Major golf powers join together to support Soweto rebirth
December 06, 2017
By Laury Livsey, PGATOUR.COM
- Gary Player is in the midst of redesigning Soweto Country Club –a project backed by the PGA TOUR. (Black Knight Enterprises)
Gary Player remembers 1974 well. He ought to. That year, he won 10 tournaments worldwide, including three titles in his native South Africa. He also won his third Open Championship (all in different decades), picked up his second green jacket at the Masters, added one additional PGA TOUR win and took home hardware at two national opens, in Australia and Brazil. The cherry on Player’s sundae was his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the Hall’s inaugural class.
So of all those accomplishments, what is Player talking about 43 years later?
How about a little design project in Johannesburg that he says is “near and dear to my heart?”
In the same year Player was turning in one of his best year’s on the golf course, Player the designer was putting the finishing touches on Soweto Country Club, a course that has been described as a “beacon of hope for South Africa’s historically disadvantaged black professional golfers.”
Even with all his success as a player, even with his work getting Soweto Country Club ready for opening, Player still found time and arranged for South African golfer Vincent Tshabalala to go to the United States to play two PGA TOUR events—the Kemper Open and the IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic. In those two tournaments, Tshabalala only broke 80 once.
But as one of those “historically disadvantaged black professional golfers,” Tshabalala stuck with the game, spending a lot of time at the new Gary Player-designed course, and the South African emerged from Soweto’s fairways, benefiting from Player’s tutelage and guidance, Two years after shooting a second-round 87 in Philadelphia, Tshabalala was standing on the 18th tee at Golf du Touquet in France with a three-stroke lead during the final round of the European Tour’s French Open. Tshabalala made a routine par at the last and defeated Spain’s Salvador Balbuena by two shots, in the process making history by becoming the first black player to win a European Tour event.
Following the win, Tshabalala, who died earlier this year, at age 75, had his thoughts turn to Soweto Country Club, Gary Player and the unlikely nature of his triumph.
“Without Gary, I would not have started in golf. Gary is the only one who has helped me a great deal. He taught me the basics, how to think right, how to save strokes around the greens and how to keep fit,” said Tshabalala. He also referenced Soweto Country Club, a course that was just as “near and dear” to his heart as it is to Player.
With this backstory in mind, it’s of little surprise that Player is in the midst of re-designing Soweto Country Club, the course’s rebirth receiving considerable support from the PGA TOUR.
“We are delighted to announce the PGA TOUR as a partner in our efforts to restore Soweto Country Club to its former glory,” said Selwyn Nathan, Executive Director of the Sunshine Tour. “This investment means we can now begin with the upgrade of the golf course with immediate effect.”
Player can only agree, acknowledging what needs to be done at the 43-year-old course where Tshabalala became a championship golfer.
“No doubt the renovation of Soweto Country Club is bringing a smile to Vincent’s face as he looks down on us. He certainly will be watching over all the new young golfers that we hope this project brings to Soweto,” said Player.(Black Knight Enterprises)
If Tshabalala is watching, as Player suggests, what he will see is the familiar Player design with a few new touches, including reworked green complexes, the enlargement and relocation of tee boxes, added length, a new irrigation system, a lake and new grass on all the fairways.
“As the designer of the course, it was important to us to keep the integrity of the original design,” Player explained. “But we are introducing a little more length to the golf course by relocating several greens and adding tees.
“The addition of fairway bunkers,” Player continued, “will also be part of the design enhancements, which will provide added strategy to the golf course experience overall.”
Non-golf course additions and renovations include a wall along the south boundary of the golf course, the completion of a conference facility and the refurbishing of an existing storage facility into a fully operational pro shop.
PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan gladly explained why the TOUR chose to get involved. “The PGA TOUR’s global reach has been enhanced by the significant contributions of South Africa and its players. World Golf Hall of Famers Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Nick Price, Ernie Els and many more from South Africa have all played important roles in the growth of the PGA TOUR and in golf in general. South Africa also served as the backdrop for one of the most dramatic moments in golf history, the very exciting 2003 Presidents Cup. With this rich history in mind, we are more than pleased to contribute to help golf grow in South Africa with this very worthwhile endeavor at Soweto Country Club.”
Player admits the renovation of Soweto Country Club is long overdue, and admitting the people of Soweto deserve a course of which they can be proud. “It is our dream that this project will garner more community interest and hopefully, with a little luck, produce a champion,” said Player.
Why not? It’s worked before.