19th March 2023

A community vision for the SDC Championship and beyond

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Decades ago, a highly successful entrepreneur presented the legendary conservationist Dr Ian Player with a question that kept him up all night. When he came down for breakfast, Dr Player had the answer. This weekend, during the SDC Championship at St Francis Links, that entrepreneur – Adrian Gardiner – is still living out his vision from that discussion.

“My life in conservation and game farms has been built around what Ian said to me. He drilled the importance of community into me, and involving the community in my projects,” says Gardiner, a close friend of golf through his relationship with Ian Player and his legendary brother Gary Player, as well as his friendship with Ernie Els. But it’s as the founder of the Mantis Collection of international privately-owned five-star boutique hotels and eco escapes, starting with the famous Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape in the early Nineties, that Gardiner has been able to live out his real passion of using eco-tourism to uplift local communities.

Even his support of the SDC Championship is based around the local community. The R500 000 prize he is offering for the first hole-in-one on the 14th hole on Sunday includes R250 000 going to the player and the other half being donated to the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA) which he founded in partnership with the Accor group in 2018. This same CCFA, in partnership with St Francis Links, has brought 50 youth from the local Sea Vista township to work at the tournament as course marshals and ball spotters.

Such is Gardiner’s passion for community that the name of his business, given to him at that breakfast by Dr Player, reflects this.

“When Ian stayed with me I asked him for a collective name for all of our properties. He came down the next morning and said I’d kept him awake all night as he thought about it. And he came up with Mantis, referencing the praying mantis and the role it plays for the bushmen as it watches over them whenever they travel. We broke this down further as an acronym – Man and Nature Together is Sustainable.”

What started with involving the local community in his first Shamwari project with about 15 employees eventually grew to 80 properties around the world. And community is at the heart of it all through the CCFA, which describes its operations as “working at the intersection between conservation, ecotourism and community”.

“Africa and wildlife has always been in my DNA,” says Gardiner. “I grew up in Zimbabwe and starting Shamwari was really about going back to my roots in the sense of creating that wild space that I grew up in. I mean, what is Africa without its wildlife?”

A major international golf tournament coming to the Eastern Cape certainly ties into his vision for the province. Gardiner is now working on his next project – the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve, a 2 500-hectare private nature and wildlife reserve that will be the first of its kind between the cities of Gqeberha and Kariega, and with benefits for the informal settlements on its borders. “It cannot work if we don’t empower the local communities. I feel so strongly that if we can show that impact, the Eastern Cape can become a model province for how South African can function better.”

And nothing Gardiner does is in isolation from this objective. The youth who are working at this weekend’s SDC Championship will be hosted for an educational day at the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.

“I believe strongly that if you can change the lives of 50 kids, that’s another 50 changed South Africans.”

This weekend, professional golf is helping in that process as well. – Michael Vlismas


18th March 2023

Luiten, Brown share clubhouse lead at St Francis

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Joost Luiten and Daniel Brown both made it into the clubhouse shortly before dark at the end of a long day in the SDC Championship and secured themselves a share of the clubhouse lead at St Francis Links.

The suspended second round was completed on Saturday morning, with Norway’s Kristian Johannessen finishing as the leader on 11 under par. The field then went straight into the third round, which was unable to be completed because of fading light.

But Luiten and Brown both managed to finish their rounds with respective 67s for the clubhouse lead on nine under par, while Johannessen and Matthew Baldwin share the on-course lead on 11 under par.

Johannessen is level par for his round through 13 holes, and Baldwin is four under for his round through 13 holes.

Luiten felt he could’ve done better than his 67 on a day when his putter held him back.

“It was a good 11 holes and then the putter just went cold on the last seven holes. I gave myself a lot of chances and nothing went in so I’m a bit annoyed with that. I hit the ball lovely but it’s hard to hole putts on these greens. You’ve got to stay patient.”

But a bogey-free round helped to soothe some of those frustrations.

