BOTH men are driven by an intense passion in what they are doing, and their dedication is second to none. We’re talking about Randpark’s topline AAA PGA Coaching Professionals Darren Witter and Stuart Blackie who think nothing of working seven days a week in their mission to make a difference and grow the game and the industry.
They’ll happily work with people of all ages but they do have a particularly special interest in helping juniors develop a lifelong love for this wonderful game of golf. Darren, mentored by renowned swing guru Martin Whitcher at the club, has been teaching at Randpark for 30 years. In fact Darren and Martin opened the first golf academy in South Africa – The Damelin Golf Academy – and this academy developed many outstanding golfers and produced many golf professionals. “I love coaching anyone but I do feel it’s been my life’s work to nurture junior golfers,” Darren says, “and hopefully that’s what Stuart and I are achieving today.”
The two men believe the junior programmes they offer are the best in South Africa and that Randpark as a club has “hands down the best facilities in the country for coaching”, what with the two superb courses, the new, exciting Inrange that is right now being built and will be able to tell individuals so much about their golf swings, the Wellputt Putting Studio, the Trackman Golf Launch Monitor and a club that is pro-active towards juniors.
But technology aside, there is nothing to beat person-to-person interaction between coach and pupil. Stuart spent 10 years as a Gary Player Golf Experience coach at the Vodacom World of Golf before moving to Randpark at the beginning of last year. As they put it, unlike many other junior academies, they do not “palm off” the youngsters to less experienced understudies to do the coaching. No, at Randpark it’s always them doing the teaching.
They believe there are many benefits of learning to play golf from a young age: These include – beyond just the teaching:
– Enjoying the outdoors (getting the youngsters off the couch and active outdoors, doing a sport with low risk of injury);
– Developing lifelong friendships, learning to manage emotions and becoming well-rounded individuals;
– Learning good sportsmanship, etiquette and respect for one’s elders.
From beginner juniors to advanced level they offer structured and professionally run group courses (a popular option is an eight-week package) as well as individual lessons. They aim to create a passion for golf that will help your child enjoy the game and become an active social golfer or perhaps even one competing at the highest level. There was a gap in the market to develop an Elite Junior Academy at Randpark which they have done.
This sees those in the elite programme meeting for two-hour sessions three times a week closely monitored by the two coaches. Their vision is to be the best in the land and to give each youngster 100 percent focus and take them to the highest level they possibly can. Of course not every youngster is destined to become a champion golfer but to be introduced to the game through the coaches’ 8-Week Junior Course and given a sound grounding on the coaching level sets a young boy or girl up for potentially a lifelong love affair with the game, and the joy, challenge and very desirable social interaction this brings.
Group sizes in the 8-Week Junior Course are limited to 10 or less juniors per lesson, with individual attention tailored to the level each player is at. Lessons are 60 minutes. Members of the Elite Academy are encouraged to take the opportunity to play nine holes at Randpark on Friday afternoons to apply their skills, and experience the game in full under the watchful eye of Darren and Stuart. With the elite participants there is also golf specific fitness training with Randpark fitness guru Warren McCann, while with the elite squad the two teachers report back to the parents in terms of accountability in terms of exactly how their youngsters are progressing. They also work with schools, the Ernie Els Foundation including its autism wing, as well as a free-of-charge golf development initiative in conjunction with Koos Radebe from the club.
They have worked over the years with top professionals while Darren started coaching Randpark’s own Kajal Mistry when she was just a tiny tot of three. Last year, of course, Kajal achieved the fantastic double of winning both the SA Women’s Strokeplay and Matchplay titles and has since departed for America to play college golf. She recently qualified for the matchplay stage of the US Women’s Amateur, one of the top amateur tournaments in the world and as her long-time coach Darren can be justifiably proud of her achievements.
“Anyone interested in getting their sons or daughters involved in one of our junior programmes should just come and speak to us,” say Darren and Stuart. Darren can be contacted on 082 925 0856 and Stuart on 082 383 1982.
Written by Randpark member Grant Winter