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2008-01-08: GOLF – SUNSHINE TOUR - Alex Township gets a brand new driving range

JOHANNESBURG, 7 January 2008 - On a day when many of the world's leading golfers were streaming into Johannesburg to compete in the Joburg Open, the Mayor of Johannesburg, Clr Amos Masondo, opened a driving range and golf academy near Alexandra – removing a major barrier to what has always been an exclusive sport.

The driving range will work closely with schools in the area, introducing children to the game and providing those who show interest and talent with the means to become regular golfers.  The golf academy will provide matriculants with the theoretical and practical training – backed up with SETA certification – to gain employment at golf courses and resorts.

The venture is a spin-off of the Joburg Open, South Africa's only fully black-empowered professional golf tournament, which runs from Thursday to Sunday this week (10 – 13 January).

Initiated by the promoters of the tournament, easyGolf Worldwide, in partnership with the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Economic Development Agency, the facility will be financed primarily by surplus sponsorship revenue.  The main commercial sponsor is Old Mutual.

"Golf has always had the image of being the exclusive preserve of affluent whites," said easyGolf CEO Leon Plutsick.  "The Joburg Open, from its inception last year, has strived to open up the game to everyone who lives here – this year, for example, the City is bussing a thousand schoolchildren a day to the tournament and using professionals to explain what golf is all about and to spark their interest.

"The development driving range and academy is a longer-term initiative with the same vision in mind."

The management team will run an ongoing programme that encourages children to take advantage of the facility.  The support of schools will be enlisted, and local professionals will be urged to provide scheduled coaching assistance.

Children will be transported to and from the range, where they will be given attendance cards that will be clipped every time they attend.  For every 10 sessions they will be given a golf club, and when they have a full set of clubs they will be given free entry-level golfclub membership. They will also be taught the rules and etiquette of the game, and taken in groups to play at golf clubs in the city, allowing them to become familiar with the surroundings and the atmosphere of golf as most players know and love it.

The golf academy will provide SETA-accredited training to young matriculants and unemployed adults who are eager to acquire skills and earn a living in the golfing industry.  The curriculum will cover most of the important areas of golf club management, from catering and green keeping, to finance and administration.

A combination of theoretical instruction and on-the-job internships at golf clubs will ensure that, at the end of the one-year course, graduates will be able to secure employment at golf courses and other hospitality establishments.

"The objective of the range is to remove the barriers that make it difficult for children and even many adults to get into golf, and to help those who enjoy the game to become committed players," said Moss Ngoasheng, chairman of easyGolf.

"Obviously it would be great if this initiative throws up a future champion. But it will have served its purpose if it simply introduces more young people to the joys of what is surely the world's greatest game."