“No bogeys on the scorecard is good. It was a good day overall. You know, five under on the Saturday is always a good score. But I think it could’ve been a couple better. I just need to see if I can drop some putts in the final round and put some pressure on the leaders.”

Brown was very pleased with his 67.

“It was really solid. I didn’t do a lot wrong and it was just really steady. I still had 11 holes to go this morning and then I just kept feeling confident. It’s been pretty tough this week with the stop-start rounds. But it’s going to be nice to have the buzz of having a chance in the final round.” – Michael Vlismas


Johannessen takes top spot at SDC Championship

Norway’s Kristian Krogh Johannessen returned on Saturday morning and birdied four of the last five holes of the weather-interrupted second round to take the lead on 11 under par in the SDC Championship at St Francis Links.

The second round was suspended on Friday as a result of the gusting wind. The golfers returned early on a far calmer Saturday morning and Johannessen took advantage with his round of 66.

It has earned him a three-stroke lead over Frenchman Julien Brun as they now head straight into the third round.

“I think it was a fair call to stop play yesterday. Today we had nice weather and it was time to go low,” said Johannessen.

“I’m very pleased with my finish today. I holed a couple of nice putts. But the big thing on this golf course is to keep it in play off the tees here.”

Johannessen has prepared himself for a long day on Saturday as the field completed the second round and then headed straight into the third round.

“I haven’t played close to 36 holes on one day since I was an amateur. Hopefully I’ll get a rest and then be ready. It’s going to be a long day. But I think the weather should stay the same and then the golf course is nice and playable.”

The conditions were certainly more favourable and the field responded with two holes-in-one on Saturday morning.

England’s Dan Bradbury was the first to hole out with a nine iron on the par-three 17th hole, and he was followed by South Africa’s Wynand Dingle, also with a nine iron on the same hole.


17th March 2023

Brun beats wind to lead SDC Championship

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Julien Brun took the window of opportunity he was given and claimed the clubhouse lead in Friday’s second round of the SDC Championship before the wind suddenly turned and play was suspended at St Francis Links.

The wind of Thursday forced the first round to be completed on Friday morning and with no change to the shared lead held by David Ravetto and Kristian Krogh Johannessen.

On a beautiful Friday morning with only a slight breeze, Brun then went out and put together a solid 67 for the lead on eight under par. One shot behind him, the trio of England’s Matthew Baldwin (67), South Africa’s Albert Venter (67) and Swede Jens Dantorp also took their morning chance and climbed to seven under overall. Dantorp did so with an impressive 63 that by Friday afternoon made it seem like he was playing another tournament.

And as the flags suddenly changed direction, so did the afternoon’s play.

According to DP World Tour Senior Referee Kevin Feeney, the severe wind gusts forced the suspension of play at just before 14:00. It was later decided at 16:15 to call off play altogether and resume at 7am on Saturday.

“We had gusts of up to 65 kilometres per hour on the back nine and up to 70 kilometres per hour on the front nine. We’ve just been very unlucky in what is a fabulous spot. We’ll restart on Saturday morning, in position, at 7am.”

The sudden change in conditions has made for interesting adjustments by the professionals, with even Brun admitting he found it difficult.

“This morning was the first time I’ve played this course without wind this week. It was definitely a lot more receptive so you could make more birdies and have more fun out there. But it’s extremely tricky. First off, you have to recover and get the energy back from a very long and tiring first round in that wind. Then your swing is also messed up because you have to go back to playing normal shots without the wind. I struggled with that adjustment to my game. It’s a big mental test.”

Behind him, Venter had a day where he followed up a double-bogey six on the 11th hole with five birdies in six holes as he took advantage of the easier morning conditions.

