The future of golf is in safe hands, says Michael Vlismas, spokesperson for the PGA of South Africa which recently challenged its first-year apprentices at the Residentials Conference held at the local Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club headquarters.

As many as 80 PGA apprentices from South Africa and abroad began their three-year apprenticeship programme by attending the prestigious Residentials Conference.

Here, experienced coaches shared their years of wisdom with the younger coaches. The conference coincided with the 36-hole Apprentice Championship, which was won by Ficksburg’s Thinus Rosslee.

Michael Vlismas, spokesperson for the PGA said the conference had included different facets, among these coaching, rules of golf, equipment, Sports science and fitness for golf, business management, business law.

He said the PGA set out to train professionals through the conference since qualified, proactive professionals were the most important part of keeping the game alive and well in the country. “It is the professional who introduces the golfer to golf, assists him with his first equipment and gets him onto the golf course. Evidence proves that golfers who have a good relationship with their professionals play more often and are more likely to stay in the game,” he said.

He said the PGA faced different challenges in today’s society. “People don’t have as much time as they used to and culture has changed. Fathers and mothers are expected to spend more time with their families. The club environment is not as popular as it used to be. The PGA is training its professionals to think laterally and adapt golf so that games are more user-friendly and shorter.”

Still, despite these challenges, he said it was unclear whether golf as a sport was growing in South Africa. “Certainly the numbers of members at golf clubs is not growing and even decreasing slightly, but retail stores and driving ranges suggest that there are a lot of casual golfers who are not handicapped/ members at clubs who are taking up the game.”

He said data from the Handicaps Network South Africa confirmed that the number of club members had remained steady for the past few years.

“But the number of rounds of golf being played is increasing and this highlights that there are numerous golfers out there and there is still a demand to play the sport.”

He said to encourage the growth of the sport in the country PGA members had started working with young children.

“Not only do they encourage athleticism and all the motor skills by structured activities in their lessons, but they also encourage the ethic of hard work and self belief.”

Vlismas said he believed there would always be a place for golf in society.

He said of the game that it was a sport anyone could play until any age with the whole family.

“Golf teaches values such as honesty, the possibility of achievement, (if one can learn to hit a ball 200 metres what else can you not do), patience in the face of adversity and the importance of peace of mind. It also gives the body a gentle workout.”