1 October 2021 – Two years ago, Cole Stevens was offered a unique opportunity for an aspiring young golfer – the chance to play at St Andrews, Muirfield and Gullane and to watch the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, all in less than a month.
He was brought to St Andrews by the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) to give him, and fellow GolfRSA National Squad member Carl Mwale a taste of what life might be like in the future, if they followed their dreams of joining the professional ranks.
Thanks in a large part to the support of SAGDB, which receives funding each year from the Alfred Dunhill Links Foundation, Cole took the next big step on his journey last year when he took up a golf scholarship at Point University in Georgia.
Now in his second year, Stevens is still enjoying every minute.
“It came as a shock to have a chance to study in America and I am so grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I played well in my first year, but it was a learning curve. South Africa is so different to the US, even the grass we play on.
“The SAGDB gave me the chance to develop my golf and my education and has helped to make me who I am today.”
In his first year he made a massive impact, being named AAC Player of the Week four times in his first season with the Skyhawks, the Point University golf team.
But he has his feet firmly on the ground.
“My long-term goal is to become a professional and to get on to the PGA Tour or the European Tour, but at the moment, my main focus at the moment is to graduate with a financial management degree,” he said.
“I think I’m making good progress. I don’t find the work at this level in the USA as taxing as my last two high school years in South Africa.
“This is the first time I’ve stayed in another country for more than a month. I miss home, of course, but it’s not too bad. I’ve gotten used to the culture. People have been great. But I promise I won’t come home with a US accent.”
The 2019 SAGDB Player of the Year in 2019 was selected for support after his performances on the national junior circuit competition put him on the selectors’ radar. “Joining the SAGDB program changed my life. It helped me improve and develop and it helped my parents to cover the tournament fees. The SAGDB took away a lot of the stress and let me concentrate on golf.”
SAGDB Operations Manager Andre Rossouw said: “Our goal is to bring in more golfers, specifically the disadvantaged and players of colour. We are slowly breaking the long-held perception that golf is a white elitist game.”
Stevens competed in the 2018 Youth Olimpics for South Africa and is one of five SAGDB members who have gone on to represent the country on the international stage. More than 20 have joined the pro ranks and over 300 have earned provincial colours on merit.
All this bodes well for Steven’s dream, and he is not short of ambition.
“My goals in my second year are to win three events and to finish the season in the top five in the rankings.”