Compared with the men's game, women's golf still lacks support, but the Duma sisters and Zethu Myeki may just be the ones to change all that and become pioneers among black female players.
Siviwe and Yolanda Duma are no strangers to South African golf circles, but this hasn't spared them from feeling ignored in a sport they grew up loving from the day their golf-obsessed father introduced them to it.
Enoch Duma was an avid amateur golfer from the Eastern Cape, but the sport became more than a hobby when he started working for the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB). That job soon became a life's passion when his daughters fell in love with golf while following him around the course as his caddies at the Alexander Golf Club in East London.
It's a love relationship that is difficult to maintain, given the lack of financial support for women's golf and the lengths to which the Duma sisters have had to go to remain committed. The sisters from Mdantsane near East London made history in 2017 when they became the first black female golfers to turn professional.
"I developed a love of golf by watching my father play. It got me interested, so when I touched a golf club I thought, I really want to play this game. It's very nice and it's not like the other sports. It was different. It was chilled," says 26-year-old Yolanda. "My father is not a professional golfer, but he was good. He played for Border. It was difficult for us black people those days even to get on the course. You didn't go that far."
Professional golfer Michelle de Vries started mentoring the sisters in 1999, when they were young girls, and introduced them to the SAGDB, Border Ladies Golf, the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and Women's Golf South Africa.
Road to professionalism
For Siviwe, the support was life-changing. "As a township junior girl golfer, I got to travel to other provinces and golf supported me financially. I was inspired when I was selected to represent my province at an early age, and by the financial support," she says.
Having paid their dues in the amateur ranks, the Duma sisters hoped they would gain the financial support when they turned pro to pursue a fruitful career in golf. Sadly, nearly three years later, sponsorship has eluded them along with a pro tournament win. But it is early days in a career that could span two decades and were it not for the SAGDB, the Duma sisters wouldn't have progressed this far.
Aspiring golfers would have had to take at least three taxis to get to the one driving range near Mdantsane, where the Duma sisters grew up. The range has since been scrapped to make way for a shopping mall, leaving young golfers with the choice of either abandoning their dreams or finding another way to be close to the sport.
A benevolent community doctor helped the sisters by paying for their travel costs to provincial tournaments during their amateur days. It was the kind of support the sisters had hoped would improve when they turned professional. For now, they are restricted to playing on the Sunshine Ladies Tour.
"We come and play the Sunshine Tour from January to March, but after that there's nothing," says Siviwe. "We don't have financial support to go to other tournaments and play, so we're kind of struggling for a sponsor in order for us to get on and play."
Zethu Myeki, a rookie professional as of this year who also comes from Mdantsane and is a friend of the Duma sisters, has a different story to tell. Her rise to the pro ranks is an example of how the right support for women's golf can produce results quickly. As an amateur, she was supported by the Ernie Els Foundation and the SAGDB.
Support from an early age
"I just turned pro, so this is my first year. This [Cape Town Open] is my first tournament as a pro. We all know that golf doesn't come very cheap. Before turning pro, I had a support system with the Ernie Els Foundation, so I didn't have to worry about how I'm going to make it to the next tournament because they were supporting me. After the tour, I'm hoping I will have a sponsor. I want to go and play overseas as well. I mean, I can't stay in South Africa forever," Myeki says.
Myeki has represented South Africa at an international level seven times in India, Tunisia, Ghana and the United States, where she recently helped South Africa finish ninth at The Spirit International and finished 11th overall in the Women's International Competition.
She fell in love with golf by chance and grew to excel at it by being curious to learn.
"When I was in grade 7, I used to pass a soccer field and see a few boys and girls hitting golf balls, but I was too nervous to ask if I could play," says Myeki. "The following year, one of the girls that was on the soccer field was in the same class as me, and I asked her what to do in order to play. She invited me to play. And the rest is history.
"As soon as I started, I was a part of the SA Golf Development Board programme. They supported me, sent me to the golf course, they got me clubs and clothes. I was lucky, because I started in 2007 and then in 2010, I got into the Ernie Els Foundation. So, I've always had the support, when I started."
Myeki, 21, speaks with a determination and confidence that belies her age and experience. She is acutely aware of her position in the vanguard of golf among black women in South Africa.
"Golf taught me discipline and it taught me patience. If you want to continue playing, patience is the key. If it wasn't for golf, I wouldn't have travelled all over the world," she says. "If it wasn't for golf, and the support I got, I shudder to think how my life could have turned out. I am from the township, where gangs, drugs and violence are all some children know."
Role models for the next generation
Golf's impact on society has largely been missing in townships across South Africa, but the emergence of the Duma sisters and the precocious talent of Myeki could change all that if they inspire greater participation and attract more sponsors to women's golf.
"You only have to see the respect and compliments our youngsters get all over the world to understand how well this programme works," said Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan in a recent interview. "The SAGDB is not only about golf, it's about giving children life skills. They develop into positive role models in their communities through the discipline and values they learn through the game and learn to become economically independent through these skills."
Yolanda Duma, in particular, has been vocal about giving back to the community and inspiring other girls to take up the sport.
"Of course, there are expectations, especially from people who are backing us. We need to set an example for the other kids who are coming up from the townships. They're the same as us, especially the delinquent ones," she says. "We do give back to the game by coaching underprivileged kids. It's really hard though when you don't have financial backing. Sometimes when you go to the course there's no money to go and play. There's no driving range in Mdantsane."
While prize money in women's golf in South Africa has moved on from the two silk handkerchiefs of the 1800s, they still compete for a fraction of the prize money afforded the men's game.
"Sponsorship in the ladies' game is nothing compared to the men's. For example, in the South African Open, the men are competing for about R17 million. Our South African Women's Open is in March and we will be playing for about R3 million. It was just over R1 million last year," says Myeki.
The discrepancy hasn't dampened the young women's ambition and determination to succeed.
"We play to win but will take top five or top 10 in every tournament. It's better to make the cut than not make it," says Yolanda.
Without a win yet on the professional circuit, the Duma sisters and Myeki have focused their attention on improving their game with every opportunity to compete, and making enough money to afford course time for practising. Like every golfer, they struggle with particular aspects of their game and draw much more from golf than playing for money.
"I feel at home when I'm on the golf course. Sometimes, if I'm going through stuff, I just concentrate and focus. It's my therapy. You think about your game and forget about other stuff," says Myeki. "For me, it's mostly mental, because I have days when my driving is not going well. But I'm a very positive person when it comes to playing. I just always stay positive mentally when I'm playing, because in golf sometimes you're going to hit your driver well, and sometimes you're not going to. Mentally, I'm always there on those days."