More than just the game

2013-10-30 00:00

HE has travelled the world playing golf on many top courses and has competed with the best around the world, but at Howick Golf Club Lee Bromley says he is making a difference.

The ex-Zimbabwean professional has set up an organisation to teach golf as a means to uplift children from the nearby Shiyabazali informal settlement. Usually bored after school, the children loiter on the streets as there are few sources of entertainment for the children.

The rolling green lawns of the golf course stretch right to the edge of the informal settlement. Shacks line the muddy paths and a fluctuating population of migrants live there in poverty. Golfers who hit their balls too hard in the past found themselves negotiating with the children on the other side of the fence to return the ball. R5 would seal the deal.

Some were sneaky and they would pull the players’ balls through the fence with sticks — for them it was a sure-fire way to earn a few bob. It was this sight that planted a seed in Bromley’s head as he realised the bizarre contrast of the lush golf course and the abject poverty on its doorstep.

He decided that he would do something and he enlisted the help of his friend Mlondi Mlotshwa. They sent out the word that Bromley was offering free golf lessons. Mlotshwa, who had been getting mentoring and coaching from Bromley to improve his game, came back with a very positive reaction.

Bromley said: “I expected that maybe a handful of children would pitch up at our first session, but there were more than 30, and the second time we had 70 children. I was astounded.”

Bromley has approached a few corporates for sponsorship to buy equipment, and he purchased a few mini golf sets. Initially, it was a riot as the children all fought over the clubs, scared they would miss out. But today it is a different scenario.

The children arrive promptly for practice, they greet Bromley and ask permission to begin. Some even arrive early. They start the session with a few practice putts and they concentrate on the task at hand.

Bromley said: “I wanted to teach them golf, but more importantly I wanted to give them life skills they would be able to use in any other aspect of their lives.” Bromley’s coaching teaches the children golf and it focuses on integrity, self-respect, courtesy, sportsmanship, confidence, perseverance, patience and social integration.

“I researched a few coaching programmes and I designed one that I felt would suit these children. The programme is based on Long Term Athlete Development principles and in four months we have seen a huge change. They are so grateful for the opportunity to learn and maybe better themselves.”

Girls make up 40% of the pupils enrolled in the programme and Bromley says he has received a lot of support from the Ladies’ Golf Association, which has donated towards clubs and equipment.

Mlotsha said: “This sport has shown these children that they have a chance of getting out of the gutter. They want to have dreams and believe they could be as good as Tiger Woods.”

Bromley says they have split up the group into various teams, as some have become quite proficient, while others are still mastering the beginners’ strokes. He speaks to each child by name and his gentle but firm manner has made some of them grow in confidence.

Bromley said: “At first I would rely on Mlondi to translate instructions for me, but now they understand a lot more. We have also made the learning process fun so that they do not get intimidated by the rules of the game.”

When they manage to sink a ball in the hole, they smile and give each other a high five. The atmosphere is friendly and competitive. They are not wearing the usual golfers uniform of pressed trousers and golf shirt, but in their own way they have tried to emulate the attitude of golfers.

“They used to come with shoes and no shoelaces. We know that money is tight, but when we emphasise that they have to have self-respect, they make a plan and a piece of string becomes a shoe lace.”

Bromley has received support from uMngeni Mayor Mbali Myeni, who is thrilled with the initiative.

The coaching sessions initially started once a week on a Sunday, but the children kept demanding more time, so the coaching has increased to twice a week. They have recently started a project in Pietermaritzburg. Bromley hopes that the coaching course will receive accreditation and they will be able to roll out the golfing mentorship throughout KZN. He will then be looking for young golfers to train the children.

Mlotshwa said: “It makes a big difference for the children to go to a place where they can learn a skill. It might be that they will never be a pro, but they will have knowledge of the game and they will have confidence to try something new that is not part of their culture.”

Mlotshwa says one father was nearly moved to tears when he saw his son playing a round on the golf course. He said: “The father could not believe his son was playing golf. They think it is a sport for rich white people but now they can see for themselves they can do it.

“Some parents feel they have lost their chance to improve themselves, but they are happy to let their children come and play golf as it may offer them a future.”

As the children line up on the straight to practise their driving skills, it is a pleasure to see their faces light up when the ball flies through the air. Bromley is pleased: “These days, there are plenty of hits and few misses. They are doing great.”


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