As the popularity of golf continues to grow in South Africa, one woman can be proud of her contribution to the men’s game and the huge following it enjoys.
In 1998 Lali Stander launched the Sunshine Tour’s first ever in-house media department, and nearly 10 years later, her contribution to golf is evident in the massive publicity the men’s game enjoys around the world.
One of just a handful of women in this position worldwide, she has made it her own here in South Africa, and more than that she is deeply passionate about life on all levels, and that shines through her work as media manager of the Sunshine Tour.
As a woman in a man’s world, she knows the challenges she faces, but is unfazed because, for her its not about competing with men, but about doing the best she can.
gsport spoke to her about her colourful life which has taken her from the world of mining to the world of golf.
How long have you been media manager of the Sunshine Tour?
I joined the Sunshine Tour in May 1998 as a tournament secretary. About six months later I was asked to establish an in-house media department and the rest (cliche-cliche) is history.
What did you do before that?
Before I joined the Sunshine Tour, I worked in the mining industry in Gauteng for three years as a quality assurance manager for a company that produced idlers, pulleys and gearboxes for the mining industry (At the time, the only female in South Africa with SABS and ISO 9001 qualifications in this industry).
Are you a golfer?
Whilst working for Midfield Mining, I had an accident and broke my back, which necessitated surgery, pins, fusions and all sorts. I underwent rehabilitation in Cape Town, but once there, decided to source a job in sport since my days of participating in cycling and squash were mostly numbered.
To be honest, I had to bully my way into a junior position at the Sunshine Tour, but I was very determined. I had started playing golf about 18 months before the accident and fell in love with its challenges and complexities.
Where does your love for golf come from?
For as long as I could remember, my father schlepped me along to the Million Dollar at Sun City. While I enjoyed the sun, the pools and everything else non-golf related, he walked and watched. Each day we would meet at the 18th to watch the last two matches finish and he would catch me up on the days play.
I feigned interest for just as long as it took to get him to fork over some money for entertainment. Then fate intervened and I took a walk with him in the first round of the 1996 edition.
I was blown away by the so-called athletes; most of players looked like friends of the family, like the un-athletic likes of Colin Montgomerie, who eventually beat Ernie Els in a play-off for the title.
Just how difficult could it be?
I am a competitive person, so imagine my rage when I tried to hit my first 7-iron at a driving range in Benoni. I only managed to get about every fourth ball in the air and I could throw it further.
The complex nature of the game keeps me fascinated; that and following the trials and tribulations of the players; watching them come through the ranks into maturity.
The Sunshine Tour is getting lots of press. What do you attribute the increased publicity to?
The Sunshine Tour’s profile has certainly increased in the last three to four years, which is in line with the growth of the sport in this country.
The development of golf in South Africa is the highest among all sports, the highest among the previously disadvantaged communities and the highest among women.
Golf is a universal sport and can be played by all ages, all races and all sexes – therein lies its appeal.
Together with television, players like Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie has done a lot to popularise the sport the common man can enjoy.
But I think what gets people off the couch and into the sun and fresh air, is that you don’t have to be buff or toned to play golf, unless you’re aiming to be the next Tiger or Annika. It’s also a social sport that affords the player the time and opportunity to catch up, strike deals, set silly or serious bets.
How would you describe the standard of South African golf from a personal point of view?
After eight years on the Tour, I assure you that the standard of professional golf in South Africa is on par with the European Tour and PGA Tour. However, in my opinion, there are several reasons why not more of our boys succeed on the international stage apart from the most obvious reason being sponsorship.
As much as I stand behind every young man on the Sunshine Tour and I believe that they are game ready, I also know that a large percentage will fail, because, away from the course, we send boys, not men.
In ladies golf, there are a group of very strong, very capable young women breaking through the amateur ranks at the moment and I forecast that we will see their names in the headlines within two years.
Are there many women around the world who do what you do?
The Sunshine Tour is one of six members of the International Federation of PGA Tours, all of which are non-profit organisations. By comparison, the Sunshine Tour is the smallest in personnel.
Our marketing and media department essentially comprises two people, my boss, Grant Wilson, the marketing director, and myself in media. But we have fabulous relationships across the Tours and I am delighted that more women are coming on board each year.
In Australia, Judith Coen heads up the media department of the Australiasian Tour and in Europe, Frances Jennings is 2IC.
What are some of your dreams and aspirations?
In golf and life, I believe that natural talent is only 25% of the battle. The really successful players work incredibly hard on their technique, their fitness and mental endurance.
They must be able to switch off when they step onto the first tee (if I could bottle that quality, I could retire in two hours). To achieve all this, golfers need a strong support structure.
I don’t believe giving a golfer money will guarantee his success. There needs to be stronger support at junior level, which should encompass schooling, coaching, physical training, life training; all aimed at toughening up the young guns to prepare them for the pressures of pro golf.
