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Boosting golf’s popularity and mentoring future professionals is a driver behind the annual Joburg Open golf tournament. This year it was again won by local player Charl Schwartzel.
THE annual Joburg Open golf tournament aims to make the sport more accessible to everyone, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as showcase top-notch golf, says Bongi Mokaba, Joburg’s director of events.

Bongi Mokaba takes part in the Joburg Open Pro-AmThe City's director of events and marketing Bongi Mokaba takes part in the Joburg Open Pro-Am (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)She explains that the tournament’s legacy will always be the development and inclusion of prospective young golfers. With this in mind, the City nurtures and mentors selected young golfers, who get to participate in the Open.
“Our development players are doing very well for themselves. They are being trained by former professionals and we believe that in a year or two they will turn into full-time professionals,” says Mokaba. “The expertise of training is left with the Gauteng golf union and the professionals in Alex. [The City] only comes in to provide for them to be able to participate in the Joburg Open tournament.

“Everything is being taken care of on their behalf; they only need to concentrate on hitting the ball.”

Golf clinics, hosted ahead of tee off, are part of this legacy. This year, about 80 children from Alexandra between the ages of 10 and 21 years benefited. Through the clinics, the City aims to develop underprivileged golfers and debunk stereotypes related to the sport.

“That’s why we’ve developed a golf course in the Alex area. We [also] have a relationship with the Gauteng Central Golf Union, where these [development players] are mentored and given the opportunity to play,” she explains.

Professionals who are in Joburg to take part in the Open, participate in the pre-tournament clinics. They teach youngsters the game, help them perfect their swings, and give valuable advice and tips.

Sipho SitholeSipho Sithole is one of the amateurs sponsored by the City (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Mokaba has played in every Joburg Open Pro-Am since the tournament began five years ago. Compared to the other tournaments she’s played in and hosted, this year was “amazing”. 
“Looking at what we have been able to put together, nothing beats this. For me to watch the tournament grow from logistics to spectators and see all players that we invite honour the invitation is a great joy,” she explains.

Ticket prices for the Open are kept low so everyone can attend. This year, however, free tickets were given out to City staff and passers-by at OR Tambo International Airport. “It was amazing; we had fun.”

Top-ranked players
And the future of the Joburg Open looks promising, she adds. “I see us having the top-ranked players in the world playing in the Open. My task is to make the Joburg Open the best tournament in the country.”

The plan is to have more grandstands in future to accommodate more spectators. “I want to create excitement. The more numbers you have the higher the rankings you get.”

The four-day Joburg Open, with prize money totalling €1,3-million (about R12-million) teed off on 13 January and ended on 16 January; it took place at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in Linksfield.

Last year’s winner and the highest ranked player on the green, Charl Schwartzel, successfully defended his title, finishing the fourth round of the tournament with four-under 67. He was trailed by Garth Mulroy and Thomas Aiken. “In this tournament, the boys who are leading are all South African. We’ve broken the spell; the trophy has remained in Joburg,” she said.

The Joburg Open sets the pace for 2011, as it is a co-sanctioned Order of Merit event on the PGA European Tour and Sunshine Tour, along with the Dunhill Championship and the South African Airways Open. It is the first tournament of the year on the European circuit to stake a claim towards the Race to Dubai tournament.

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