Johannesburg - Late last year, Premier Soccer League chair Irvin Khoza sat in a room at the Soweto Country Club with a host of golf dignitaries.
With his funky coloured socks peeking out above his shiny shoes, he quietly watched as one of the PGA Tour’s top officials announced his organisation’s support for the rejuvenation project at the club.
You see, word travels fast in Soweto.
Faster than Dustin Johnson’s swing speed.
So fast that the local football kingpin decided to come and see what the fuss was all about.
What he saw was how the talk about trying to make a difference had become a reality of buildings that are making a difference.
The new clubhouse, practice facility, conference centre and halfway house are complete.
Gary Player’s golf course redesign has begun.
The reality is that this project is only one part of a number of growth initiatives in South African professional golf that are already starting to bear fruit.
In the same year the Soweto Country Club project started to gain incredible momentum, the Sunshine Tour saw equal growth in its Gary Player class of 2017/18 development squad.
The team is the Sunshine Tour’s main development drive for historically disadvantaged professional golfers.
It benefits from the SA Golf Development Board and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation as part of efforts to develop golf in this country.
Gary Player class member Keenan Davidse had his best year as a professional last year, with four top 10s on the Sunshine Tour.
He led the first round of the Joburg Open in December, a tri-sanctioned tournament between the Sunshine, European and Asian tours.
“All of the golfers in the Gary Player class can play,” he said.
“I think most of them are very underrated, to be honest. It’s really just a case of whether they are given the opportunities. If the opportunity isn’t there, then they cannot show their true potential.”
This month, Musiwalo Nethunzwi, a product of the SA Golf Development Board and now also a Gary Player class member, qualified for his first BMW SA Open, hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni. He made the cut.
When he and playing partner Toto Thimba walked up the 18th fairway at Glendower Golf Club earlier this month carrying a South African flag in the final round of the tournament, the gallery welcomed them like heroes.
“We were just so proud – proud of our country and proud to be playing in one of the greatest tournaments in world golf,” he said.
That pride is exactly what the Gary Player class has sought to achieve by helping these players financially and in other areas of their game.
You can give a golfer the best swing coach in the world, but it’s only when he feels like he belongs on the big stage that he can start being competitive.
At the start of the Gary Player class programme, pioneering black professional Theo Manyama said: “This is about giving these golfers support to stand on the tee in a big summer tournament and feel like they can compete.”
Nethunzwi finished tied 51st that week at Glendower.
Elsewhere in the local professional game, new stars such as Erik van Rooyen and Jacques Kruyswijk secured their European Tour cards and made impressive starts to the season.
Van Rooyen was second in the Joburg Open and Kruyswijk tied fourth in the BMW SA Open.
This week, Shaun Norris became the Asian Tour number one for the first time in his career with his second-place finish in the SMBC Singapore Open.
As it stands now, Dylan Frittelli is one place away from joining Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen in the top 50 in the world rankings.
There is no doubt that there are new faces to watch out for this year.
In the women’s game, the Sunshine Ladies Tour will result in almost R4.5 million in prize money over seven tournaments this year.
As professional Stone said at the beginning of the year: “The state of South African golf is incredible.”
Everything points to 2018 being an exciting year for South African golf.