Els Blog: The spirit of giving back

Thu 13 Feb 2014

Els Blog: The spirit of giving back

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These days, many of all the top players take their sense of responsibility to promote the game globally seriously. Obviously the way the professional game is structured now allows you to easily do that, although it’s nothing new for me.
For the last 20 years, my international playing schedule has always reflected the philosophy of trying to give something back to the game.
Supporting junior golf is absolutely at the heart of that. You can’t underestimate what it means to a young kid to see the best players up close and personal; it’s inspiring and that’s part of the process of helping youngsters dream big. We all need heroes.
When I was growing up, my golfing heroes were Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros. I remember I desperately wanted to win the Grand Slam like Gary and play golf just like Seve! When I first saw these great men play ‘in real life’ it added a whole lot more fuel to my fire.
This is one of the reasons why we should applaud the fact that the professional tours are doing such a good job at taking the game to new areas and introducing the game to new audiences. These tournaments provide more opportunities for the top players to play their part. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. The re-introduction of golf into the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be a further shot in the arm for the growth of the game.
In addition, when I travel the world in my capacity as a golf course designer, I’m aware that there are ways we can bring new people to the game – through academies, junior programs, foundations for underprivileged juniors, tees and shortened holes for beginners and quicker formats for golf. There are plenty of options on the table and we’re investigating all of them at Ernie Els Design. It’s something we’re passionate about.
Of course, the spirit of giving back was the reason we established the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation in 1999. We now have a wonderful team in South Africa led by the Foundation’s long-time CEO, Hannes van Niekerk, and while the structure of the Foundation has evolved over the years, our goal remains the same – to give talented youngsters the same golfing opportunities that I was lucky enough to have been given from a young age, but also to provide educational support and life skills mainly for kids from families of limited resources.
It’s been a hugely successful and gratifying venture. Two of our former members – Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen – were on last year’s Presidents Cup team with me and we’ve had several other young golfers who have made it into the pro ranks, not to mention the countless other young adults who have worked hard in the classroom, gained a good education and will go on to lead fulfilling lives. They’ve all been very complimentary about what the Foundation was able to do for them, but the way they’ve made the most of their opportunities is all the thanks we’ll ever need. We’re so proud of them.
Louis has, in fact, set up his own Junior Academy at his home club in Mossel Bay in South Africa, helping youngsters with travel expenses, taking care of all their golf equipment and crucial stuff like that…just as we did with him. Branden is a regular visitor to Fancourt and for our current crop of members to see what he’s achieved and soak up his advice is obviously very inspiring; it motivates them to work harder.
One of the wonderful things about the game of golf is that there is such a strong culture of wanting to help the next generation. Indeed, it was brought to my attention recently that the Vietnamese entrepreneur turned philanthropist, Le Van Kiem, has made a contribution to help establish the Asian Junior Golf Development Foundation.
Le’s words echo our philosophy at the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation; he understands the challenges that Asia’s under-privileged children face in taking up the game of golf and through this foundation he hopes to help aspiring young Asian talents who do not have the financial means to develop and aim for top honours in the sport of golf. There’s talent out there; programmes such as this will seek it out and develop these kids into future champions.
We all know how much Asian golf has grown in the last 20 years and for me personally I’ve witnessed some quite dramatic changes. The next 20 years will see even more dramatic growth and it’s easy to imagine Asian golfers soon enjoying a much more significant presence in the top-20 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Exciting times ahead for sure!