Players with a lot of promise are often let down by their incapability to cope with little things and it takes an emotional toll they are not prepared for. It blows my hair back when players return from a three week trip from Sweden to Kazakhstan to France and they couldn’t cope with airline tickets, rental cars or hotels, let alone laundry.
The Australians have done a remarkable job in setting up programs like this and in South Africa, the Ernie Els Foundation has followed suit and are producing some incredible young golfers. In my opinion, South Africa is seriously lacking in proper management companies and coaching schools.
There are three prominent companies represented in South Africa. Between them they manage only a handful of players, but these are the players that perform.
There is a standing joke on Tour that the players are Lali’s Children, but I guess, if I ever left the Tour, that would be the next step…Unless, off course, I finally find true love and he happens to sail.
Who are your role models?
I admire a broad spectrum of people, from Albert Einstein to Helen Mirren….can you imagine how much guts it had to take for her to tackle the role of Queen Elizabeth II.
Nearly 10 years ago, I met and spoke with Nelson Mandela at a funeral in Daveyton; probably the most important 12 minutes of my life. He wastes no time with words; every single thing he said had value and intention, was meant to encourage and affirm.
Oprah Winfrey: Boy, I love this women’s tenacity. She really puts her money where her mouth is and, no matter how brassy some might consider her actions, she uses every one of her contacts for greater good.
Gary Player, probably South Africa’s all time best export product, ambassador and inspiration to the young.
But mostly I admire every member of my family, or as my mother calls us, the Rainbow Nation.
A family who accepted, embraced and lived across racial barriers for more than a decade, putting love for one another above everything else.
What advice would you give to young women who want to do what you do?
Anything is possible. And in this industry, if someone tells you it’s a man’s world, just smile and move on. Most men in golf administration will die before admitting that there are at least five women making them look good.
Jokes aside, if you can stay true to yourself, your character, your morals and ideals, you will find that people will adapt to you, not the other way around.
What’s it like being a woman in golf?
You have to be mentally mature enough to understand that, although you will be admired and praised for your capabilities, you will never use the boys locker room. The harder you try, the harder you fail yourself.
Golf is centuries old, and it belongs to the men. I may win almost every other putting competition; I may be able to recall course statistics, winners, scores, just about anything; I may have a wicked sense of humour and often crack up the media; I may be on call 24-7 and have the phone bill to prove it; but at the end of the day, I don’t lose greying hair over the fact that I use the ladies.
I rather spend my energy on excelling in what I love, at what I’m good at and having a fabulous time at it. My motto is that it’s pointless to engage in little fights; pick your wars.
How do you relax?
Relaxing mostly happens on Tour, since I spend approximately 37 days at home. But did fit in a little camping trip to Oudshoorn last year for the Karoo Arts Festival.
Golfers love games and since we travel together, we play a lot of card games and board games, like 30 Seconds – from which I am now banned. I read like mad (nature of the job); about seven months ago I substituted cigarettes for Suduko, I swim every morning and I love to dance.
I also like a little craziness to satisfy all my personalities, a tree-top stint in Rustenburg; a bungy rocket in George; the 2km zip slide at Sun City. I even stole a club car for a romantic drive at night at my favourite course, Leopard Creek. But tournament staff are all the same….when we finally get home, we sleep. A lot.
Best golf event you’ve watched live?
I love the majors and the Nedbank Golf Challenge remains a favourite, but I really love the winter tournaments on the Sunshine Tour, when I get to experience the first win of a rookie; the final breakthrough of a journeyman or an exciting play-off.
Because you know them on a personal level, you know what’s at stake for every player. It might be a sponsorship, it could be a spot into a big event, or like, Brandon Pieters, who needed some good finishes to pay for his wife’s heart surgery.
What is your typical day like?
I get up at 04h30 and swim for 30 minutes, then we leave for the course. I use the non-tournament days to do a lot of preparation, like course inspections, interviews, photos and write features, do research and get the statistics up to date.
I also write for the website daily on a national and international basis and answer the countless questions that come via the site. During tournament rounds, I send regular updates to the papers and radio, do more interviews, take photos, do radio crossings and coordinate the SuperGolf insert.
In addition to the normal stuff, I also manage the media centres in the summer, which can range from about 180 press (SAA Open and Nedbank Golf Challenge) to 15 media.
I am responsible for the unsolicited coverage, i.e. I do not operate with a budget. It’s therefore very important to respond to enquiries immediately, to maintain strong media contacts.
In addition to the event coverage, I update the player profiles, the sponsors reports with the operations staff and marketing director and supply the material for the golf magazines.
Favourite sports star?
My favourite sport star is Francis Ouimet, a little known American amateur who defeated the famous British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray for the 1913 US Open title.
At 20, Ouimet, a caddie at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, was given an invitation to play in the US Open and when he hit his first drive, broke down the social barriers that kept golf an elitist sport.
Ouimet is often referred to as ‘The Father of Amateur Golf’. He put golf on the proverbial international map and he is the reason I believe anything is possible!