The revitalisation of a bankrupt clothing factory in Durban would not seem to have any obvious links to South African golfing legend Ernie Els. However, such is the scope of the four-time Major champion’s commitments these days that he can take part of the credit for the Royal Green Clothing Company now being a thriving concern.
While the South African clothing industry has been ravaged by cheap overseas imports, Royal Green makes 2 000 garments a day for the Ernie Els Collection, which is run by Global Golf .
Els launched a new distribution deal this week with Barron, who describe themselves as “the largest and most trusted corporate and promotional brand in Africa”.
Els’ involvement in his range of golf attire extends to the designs, with “The Big Easy” saying he wants the shirts to be “as comfortable when you’re swinging a golf club as when you’re drinking a beer”.
The 49-year-old is also involved in the wine industry and course design business, and is also the current President’s Cup captain, preparing for their biennial contest with the United States in Melbourne in a year’s time.
He devotes plenty of his time to the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation to assist young golfers, and the Els for Autism charity which he started in the wake of his son, Ben, being diagnosed with the condition.
And the father of two is also still playing regular top-level golf and is inside the top-30 as the prestigious South African Open heads into the weekend at Randpark Golf Club.
So how does Els juggle all these commitments?
“It’s fun and I still love the game we play. It has never felt like a job to me, whether I’m six-putting a green or being a champion 70 times around the world.
“I’ve forged some nice partnerships and friendships through golf and these other commitments are just an extension of my golf.
“I’ve forged friendships around the world but I always wanted to do something with South Africans.
“This clothing factory, Royal Green, is the perfect way to do that.
“I first met Langley Perrins of Global Golf when we spent my 21st birthday together in a foreign city when we were both young golfers trying to make it.
“I met my wife, Liezl, at a wine farm and for nearly 20 years we’ve been making wine out of Stellenbosch.
“Autism touched my family and Liezl has been the driving force of that work, she’s made it very prominent,” Els said.
The fact that The Big Easy is able to combine such a laid-back demeanour with an undiluted passion for the game is probably what makes him so popular with the public, even after all these years.
Even though there are players in the top 50 of the world rankings – like Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Wallace and Branden Grace in the field – Els has boasted some of the biggest galleries following him around Randpark.
Apart from holding events for the Ernie Els Collection and Els for Autism, the former world No 1, now 591st in the rankings, also hosted the prizegiving for the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, which funds the education and golf instruction of youths from underprivileged backgrounds.
“The foundation started 20 years ago and we’re trying to support the education of these boys and girls and their endeavours in golf.
“It has evolved quite a bit since then and I feel very proud when I see professionals who have come through the foundation.
“I was privileged enough, because of the great backing from my Dad, Neels, and my mother, Hettie, to be able to elevate my game to higher levels, but I knew some of my mates at the time couldn’t do that.
“So the foundation looks to make that process easier, to give these youngsters a better chance of becoming what they want to be.
“It all starts with junior golf. There is no other way, no short cut to the top. You need hard work, a love for the sport, and you need to get a few breaks.
“And you have to show character to come back from disaster,” Els said at the prizegiving.
The five-time SA Open champion, while delighted to still be mixing it with the youngsters out on the course, is also using this week’s tournament as a reconnaissance mission. As part of his duties as President’s Cup captain, he has to keep an eye on all the contenders for the international team, players like Charl Schwartzel, Justin Harding, Grace and Brandon Stone.
“I’m really looking forward to next December in Melbourne and I want to get it right. I think I know what the players need because I’m playing quite a bit just to see them in action.
“I won a couple of times in Melbourne as well, so I can give them some local knowledge. So I need to stay close to the players, to stay relevant to captain them properly.
“It’s fun and I’m excited about it. Even if I’m not competing day by day, I’m quietly going about playing good golf still. Shooting 60s at my age is really nice and I would obviously love to win again, but my consistency is not what it should be,” Els said.
There is no doubt that the World Golf Hall of Fame member since 2010 remains consistently relevant to the game all around the world.