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South African Golf Development

First swing for disabled golfers

As an arm amputee of 20 years and working at South African Golf Development, Eugene Vorster had a vision – to help disabled children enjoy the game of golf.
Bidvest - South African Golf Development

A chance meeting with Lily Reich through her husband, who had lost his leg 15 years earlier, led to the two becoming full-time volunteers to roll out a programme for disabled children.

In March 2012 Bidvest stepped in as a monthly sponsor. “This sponsorship has had a huge impact on so many disabled children throughout South Africa,” says Lily. “Prior to the sponsorship, the programme was struggling with less than 90 children participating. The funds go to our first swing programme.

“We have introduced golf to over 1 200 juniors and are running 40 weekly programmes throughout South Africa at schools, homes and golf courses. We plan to introduce golf to every disabled school in South Africa. It is the most rewarding and humbling job to see the happiness of people who never thought it would be possible to participate in sport,” she explains.

Lily says there are hundreds of schools in South Africa for disabled children. Many are disabled due to a lack of oxygen at birth or foetal alcohol syndrome. Adult amputees are mostly as a result of accidents, such as car, motorbike or boating. The one school has a wall of stars for children who die every year. They don’t live past 14 or 15 because of degenerative diseases.

SADGA goes on road shows and holds fun golf days at schools, taking over the school halls or fields and turning them into modified golf courses. The entire school is introduced to the game of golf in groups of 10 to 30. Thereafter, any child interested in playing golf attends weekly sessions with a SADGA coach at the school. The organisation is working with the Department of Education to include golf as a life skills subject.

“We hear stories from principals about children who are locked up for the entire school holidays as they do not even have wheelchairs at home. We try to reach them with holiday camps, junior deaf tournaments and interschool competitions. We also arrange visits to golf courses for career guidance, chipping and putting and weekly sessions for juniors who have finished matric. We would like to help give these children jobs at golf courses when they finish school.

SADGA also uses the funds received to pay for golf fees, carts, equipment, balls and clothing, as well as coaching sessions for physiotherapists and teachers and yearly team-building and coaching sessions for SADGA coaches.

Realising that most disabled juniors are too severely disabled to ever manage 18 holes of golf, the programme was rewritten and divides it into five levels of golf.

Each level is for adults and juniors who are blind and/or deaf, as well as physically disabled. Eighty percent are previously disadvantaged individuals. “We have created a golf environment that suits every disability,” says Lily.

Level 1 is for severely disabled juniors who cannot leave the school. SADGA sets up mini golf courses at school halls with putting mats, cones, hoops and baskets.

Level 2 is for slightly less severely disabled juniors, which takes place on school fields and putting greens where possible.

Level 3 is for juniors who can complete 6 to 9 holes of regular golf and/or complete a mashie course.

Level 4 is for golfers with an SA Golf Association official golf handicap and who take part in the SA Disabled Golf Open and official SADGA events.

Level 5 is for the most talented golfers who have single figure SAGA official golf handicaps and who compete nationally and internationally.

“We are extremely proud of our talented juniors. One has reached level 5 and taken part in three provincial challenges. There are 13 with official golf handicaps (level 4) who are playing regularly. And, for the rest, we have children who are having unbelievable fun at these sessions and enjoying the game of golf.

Bidvest - South African Golf Development