23 July 2023 – Two South Africans had the experience of a lifetime when they flew the flag for South Africa in The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final at Royal Liverpool Golf Club ahead of the 151st Open Championship in July.
Willie van der Ryst, a Chemical Engineering student at Potchefstroom University, and 71-year-old engineering manager Jorge del Pozo from Benoni, were the winners of the first GolfRSA Race to The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final, earning themselves starts in the memorable event, as well as tickets to attend two of the official practice rounds at The Open.
The R&A 9 Hole Challenge, which launched in 2016 as an initiative to encourage people to compete in a shorter format of the sport, featured pairings from South Africa, Argentina and France for the first time lining up with players from United Kingdom.
More than 100 000 golfers competed for a spot in The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final and the SA pair joined 18 other pairings in the two-day competition in Hoylake. The winners of the Stableford competition was by Irish duo Olivia Byrne and John Murphy from Glenlo Abbey Golf Club on a nett aggregate score of 36 points.
“It’s tough to find the words to describe the experience; it was beyond my wildest dreams,” said 23-year-old Van der Ryst, a member of at De la Reyville Golf Club.
“It was awe-inspiring to arrive at Royal Liverpool and to take in the set-up, the branding, the grand-stands. You see it all on television, but nothing prepares you for the real thing.
“We really enjoyed The R&A 9 Hole Challenge and meeting the competitors from the other countries. Royal Liverpool is a really tough course, especially for amateurs with handicap indexes ranging from The conditions were very challenging with a lot of wind and rain and, but we would both do it again in a heartbeat given the chance.
“To have the opportunity to play this course was amazing, despite the wet, windy weather. And then to have the chance to watch the best golfers in the world, and all our South African players practice for the Open was an incredible experience.
“I had to pinch myself a few times. The atmosphere on the first tee and on the 18th was absolutely electric. I am incredibly grateful to GolfRSA for the opportunity of a lifetime, and to The R&A for their incredible hospitality.”
Del Pozo is a big supporter of the nine-hole format and is thrilled that GolfRSA is also participating in this initiative.
“The format is perfect for people who either don’t have the time to play or are no longer able to play a full 18 holes, and it’s wonderful for getting children on the golf course,” said the Benoni Lake member. “I play this format a lot but I never, ever expected to be one of the first winners of the GolfRSA competition.
“It was such an amazing experience, and being able to share it all with my wife was just incredible. I want to encourage everyone to enter the GolfRSA Race to The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final next year. You’ll not only have a great time playing in the competition, but if you win, it will be a life-changing experience for you.
“A very big thank you from Willie and I to GolfRSA for taking care of all the arrangements. You couldn’t do anything about the duck weather, but everything else was perfect.”
GolfRSA CEO Grant Hepburn said that the popularity of the nine-hole format continues to grow and The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final is becoming a sought-after ticket for amateur golfers.
“We were really encouraged by the support we received with our first competition, we hope to see the GolfRSA Race to The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final flourish next year. Royal Troon beckons in 2024!”