Overberg club offers kids a shot at the green
Three youngsters from the Kleinmond area are set to take the golfing world by storm, writes LEILA SAMODIEN
IT’S LATE on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, and teenagers Chadley Pietersen, Gersville Arnoldus and Ruwaan Pietersen are watching their golf swings on a computer monitor. Golf guru Douglas Wood asks Gersville to name his favourite player, and the eager 16-year-old is quick to respond. “Tiger Woods,” he says. A few seconds later, a video of the champion US golfer comes to life on the screen, right beside the video image of Gersville, taped just 20 minutes before.
Gersville’s angle could do with some work, Wood explains: “Tiger has a lower angle; his knees are more bent, which affects the power of the swing.”
Gersville nods, soaking up all the advice Wood has to offer.
Four years ago, the three young golfers could never have imagined this: analysing their shots, playing golf at the Arabella Country Estate, mingling with the golfing who’s who of the Western Cape. Like many of the kids at their school – Botrivier Primary School in the Overberg – Gersville, Chadley and Ruwaan knew very little about golf.
Some had watched it on television from time to time, but they never thought they would one day get the opportunity to play, says Chadley, 16, and Ruwaan, 14. Gersville hadn’t even seen golf on TV. “I knew nothing about it,” says Gersville. “I thought it was just a sport for rich people.”
Their interest was immediately piqued when they heard that they had the chance to learn.
Their teachers told them that the Arabella Golf Club, based at the Arabella Country Estate in Kleinmond, was running a five-month winter programme to teach a group of Botrivier Primary children the basics.
The project, funded by the golf club and the hotel, has run every year since 2005. Each year, 10 to 15 disadvantaged children from Kleinmond and surrounds are selected to take part.
And they are given the very best in training – they make use of the Arabella’s facilities, professional equipment and training from golf pro Alison Sheard, who is a former British Open champion and a nine-time SA Open winner.
Sheard runs the programme with Arabella Pro Shop manager Rodney Eyberg.
Eyberg says that while the golf club members were satisfied with the winter programme, they wanted to “take it a step further” by introducing more intense training for one or two children who showed real potential.
“All the children were raw amateurs, and we had to try to find those who had the co-ordination and balance to progress,” says Sheard.
Chadley and Gersville showed the most potential.
“Many of the other children were progressing too, but we can only focus on so many at a time if we want to give them the very best training,” she says.
Recently, the trainers also noticed the talent of the youngest of the three, Ruwaan, who joined the development programme after Chadley and Gersville.
“At first, during the winter programme, we taught them the basics,” says Sheard. “How to hold a golf club, how to swing, why they need to do things a certain way. We explained every detail.”
Now Chadley, Gersville and Ruwaan are being fine-tuned – they are learning the technical aspects of the game, golfing etiquette and the rules of the game.
Gersville now has a handicap of 14, while Chadley’s handicap is 15.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but they have a lot of encouragement. Their parents are supportive and we fetch and drop them at home,” says Sheard.
Eyberg says the trio are given a number of special privileges, which keep them excited about the game.
They are full members of the Arabella Golf Club, their dietary needs and fitness levels are analysed by the Sports Science Institute of SA, they receive training from Sheard at least twice a week and their professional equipment is sponsored.
“Ordinarily, they would not have access to these kinds of facilities and golfing environment, or contact with the members here, many of whom are highly successful and support them fully,” says Eyberg. “I think it has given them a confidence that extends beyond the golf course.”
The boys will soon be entered for their first few junior Boland golf tournaments.
Chadley says he hopes to be a professional one day. Even if he, as Gersville plans to do, chooses a different career path he says he will play golf for the rest of his life.
“I’ve learnt a lot of things,” he says. “I won’t give it up just like that.”
And a wide-eyed Ruwaan says: “I didn’t think I’d ever be here, playing at Arabella. It was difficult to learn golf at the start, but I like it. It’s a gentleman’s sport.”
AIMING HIGH: Chadley Pietersen, 16, practises his swing.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Young golfers Gersville Arnoldus, front, Ruwaan Syms, middle, and Chadley Pietersen, back, practise at Arabella Golf Estate in Kleinmond, where they are part of a training programme. On the far left, golf experts Douglas Wood and Garth Milne record their shots for analysis.
TAKING TIPS: Ruwaan Syms, 14, Chadley Pietersen, 16, and Gersville Arnoldus, 16, back row, get training tips from golf guru Douglas Wood, front right as golf trainer Rodney Eyberg, front left, looks on.