On 14 November 1885 a meeting was held at the Castle in Cape Town, "for the purpose of introducing the game of golf and starting a club for the same in South Africa". This historic event marked the formal beginnings of the game in this country and the founding of the first golf club, the Cape Golf Club.
The person behind this initiative was Leut-Gen Sir Henry Torrens, the officer commanding the British forces at the Cape. He had only arrived in Cape Town a few days earlier, on 5 November. A keen golfer, he was clearly not happy to find that there was no course in his new situation and wasted no time in putting matters right.
That golf was played in South Africa before 1885 is undisputed. There is clear evidence that the game was played in the Eastern Cape before that, possibly as early as 1880, and also in Natal. Golfers had even been seen in action on the Rondebosch Common. But the claim of the Cape Club, now Royal Cape, to be the first is undisputed and marks the beginning of our story.
With the move of the Cape Golf Club from the Wynberg Camp to the Rondebosch Common in 1891, the game became increasingly popular amongst the civilian population of Cape Town, resulting in an enormous increase in the membership of the club. A large number of these new members were new to the game and the Committee decided that it was time to appoint a professional.
So it was that Walter Day came out to Cape Town from Scotland and became the first club professional in South Africa. He was followed soon afterwards by J Johnston in Port Elizabeth, WD More in Johannesburg and Laurie Waters. The country owes much to these early professionals who were skilled clubmakers and the first course architects.
On the occasion of the second playing of the SA Amateur in Port Elizabeth in 1893, Day accompanied the Cape Golf Club contingent to the event. He challenged Johnston to a match. He lost. The next year a similar exhibition match took place, with Day reversing the result. In this way an annual match between the professionals at the Amateur became a feature and eventually, as the number of professional golfers slowly grew, evolved into the SA Open Championship.
The First SA Open
For the record, Day won six of these challenge matches to Johnston's two before, in 1903 at Port Elizabeth, a proper 36-hole strokeplay championship was put in place. There were four professionals in a field of 10 and the winner of that historic event was Laurie Waters with a score of 163. Second was J Stewart (166), the Cape's new professional; third was Johnstone (168) and eighth was Day (174), then the pro at Kimberley.
Waters won again in 1904, repeated this in 1907 and then won for the third time in 1920. Not only was he a player of great skill, but he did more than anyone did at that time to promote the game. He was with the Johannesburg GC for many years, being largely responsible for the design of the new course at Orange Grove, and then later went to the Salisbury Golf Club in Rhodesia where he remained for 17 years until his retirement in 1939.
The other major player amongst the professionals in those early years was George Fotheringham. He was pro at the Durban Golf Club from 1903 until 1914 when he went to Houghton for two years, but his claim to fame was winning the SA Open five times, in 1908 when, for the first time, it was played over four rounds, Fotheringham scoring a remarkable 294 over the Port Elizabeth course, and then again in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1914. Of interest is that his brother, Jack, won in 1909 with George as runner-up and that in 1914 the name Brews appeared in the results for the first time, Jock Brews being the runner-up. Was this a portent of things to come?
The Brews Brothers
It certainly was. The Brews brothers, Jock and his younger brother Sid, dominated the professional golf scene in South Africa during the 1920s and into the 1930s, virtually to the exclusion of everybody else. From 1921 through to 1934 there wasn't a year when one or the other was either winner or runner-up in the SA Open, prompting someone to write:
"That remarkable family Brews In the Open they don't often lews Either one or the other. But it's always a brother. Seem to win it whenever they chews!"
Jock was champion four times in 1921, 1923, 1926 and 1928, while Sid won eight times, in 1925, 1927, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1949 and then finally in 1952, nearly 30 years after his first victory. When Sid's son, Roger, won the SA Amateur Championship in 1953, father and son were the national Open and Amateur champions simultaneously, albeit for only a few days - a rare feat indeed.
