WYSIWYG. What You Set Is What You Get. Or, “wizzee-wig”, if you’re used to tech-speak. This comes to mind when one thinks of Thomas Raatgever…or, Tom, as he is generally called on the greens of Simbithi Country Club. Jovial, quick-witted and a walking golf encyclopaedia, Tom’s company is refreshing and revitalising. And, if you’ve ever been on a course with him, his energy is contagious. Get to know our newly appointed Golf Manager.
It’s been just more than a year since Tom said his first hello to Simbithi, as a consultant. Now, he has officially joined our team and, he tells me as he sits down at the Fig Tree, it is the first time he has been an “employee”. “I’ve always consulted, or coached, or had my own business. This is a unique challenge I am thoroughly enjoying.”
The heat is positively scorching, so Tom cracks open an ice-cold sparkling water. Every so often, his eyes skip around the hubbub of the Fig Tree, and settle on the 18th hole. “It’s my favourite,” he says, after a lengthy consideration. When asked why, he swings his chair sideways and directs my focus to the course, immediately standing up and demonstrating as he speaks. “I love how the green plays on the eighteenth, and how well-positioned the bunkers are. The depth of the green makes for a challenging second shot, making it difficult to judge. Definitely my favourite.” It is this passion, this accuracy and knowledge, that make Tom a formidable golfer.
Surprising, then, that the first time he played golf at 14 years old, he – in his words – absolutely hated it. “A mate of mine invited me and I thought it was utterly boring. I hit the ball all over the place, and he kept trying to show me the correct technique,” Tom grins. “I’m quite competitive,” he breaks into a laugh. “So, I thought…I’d show him. I kept at it, and I got my first set of clubs when I was sixteen, got to a scratch handicap by eighteen.” Golf gripped a young Tom, and he went on to make various KwaZulu-Natal junior golf teams, and then later on a highlight was to represent South Africa as a Professional Golf Association (PGA) professional at the international teams championships in Portugal. “I was a gymnast at school, so I understood routine and work ethic. With gymnastics, you get one chance to execute your routine…much like golf, where you get one chance. I tried surfing for a while, and skateboarding, but after a few injuries, I was advised to stick with a low impact sport. Golf was it.”
After school, Tom studied travel and tourism. “Partly because I was interested in travelling, and partly because I intended to travel for golf. I also did a course in personal training because I maintained my passion for fitness and sports, specifically sports coaching.” As Tom pursued playing golf professionally, he soon realised it was a selfish journey. “It means a life where you are never home, and I was a mommy’s boy so being away from home did not excite me,” he winks. “I liked being home with my family. Professional golf was not what I thought it would be.”
Still, golf propelled Tom to relocate to the United Kingdom where he qualified as a AAA pro with the UK PGA. He branched into club coaching and playing, which he enjoyed for six years before home called his name. He and his wife concentrated on starting a family and building a life in Hillcrest, where they presently live. Tom started a business called DMT Sport, which consulted within niche areas of the golfing sector. He consulted to the Kloof Country Club, where he owned and ran the Pro Shop and an elite golf academy for eight years.
“When I left Kloof, I moved from turf to tech, into franchising cellular stores. It became a multi-million rand business where we worked with MTN, Woolworths and Mr Price, to name a few. And, then, the pandemic hit,” Tom reflects. Like many business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected Tom’s business and he segued into financial planning and business coaching, with the well-known ActionCoach.
When the offer from Simbithi Country Club came through, it provided the stability Tom sought. “It was golf, what I know, but within a different dynamic. An executive course on a residential estate. I have never been scared of trying something new and different, so I took the chance,” he shares. Just nearing 15 months after his first foray onto our course, Tom has permanently joined the Simbithi family.
The man who coached the provincial men’s golf team to victory for two consecutive years smiles fondly when asked if he prefers playing or coaching golf. “Obviously, I love playing golf, especially for the competitive aspect. It might come as a surprise, but I’m quite an introvert. To some, this might make me seem a bit aloof, but coaching allows me to form relationships with those I’m teaching,” he leans forward, chuckling as I remind him of our last coaching session, where he took clumsy, unco-ordinated me and managed to produce a decent swing. “I love helping people. Using the skills and knowledge I have gained to show someone the beauty of golf, allowing them to achieve something, is a great reward.”
As he forges ahead in the golf and sport arenas, perception remains key. “Daily, I put my best foot forward and I hope to lead the team in doing the same. This is where perception is critical: when a member comes to me, even if they are unhappy, I enjoy the questions and challenges of discussing their perspective. When they walk away, I want them to have a more open perception of Simbithi and our methods.”
Looking ahead, Tom is excited to play a role in the development of the sports complex, which he hopes will broaden the offerings of our Club. “It’s about being holistic, as a Club, so the entire family may enjoy themselves.”
When he is not on the course, enjoying 18 holes himself or teaching someone how to, Tom is a family man at heart. “My wife owns a Crossfit box, so we’re both into fitness. You will generally find me away with my family, camping or hiking. When I have some time off, I still surf and I enjoy a trail run.”
What makes him happiest is time with his wife, his 14 and 16-year-old daughters and the newest addition to the Raatgever clan, his son, who was born a few days after this piece was written. Welcome to the world, Mr. Raatgever junior, and congratulations from all of us at Simbithi!
If you’re interested in golf lessons, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you on the course!