“I played well and fought back quite hard. My caddie and I have worked out the golf course and how we want to play it. There are scoring opportunities out there but you have to start by keeping the ball in play here. It’s still anyone’s game out there and I’m looking forward to the weekend and the challenge that lies ahead.” – Michael Vlismas


SPAR a hit with SDC Championship pros

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – The local SPAR in this seaside village has been almost as busy as the fairways at St Francis Links this week, where the Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned SDC Championship is being played.

With 156 professional golfers in town, and a number of them South African professionals who love a braai at the end of their day, the grocery aisles have been a hive of activity as they’ve stocked up for the week.

And for many of the South African pros in particular, it’s felt a bit like a home away from home.

“We have a SPAR just across the road from where we live in Centurion and we’ve always loved shopping there,” said Brandon Stone.

“When we arrived in St Francis Bay we tested out the local SPAR’s lamb chops and they were fantastic. They also had some Flippen Lekka spice as well.”

Young star Casey Jarvis went straight for the one item he can’t do without any time he steps into a SPAR.

“I shop at SPAR a lot and I love their fruit. It’s always very good, especially the mangoes.”

And Shaun Norris was also in there to stock up on his favourite Spar items.

“I actually shop at Spar quite a bit. I’m always in there, especially for the biltong and dry wors.”

Even Finnish professional Sami Välimäki was delighted to see the Spar. “We used to have one in Finland where I live, but not anymore. They always had great meat,” he said.


16th March 2023

Europeans dominate day one of SDC Championship

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – It wasn’t the gale-force wind that was predicted, but it was windy enough that both Frenchman David Ravetto and Norway’s Kristian Krogh Johannessen were extremely pleased with their opening 67s for a share the first round clubhouse lead in the SDC Championship at St Francis Links on Thursday.

Their rounds of five under par earned them a one-stroke lead over Scotland’s Connor Syme in this Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournament. The round was suspended at 18:35 due to fading light and will resume on Friday morning before the start of the second round.

The field had been waiting for this wind since Tuesday. While St Francis Links locals would’ve called it a standard wind for their golf course, it certainly caught the attention of the professionals on day one. Only 30 players in the field of 156 managed to shoot below par on Thursday.

Ravetto, though, called it “fun”. “This is a really nice golf course and it needs the wind to play to its potential. It’s fun to play it in the wind with a couple of nice tee shots and second shots,” he said of a day where his biggest challenge was the wake-up call for a 6:30am tee time.

“The wake-up call was pretty hard, but I played really solid golf in the windy conditions. My putting was really solid compared to the past few weeks.”

Johannessen was equally pleased with his bogey-free round. “I’m very happy. I started on the 10th and that nine suits my eye a bit more. The front nine can be tough. But overall I managed to score well. You have to be patient here when it blows. It all comes down to the weather and you need to just keep your ball in play.”

Behind them, Scotland’s Syme felt somewhat at home this far south in Africa. “The wind switched 180 degrees and it was like playing a different course today compared to what we had in the practice rounds. But I used my experience from Scotland hitting low drives and punch shots into the wind. Overall I made a few mistakes but I also made a lot of good birdies out there. I was in a lot of good positions off the tee. So much so that my bogeys felt quite sloppy, even though you’re going to make mistakes out there. I drove it well and that’s the main challenge of this golf course.”

Sean Cronje is the leading South African following his opening round of three under par 69. – Michael Vlismas


SA trio of young stars ready for Jonsson Workwear Open stage

JOHANNESBURG (Gauteng) – The Jonsson Workwear Open at The Club at Steyn City next week will be the final opportunity this summer for a group of young South African professionals to test themselves against a world-class field on home fairways, and the trio of Jayden Schaper, Casey Jarvis and Martin Vorster in particular cannot wait.

The $1.5-million tournament, which tees off at The Club at Steyn City next Thursday, is the last in the current run of Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournaments played here until they return again later in the year.

With strong performances by the likes of Schaper, Jarvis and Vorster over the past few weeks, they all know the kind of opportunity the Jonsson Workwear Open represents for their careers.

