WHO SHOULD PAY TO BUILD PRO CA­REERS?

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Behind The Scenes - By Stu­art McLean, Ed­i­tor stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

GolfRSA spends mil­lions ev­ery year, drawn from the a li­a­tion fees of golf club mem­bers and the bene cence of spon­sors, to send groups of elite young golfers, boys and girls, around the world to im­prove their games and add to their gen­eral ex­pe­ri­ence. This pol­icy has been on­go­ing for a num­ber of years, but re­cently the trips have be­come more nu­mer­ous, and as the num­ber of elite golfers has grown, so has the to­tal ex­pense.

This year has been a re­ward­ing one for GolfRSA, with out­stand­ing achieve­ments from their na­tional squad play­ers, but un­for­tu­nately it didn’t trans­late into par­tic­u­larly good re­sults at the bi­en­nial World Ama­teur Team Cham­pi­onships in Ire­land.

The girls did well in the rst week, with a T-15 nish in a eld of 57 coun­tries in the Espir­ito Santo Tro­phy. Con­sid­er­ing how few out­stand­ing fe­male golfers we have in South Africa, where women’s golf just does not grow as a sport, this was a su­perb achieve­ment. We nished ahead of the likes of Eng­land and Scot­land, and 16-year-old Cait­lyn Macnab from Serengeti es­tate did her­self proud by be­ing T-12 in the women’s in­di­vid­ual stand­ings. She rose magni cently to a daunt­ingly big oc­ca­sion.

Our young men, un­for­tu­nately, dis­ap­pointed once again, with a 30th place

nish in a eld of 72 at the Eisen­hower Tro­phy. None of our three team mem­bers were in the top 60 of the in­di­vid­ual stand­ings. While men’s golf in South Africa may have an abun­dance of tal­ent, our stars sel­dom dis­play them­selves promi­nently at in­ter­na­tional team events. Yet sev­eral of these boys, un­like the girls, will be­come suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­als and multi-mil­lion­aires.

A ques­tion must thus be asked: Why are club golfers and spon­sors spend­ing so much money on these young play­ers at this stage of their devel­op­ment with­out much glory in re­turn? It wasn’t that long ago that the pre­vi­ous ama­teur body would pick a team for the world champs on a min­i­mal bud­get, send them o with one man­ager and very lit­tle prepa­ra­tion, and en­joy far bet­ter out­comes. We were reg­u­larly in the world top 10.

Why don’t we there­fore leave these young­sters to build ca­reers at their own ex­pense? It may be the duty of na­tional sport­ing bod­ies to pro­mote our young sports­men and women and give them ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed in­ter­na­tion­ally, but how much do you in­vest in them with pub­lic money? To­day’s ama­teur bod­ies can­not con­tinue to over­spend on train­ing squads, over­seas trips for ju­nior and se­nior teams ac­com­pa­nied by o cials, with­out checks and bal­ances. Is the cur­rent sys­tem work­ing, for a start? What are we ac­com­plish­ing?

Golf Aus­tralia came to an in­ter­est­ing con­clu­sion ve years ago. They were us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to de­velop the tal­ents of young golfers, and with a much larger gol ng pop­u­la­tion than South Africa’s the pro­gramme was cost­ing mil­lions of dol­lars. Even though they en­joyed good re­sults, they re­alised that in to­day’s econ­omy they could not con­tinue in that vein with­out stricter gov­er­nance.

The feel­ing in Aus­tralia was that they were pay­ing to build the ca­reers of pro­fes­sional golfers from an early age with­out re­coup­ing any­thing in re­turn. It was free tu­ition to en­hance their bank bal­ances. Golf Aus­tralia changed the sys­tem. Promis­ing young play­ers are now asked to sign con­tracts which stip­u­late that if they be­come top pro­fes­sion­als with size­able in­comes, they will pay back the money spent on their ama­teur gol ng ed­u­ca­tion by Golf Aus­tralia. This can then be rein­vested. Cameron Smith, ranked No 32 in the world, was one of the rst play­ers to en­ter this sys­tem, and has al­ready paid back his debts to Golf Aus­tralia. Those who don’t suc­ceed have no such obli­ga­tions.

Un­der the new regime, Aus­tralia went on to win the Eisen­hower Tro­phy in 2016. This might be a co­in­ci­dence, yet con­tracts of this na­ture can fo­cus in­di­vid­u­als and gain the sup­port of the pub­lic. GolfRSA would do well to fol­low Aus­tralia’s ex­am­ple, and for once all our world-class pro­fes­sion­als would be giv­ing money di­rectly back to the game to help oth­ers.

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