The brothers were involved in what must rank as the most exciting finish ever in the SA Open. It was in 1924, the venue the Durban Country Club for the first time. Sid was leader in the clubhouse by one shot from Jock who still had the 18th, his final hole, to play. Jock proceeded to drive the green on this short par-four closing hole and, to the immense excitement of the large crowd, rolled in the putt for an eagle two and a one-shot victory. The exploits of Jock and Sid Brews captured the imagination of the public as never before and did a great deal for the development of the game.
There has been so much said about this golfing phenomenon and his legendary exploits that it is difficult to know where to begin. In the context of the SA Open, Locke won every year he entered from 1935 through to 1955, nine times in all, and, but for the war years, 1941 to 1945, when there were no contests, and then after the war his frequent campaigning abroad, there is no telling how many times he would have won. He also had a severe setback when he was badly injured in a motorcar accident in 1960 when still relatively young at 42.
With his four Open Championship titles and his enormous successes in the United States, Locke was a household name wherever golfers met and his continuing reputation as the best putter the world had ever seen is not without foundation.
Sid Brews had toured abroad with a measure of success in the early 1930s, but it was Bobby Locke who showed the way to the many outstanding professionals who were to follow in his footsteps. It was also Locke who, in the years following the war, inspired thousands to take up the game.
To The Present Day
Following closely on Bobby Locke's heels were two young golfers who were destined to play a major role on the golf circuits of the world, Gary Player and Harold Henning. Both of their professional careers started in the 1950s and it wasn't long before they became regular winners, not only in South Africa, but also abroad. Gary Player's achievements are well known and his nine Major championship victories place him among golfs elite. He also won 13 SA Open titles. Harold Henning was not so obviously successful, but on his day was capable of beating the best -and he did. Player and Henning were role models for the many fine golfers that South Africa and Zimbabwe produced in the decades that followed and they showed the way to success in Europe and America for the likes of Dale Hayes, John Bland, Hugh Baiocchi, David Frost, Mark McNulty, Nick Price, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els and other emerging stars.
But in acknowledging the achievements of these stars, we must not forget the enormous contribution made by the early pioneers of the game, 100 years or more ago. Under appalling conditions and with primitive equipment, they laid the solid foundation on which our golf today is built. We all have a lot to thank them for.
The Sunshine Tour
The professional side of the game attracts money to golf and gives it much needed exposure. Professional golf in South Africa has a proud history, in part because of the successes of men like Gary Player and Bobby Locke, but also because of the invaluable role played by club professionals all over South Africa.
The positive exposure gained through the successes on the golf course of men like Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Harold Henning and, in more recent years, David Frost and Ernie Els is obvious and has been of great value in making people, worldwide, more aware of South Africa.
Originally all professionals held club jobs and made a living from trading, repairing clubs, teaching and playing a few competitive was no formal tour - for no other reason that there simply weren't enough tournaments - and pros who were interested in a playing career had to venture overseas in order to accomplish their goals.
At the end of the 1960s Brian Henning, the then president of the PGA, pioneered the forming of a formal professional tour in South Africa. At the time there were many fine players in South Africa - some competed abroad, others held club jobs - and the time was right to set up a local circuit.
The Sunshine Circuit, as it was known, grew in strength and soon not only accommodated local players, but also attracted a number of overseas players, who came to South Africa to escape the winters of the Northern Hemisphere. The circuit was run under the auspices of the PGA, which encompassed both club and touring pros.
The tour quickly established itself as one of South Africa's leading sporting institutions. The introduction of golf on television attracted more sponsors to the game and as a result the Tour continued to develop and grow, both in prizemoney and prominence, well into the 1980s.
By the start of the 1990s the functions of the Tour and the Club Pro sections of the PGA had grown so far apart that a split was inevitable. Today the Southern Africa Tour is based in Somerset West. The PGA, which still looks after the interests of South African club pros, is based in Johannesburg at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC. Paul Marks, Director of Golf at Woodhill Golf Estate, is the Chairman of the association.
Whereas the majority of media coverage goes to high-profile professional tournaments, the importance of the role played by the club professional in the average golfer's life should not be underestimated.