Indian professional Jeev Milkha Singh has pointed to South Africa as the perfect example of one of the world’s most successful junior golf programmes, and one he hopes his own country will follow.
Speaking on the eve of the first round of the Tshwane Open at The Els Club, Copperleaf, on Wednesday, Singh said he hoped golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics would spur Indian authorities to embark on a similar golf programme as the one that has been so successful in South Africa.
“The South African junior golf programme is one of the best in the world,” said Singh, a winner of 20 tournaments worldwide and who has witnessed the South African players moving through the ranks from the first time he played in this country in 1998.
“I’ll give you the reasons for that. First, South Africa has excellent golf courses. Second, the game is easily accessible in schools here. And third, this is a sporting nation.
“South Africa also has many public courses. In India, we have one public golf course and one public driving range in New Delhi. I’m hoping this changes with golf being included in the Olympics for 2016, because our government will hopefully make more of an effort to build more public driving ranges and more public golf courses, so anybody who wants to play is given an opportunity.
“When I was growing up you had no chance unless your father was a member at a private golf course. We still have a lot of work left in this area.”
The scarcity of available land in India is a major stumbling block to the growth of golf there, but Singh believes there is an alternative.
“I’m always saying that if we can’t have public golf courses in India, then at least let’s have public driving ranges. I feel there is a lot of talent in our country and we have some great youngsters that can play anywhere in the world if they are given the chance.”
The strength of South Africa’s junior golf development programme was underlined as three Major champions and a host of Sunshine Tour and European Tour professionals devoted an entire morning to a group of beginners from schools in Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and Mabopane at the official golf development clinic for the Tshwane Open at The Els Club, Copperleaf, on Wednesday.
It was a rare opportunity for the enthusiastic young golfers to receive expert instruction from European Ryder Cup captain and double Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal, former US Open champion Michael Campbell, 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke and a group of other professionals.
“This is such a great opportunity for our kids and it is so important for them to be able to interact with these world-class golfers and see what the game of golf can do for you,” said Nathan Maluleka, a golf coach at the Vodacom World of Golf and who coaches most of these children himself.
“It’s wonderful to see a country like South Africa growing like it is. Hopefully we can see some of these kids in 10 or 15 years playing with us on tour,” said Spanish professional Pablo Larrazabal. “I’ve been helping a boy of five, and it’s amazing to see how well he swings the club. When I was five I didn’t know what a golf club was but there are kids here hitting great shots at that age.”
Olazabal certainly enjoyed his time with the children. After watching a young girl hit a shot and lifting her foot on the follow through, he said, “When we go to the disco, you can lift your feet. But we are not dancing here. This is golf. Feet on the ground. We can dance later.”