother or sister – who are all living in the same backyard dwelling that’s honestly not suitable for human habitation. So, cousins, and even very young aunts and uncles typically grow up together in the same household with the same parental figure. We have some of these family-kids in our golf development programme.

Great! Right? In principle yes, it’s great to have them all trying out the sport together and staying out of mischief. But in reality, it’s also the source of an unnecessary problem – unhealthy and counter-productive nepotism.

For example, our club has a firm policy on discipline. If your behaviour is repeatedly out of line, even after fair warning and bringing it to the attention of your guardian/parent, you’ll be suspended. If the suspended child happens to be the biological child of the parental figure, he/she will immediately withdraw all the kids under his/her care from the programme, as a measure of ill-placed reprisal.

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The painful reality of this is that it’s only those kids who suffer. The suspended child does not have the discipline we encourage reinforced at home and grows up with the flawed notion that not all actions bear consequences, while the innocent kids suffer as collateral damage. This counter-productive mentality must stop. It not only makes our efforts less effective, but also robs children of a valuable opportunity to make better life choices themselves as they become young adults.

Another simple example is that some kids often stay absent from practice sessions as well as tournaments because their parent/guardian didn’t wash their team uniform – I mean, this is honestly not a hard ask.

No one moves forward by holding someone else back – this is a mentality that we fiercely try to imbue in our kids. And if you play a round of golf with those kids who have started to adopt this value, you will hear them compliment your good shots and encourage you on the bad ones. This for us, is as good as winning tournaments.

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While we do the best we can to create an enabling environment within which our young and ambitious members can thrive, they need constant support at home to keep their ambitions alive. I must thus thank and commend the parents who show up to practice with their kids every weekend. The ones who take an interest in their growth and development. You make our efforts even more worthwhile.

Appreciate the value of an opportunity

While some of our kids struggle to access an opportunity that could very well change their lives for the better and would go through hell and high water to get it, others receive it, only to abandon it midway or never leverage its full value and potential. Here I speak specifically of sponsored scholarships and tuition to foreign and even domestic academic institutions.

I know of a few instances where through merit and talent, promising, young, but financially constrained golfers earned the opportunity to study abroad at respected American golf colleges. With or without a scholarship, this is the pathway for most, if not all present-day South African golfers who are doing well on the US PGA and DP World Tours. So, all things equal, these promising young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds had an equitable shot at becoming one of them but chose not to.

Look, I understand and accept that we all have our reasons for what we do and that’s okay. I do however become rather agitated when opportunities we fight for, work for, and make a lot of noise about, are discarded by a few with little regard or consideration about the impact their decisions will have for others coming after them.

Because of this inconsideration the benefactors we lobby to financially support the development and progression of emerging black golf talent raise the issue, and rightfully so, that it’s not financially prudent to be putting resources into an investment that yields zero returns. And the “returns” they refer to is not value they seek for themselves in any form, but value to be added to the entire transformation project.

The actual physical “return” of that child to his/her community, to inspire learners from the schools they came from. To return home to the Sunshine Tour so kids like them can see them excel on the world stage. And to support unqualified but committed weekend hackers and community activists like my colleagues and myself to make a meaningful difference in our communities.

So, if you accept a free and privileged opportunity in any aspect of your personal development, if people are prepared to sacrifice their time and resources for your benefit, please be 100% certain that your commitment to it is unwavering. You will have a social and moral responsibility to make full use of it and to ensure that your decisions about it won’t adversely affect the scores of other hopefuls who will most certainly be coming after you.

In a sport where the term “handicap” is used to identify one’s playing ability, let us not be our own handicap to progress.

Follow Jehad’s Far From Par series every Tuesday.

Far From Par is a 10-part series by about the grassroots development of golf in South Africa. For decades golf was a sport reserved for white men for both leisure and professional expression.

Sadly, after nearly 30 years of democracy, apart from it now being open to all, not much has changed to foster meaningful transformation.

This series explores his experience on the importance of, challenges faced and status quo of grassroots golf development and transformation in South Africa.

If you’d like to find out more about Mitchells Plain Golf Club, here’s how to: www.mitchellsplaingolfclub.org.za or @mitchellsplain_golfclub on Instagram, or contact Jehad on +27 723654037 or [email protected]

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