“Each week out here can change your life,” said Schaper. “Since I turned professional in 2020 I’ve been fortunate to play in a few DP World Tour events, and in the co-sanctioned tournaments through the Sunshine Tour you get some really good opportunities at home. They’re big events and you’ve just got to take your opportunities when they come.”

The young star has had four top-10s in Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournaments in his career, and says he’s adopted a new focus as he continues to push for a win.

“I’ve learned to become more patient. When I first came on tour in 2020 I was putting too much pressure on myself. I’ve learned to just trust myself and stick to my process. You’re always going to have ups and downs out here, but you’ve got to keep driving yourself and pushing yourself forward. You’ve always got a chance out here, and the next week could be the best week of your life.”

Both Jarvis and Vorster are still in their rookie seasons. To date, Jarvis’s best finish in a Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournament is tied ninth in last November’s Joburg Open and he says a growing consistency in his game has given him confidence in the bigger events.

“I’ve learned to manage my game pretty well, and that consistency is key when you just turn professional. I think I’ve found a bit more of that, which is really what I’m looking for,” he said.

Vorster has shown his potential with top-10s in two European Challenge Tour events co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour recently, and the Jonsson Workwear Open would be a great test of his confidence at higher level of the game.

“When I turned pro, I knew I was good enough, but it was almost as if you don’t really believe it until you test yourself out here. Now I just want to climb the steps, stay in my process and patiently work my way up. I want to get to the DP World Tour as soon as I can, but I’ve given myself three years for that goal.”

Vorster has the perfect example of that patience in one of the DP World Tour’s star performers this season – fellow South African Ockie Strydom.

“I’ve been fortunate to play a few rounds with Ockie, and then to see him go and win two DP World Tour events so quickly this season is amazing. That just shows you. If you can win here in one of these, you can win anywhere in the world.”


15th March 2023

Golf’s ongoing drive to get kids off the streets and on the fairways

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – As world golf’s prize money increases to record levels this year and the privileges in the professional game do so as well, there are still those who wake up at 5am to make sandwiches for a group of kids they will later collect in some of the poorest areas, and take them to play golf in the hope it will also change their lives.

Some of those kids, as part of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB), were at the SDC Championship at St Francis Links earlier this week for a golf clinic with the professionals who have gathered in this seaside village for an historic first Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournament at this course.

They are a constant reminder of the power of the game at its core to transform lives.

Granwell Gelderbloem, the coach of the Gqeberha Chapter of the SAGDB and specifically the Varsvlei and Kuyga areas, knows this as well because he was one of these kids. And that memory is what drives his passion for the work he does with the SAGDB.

“I do it because I was one of these kids. I was also a young golfer and my mother wasn’t working so I know the process and the struggles. I was also blessed to have people support me and give me pocket money for tournaments,” he says.

“I live in Sanctor in Gqeberha, and the field where I started playing golf is just behind my house. There is gangsterism in the areas where these kids grow up, or they just hang around the streets asking for money and eventually get involved in selling drugs for the gangs. This game is keeping them off the streets. The photos and videos we are able to show the parents in these communities of the clinics we do at Sunshine Tour events makes them send their kids to us to learn the game.”

Like so many of the SAGDB coaches and managers around the country, Gelderbloem is totally immersed in his desire to see these kids use golf to impact everything from their social circumstances to their academic performance.

“Sometimes you have to be a parent to them because not all of the kids have parents who are involved. Often when the kids come to a tournament they haven’t had a meal, so we make them food ourselves or we have sponsors who help us. My mother and her friends actually help to make food for some of the kids. We have sponsors or parents who help us to pick up the kids from their homes and transport them. Often we start at 5am to get the kids together and get them to tournaments or to courses to practice.”

It’s with the constant hope of something better that golf can provide these kids that Gelderbloem and his team wake up in the morning and do their work. And for the moment, the kids they teach are not playing for trophies or ranking points. On any given afternoon, they may just play for a bag of crisps or a lollipop.

