South African Johann Rupert, 61,
is the executive chairman and CEO of
Richemont, the luxury goods group, and
the man who started the Alfred Dunhill
Links Championship on the European
Tour, which combines his enthusiasm for
links golf and his approval of amateur
golfers. Said to be the second-richest
man in South Africa, he founded the
Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which
operates in 34 countries, and he serves on
the investment committee of the Nelson
Mandela Children’s Fund. He loves opera,
nature and conservation, and in sport,
particularly cricket, rugby and golf. He
owns of two of South Africa’s leading
vineyards and Leopard Creek Golf Club
in Nelspruit, 200 miles east of Johannesburg. He is chairman of the South African
PGA Tour, a.k.a. the Sunshine Tour, and
is an honorary life vice-president of the
European Tour. On the eve of the Open
Championship at Lytham his Q&A is more
Johann Rupert waits to putt at the fifth
hole during the second round of the Alfred
Dunhill Links Championship at the Old
Course in 2006 in St Andrews, Scotland.
THE POST: How did you start in golf?
RUPERT: In 1978, we were living in New York.
I watched The Masters and saw Gary (Player)
win. I will never forget Seve (Ballesteros)
was wearing a blue shirt as he hugged Gary.
I thought to myself: this is a cool sport. Up to
then I had played cricket and, when younger,
rugby. I am not as good a cricketer as I thought
I was. When I returned to South Africa, I
started playing golf. I was 30. And then I got
involved in the South African Tour because of
my friendship with Gary.
THE POST: How did that come about?
RUPERT: Even then I could see that our tour
was not being run properly and so they asked
me and a bunch of my friends to form a board.
It was a “four Saturday mornings a year”
job. The problem was that at the first board
meeting we discovered we were bankrupt. The
second horrific discovery was that the commissioner had a deal whereby he would take
20 percent of all sponsorship money. When
I asked him about it, he replied: “What do
you think the ‘commission’ in commissioner
stands for?” So, instead of it being a four Saturdays a year it became a rescue. We formed
a Section 21, a public benefit organisation. It
is owned by the players. Nobody who is on the
board is allowed to take one penny, not even
travel expenses. Every year, we stand for reelection and the players vote.
JULY 16, 2012
THE POST: Why did you start Laureus?
RUPERT: I had a friend in the U.S., a top baseball player, a black guy, who always signed autographs for white kids. I asked him why he did
this. He said: If a white kid has my poster behind his door, he is not going to hate the black
kid in his class. With our problems in South
Africa and having been against apartheid from
high school and university days, I thought sport
could be a unifier. We started a Sports Science
Institute, then a cricket academy, and then
Laureus to use athletes to create harmony.
We don’t have political or church leaders that
unify. So using sportsmen was good.
THE POST: How often do you play and where?
RUPERT: I play twice a month. We’ve got a place
near Cape Town and when Ernie (Els) comes to
stay we play four times a week. Then I go to the
Hamptons in July and we’ll play every day for two
weeks, and then for a month or six weeks, nothing. You just think you’ve got it and then a month
or six weeks without golf and you’re gone.
THE POST: What is your handicap?
RUPERT: It is 11 now and that is thanks to
Ernie. He got me a clubfitting with Callaway
and I have gained an extra 40 yards. So my
handicap has gone from 14 to 13 to 12 to 11. I
was a 5. That was my lowest. Then it went up
to 14 because the South African handicapping
system changed. A