No question at all that the most sought-after invite for any amateur golfer is the one from Vodacom Origins of Golf. When the e-mail drops in your inbox (as it did this year for a grateful Biased Ref) and right after you’ve done your happy dance, standard practise is to immediately accept and then set about clearing your diary of any conflicting events on the appointed dates – even if it requires a crowbar or front-end loader to do so.
Why so special? Well, lots of reasons which we’ll get to, but to sum it up: for a couple of days the fact that you’re (in my case) a high-handicap hacker can be blissfully ignored as you’re treated like a pro! Top-class golf-course in the very best of nick, the opportunity to partner with a couple of pro’s and food and drink and entertainment all generously picked up by Vodacom who also provide some playing gear (can’t have the chosen 60 invitees looking anything other than smart and uniform!).
This year’s event once again took place at the magnificent St Francis Links – undoubtedly the jewel in our regional golfing crown. There was a period during which Vodacom Origins of Golf was a travelling affair – sharing its love amongst a number of courses – before it settled on St Francis Links as a permanent home. Over and above the breathtaking aesthetic beauty of this Jack Nicklaus-designed layout, I’d wager a few bob that the presence of larger-than-life St Francis Links CEO Jeff Clause had some influence in that decision. “American by birth, South African by choice”, Jeff’s passion for golf and his eye for detail when it comes to the comfort of his guests is next level. Constantly preaching the gospel when it comes to the sport and the beauty of this part of the world, he is an enormous asset to both.
Back to the golf itself: each 4-ball made up of 2 amateurs, each teaming up with a professional in betterball stableford format. My amateur mate was Travis Goate, Executive Head for Vodacom Sales & Marketing, Eastern and Southern Cape. He and I went for Eastern Cape golfers Lyle Rowe and Luke Jerling when our turn came to pick our pros. Nice guys and, obviously, excellent golfers but they had no idea what was about to hit them. Lyle paired up with yours truly while Luke was paired with Travis.
Day One saw a shotgun start with us getting underway on the 3rd – allegedly “a gentle par 5”. I was rather relieved when I was able to smash my drive some distance down the middle of the fairway but my second shot promptly delivered my first lost ball when I hoiked it into the bush. “Seven. Ring” was duly recorded by yours truly whilst partner Lyle Rowe made par. I’d like to report that things got a whole lot better from there but they didn’t really. My co-ordination was unusually uncoordinated and I was more than happy to place the blame for that firmly on the gregarious Mr Goate and his hospitality the night before when he had managed to turn my intended single nightcap at 9pm into 7 or 8 drinks that had me stumbling into my room after midnight. Lyle Rowe and I finished the day lying in 57th place out of the 60 teams. Travis and Luke were in a more respectable 33rd or 34th. Despite behaving in a more reserved fashion that evening at a super St Francis Links dinner that included entertainment by comedian Nicholas Goliath, I’m afraid to report that Day Two produced pretty much a similar result as Day One did. My ego may have been briefly bruised but the truth of the matter is that the Vodacom Origins of Golf event is about the experience as much as it is about the result. As I mentioned earlier, two spend two full days in such a magnificent setting watching pros make the game look easy and getting to know them is a rare treat that most amateurs never get a chance to enjoy. The cherry on the top is that as a guest of Vodacom none of this costs you a cent! The fact that you can justifiably take two days off work is rather appealing too.
Vodacom host six of these events around the country with the top 5 amateurs at each going through to a national final event. The overall winner there bags an all-expenses paid overseas golfing trip – this year the destination is Mauritius. It’s not only the amateurs that score. The pros, once the hackers had left the hallowed links of St Francis, did battle for prizemoney of R750 000 in their own event competed for over 54 holes. The eventual winner was Doug McGuigan but I was far more interested in tracking the progress of “our guys” Lyle Rowe and Luke Jerling. Sadly, neither was able to make the cut and I can’t but help feel a little responsible since no righteous player of the game should be forced to play competition golf immediately after spending two days fretting over me and trying to coach some semblance of respectability into my game. I wouldn’t be surprised if they needed therapy afterwards. Sorry lads! Maybe next year the luck of the draw will bless you with a better class of partner.
By now it should be clear to any amateur golfer reading this that if you should find yourself fortunate enough to get the nod from Vodacom in the future to grab the opportunity with both hands. You have to be a subscriber of course but if you aren’t then I’d suggest you port. Yes. It’s that good. Really.