“It’s just a little extra motivation for them. I’ll give that to the winner or maybe the top three will each get a lollipop,” says Gelderbloem, who knows that on this afternoon, that’s one less kid on the streets and one more on a golf course. – Michael Vlismas


14th March 2023

SDC Championship field ready for St Francis Links test

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – As a major DP World Tour event comes to the seaside village of St Francis Bay for the first time with this week’s SDC Championship, the main topics of discussion amongst the players are the impressive quality of the St Francis Links course, and Thursday’s wind forecast.

The Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour have brought an international golf tournament to this Jack Nicklaus Signature Course for the first time in its history, and a course ranked fourth in South Africa has certainly caught the attention of this field. And so too the wind forecast for Thursday’s first round, which is predicting gusts of up to 65km/h.

“I think it’s one of the best golf courses in the country,” young South African Casey Jarvis said during Tuesday’s pro-am. He knows this course well, having finished second in the 2022 South African PGA Championship which was played here.

“It’s just a really good golf course, and a challenging one in the wind. It’s quite soft around the greens so doesn’t play like a true links, but the overall layout is just really really good.”

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay was equally impressed with his first look at this golf course.

“The landscape around here is beautiful and I’m really impressed with the course. It’s a gorgeous piece of property. You can see that if you’ve played this course before you will have an advantage. I’ve always loved coming down here to this part of the world and I’ve been on holiday with my family here before.”

Ockie Strydom, a two-time winner on the DP World Tour this season, also has fond memories of this golf course where he finished second in a Sunshine Tour event last year.

“I’ve done well on this course in the past. I feel like this course owes me one and hopefully that’s this week. There are a lot of good players here, but we’ve all got the same job – to keep it low and under the wind.”

The wind can certainly turn this golf course into a proper test this week, and most of the field are already bracing themselves for the challenge it will bring on Thursday.

“I’ve been watching the wind forecast, and especially the predictions for Thursday. You can definitely see the course has been built for a breeze and it’s no secret that this part of the country has wind that will flatten flagsticks. The wind will certainly change how this course plays. But I have to commend the greenkeeping staff here because it’s in fantastic condition considering they’ve been in a long drought in this region,” said Brandon Stone.

“This is a great golf course, but it all depends on the conditions. I’m hoping for a bit of wind to test us all,” added Shaun Norris.


11th March 2023

Wears-Taylor makes his Sunshine Tour breakthrough

CENTURION, Gauteng – Stefan Wears-Taylor claimed his maiden win on the Sunshine Tour with a one-shot triumph in the Mediclinic Invitational at Centurion Country Club on Saturday.

Wears-Taylor went into the final round three shots off the lead held by George Coetzee and he surged through the field with an incredible eight-under-par 64 on the final day – including four consecutive birdies over the turn – to win on 25 under par overall.

“I feel on top of the world. The calibre of player out here on the Sunshine Tour is so good, and to be able to say I’m a winner is surreal,” said Wears-Taylor.

Jake Redman finished second on 24 under par with a final round of 67, while George Coetzee was third on 22 under par with a closing 70.

Playing his home course, Wears-Taylor teed off in the final group and immediately made his presence felt with a birdie at the par-five first hole. He played incredibly composed golf as he added a further seven birdies and not a single bogey on his way to victory.

“I didn’t even know what I was on in terms of score. I was just sticking to my gameplan. Being my home course I’ve got a good idea of where I want to hit it. So my focus was to just stick to the process and play the best golf I can, and to make good decisions and commit to them. But yes, for me to be able to shoot 17-under for the weekend is very pleasing.”

Wears-Taylor said he felt like his game was headed for a breakthrough before this week.

“I started feeling that I’ve got the game to win, but it was just about piecing four days together. That’s been the difficult part to do. Behind the scenes I’ve been working hard on consistency in all areas of my game, whether it be mental or technical. And it’s paid off.” – Michael Vlismas