Home Opinion and Features The KGC – Making history with every swing

The KGC – Making history with every swing

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The Kimberley Golf Club is another grand old dame of our city. Founded on July 3 1890, the Club has a rich history not only in itself but in the broader sense of the game in this country.

The Big Easy, Ernie Els, won his first pro tournament, the Spoornet SA Classic here in 1990. (The Kimberley Golf Club Book by Steve Lunderstedt and Dave Wilson)

OK … you have a ‘stick’ and a ball. You put the ball down on the ground, spread your legs shoulder width apart and pose like a pro. You keep your eye on the ball and then … Whack! You swing as hard as you can and hit the ball with the stick.

Then you have two options, and only two. You walk and walk and walk and if you are fortunate enough to have whacked the ball just right, your ball landed on the short grass. However, if you whacked it wrong your teeny, tiny ball landed up in the bush somewhere between the trees and long grass and you now get to play hide and seek with the ball.

After you find your ball, you whack it again. This time you either land on the shortest grass in the world that you have ever seen or you have to play hide and seek again.

You then try to hit the ball into a cup the size I wish my coffee cup was. You then bend over, take your ball out of the cup, put it down again … and whack it for another seventeen more “holes” as it is called.

Ja nee … I understand it, but I don’t get it.

The game of golf is a game of discipline, skill, focus, and patience. It is one of those sports where you need to put in the effort to be even moderately good.

But it has an amazing drawing power, it’s a sport that attracts men and women alike; a game where you can be competitive and social at the same time and – even though I can’t play it well at all – I can see why it is a game to be enjoyed.

Enjoyed by some to such a degree in fact that they end up making a living out of it. For others, well, they are the ones who just get really good at playing hide and seek.

There are basically three things you need if you want to play golf; four if you are lucky. One is a ball, two is a club and three is a golf course. The fourth is a motorised golf cart, but that’s not a deal-breaker. If you don’t have one, that’s where the walk and walk and walk comes in.

Motorised golf carts to make the walking a bit less. Picture: Danie van der Lith

How do I know all of this all of a sudden? How did I become such an expert on golf seemingly overnight? Well, I happen to know that Kimberley is very fortunate to have a beautiful golf course situated just outside of town virtually on the same premises as the Flamingo Casino and the Kimberley Road Lodge, and I popped in for a visit the other day.

History

The Kimberley Golf Club is another grand old dame of our city. Founded on July 3 1890, the Club has a rich history not only in itself but in the broader sense of the game in this country.

Today’s playing surface, fairways rough and ‘greens’ has two distinct aspects. There is the green summer look that delights the eye and provides enough friction to keep the ball from rolling into eternity, and then there is the matte white winter look that untethers the ball to run free. Regardless of the season, however, the course remains particularly player-friendly.

The winter morning frost laying on the 18th hole. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Of course, the 19th hole is more consistent and offers a warm welcome all year round. The 600 golfers who participate in the Barney Barnato every October prove this impressively. Despite being in the heart of South Africa, Kimberly remains somewhat isolated. Therefore, visiting golfers are most valued.

The golf course itself went through many layout changes over the years, but it was in 1991 when the serious beautification started. The impressive earthworks encompassed the construction of six holding dams.

Beginning at the left of the third fairway, gravitational feed allowed for the water to flow through the course following two routes to end at the 17th fairway, from where the water was fed back by the windmill.

Apart from the aesthetic value, the water feeds the more established trees as well as the newly-planted willows which seem to have the ability to reproduce as prolifically as ‘one overs’ on medal days.

As for name dropping, the Big Easy, Ernie Els, won his first pro tournament, the Spoornet SA Classic here in 1990. This was the same year that the Barney Barnato, the annual nine-night, eight-day Festival of Golf, Ribald & Revelry was founded; as was The Freddie Tait Golf Museum – the first of its kind in South Africa – for that year was the club’s centenary year.

Rich in history it was here that the first championship for South Africa was held in 1893. In 1897 Cecil John Rhodes donated his Challenge Cup. In the early 1900s diamondiferous tailings were used as a putting surface medium, and it must have been in these conditions, in 1913, that Jaw Prentice became the first player to win both the SA Amateur and SA Open.

Present

When walking onto the impressive complex, you can clearly see that there is a dedicated and disciplined team working on the grounds. The bunkers are neatly raked, the lawns are immaculately cut and the greens are manicured to perfection.

The front entrance to the Kimberley Golf Club. Picture: Danie van der Lith

But according to the general manager of the Kimberley Golf Course, Ronnie Engelbrecht, things have not been easy. “During the Covid Pandemic, no golf was played and finances were stretched to its limit, while our membership declined to 220 active members,” Engelbrecht told the DFA.

The decline of membership numbers is not just affecting the Kimberley Golf Club, it is a national problem. According to Engelbrecht, “some people feel that the fees are too high, but if you look around you and see what needs to be maintained then you would understand,” he said.

During the time of covid, they only had four members to run the club and maintain the course and with ageing equipment, it was already an almighty challenge … then came the rain and lots of it.

Because the golf course is built on clay, the rain had a huge impact on the course as well. After all, who wants to play golf in the rain? The downpours kept many players away while, to add to the inconvenience, motorised golf carts were not allowed on the course in fear of damage being done to the grass. These factors further contributed to people staying away.

However, as the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way, and you can clearly see what the ‘will’ part achieved when looking at the grounds today. Every one of the 18 holes are in a pristine condition and that shows the work and dedication that goes into maintaining the course.

Engelbrecht extended an invitation to the youth in Kimberley who are interested in playing golf to come to the club and see what it is all about, even those who have never picked up a club in their lives, there is always time to start learning and, who knows, there could be a hidden talent just waiting to be unearthed.

“We need to get the youth involved,” Engelbrecht said, “because they are the people who will be taking this sport further.”

For those who do not play golf and who feel that the ball is too small and the club too long, then maybe you could just pop in at the 19th hole to experience the atmosphere or, even better, try out the restaurant to delight your taste buds while keeping your hunger at bay.

The restaurant opens around 9am in the mornings from Tuesday to Sunday and does not have a set closing time, that all depends on the people who are still there, but things usually start to wind down between 6pm and 8pm.

Walking around, looking at the club, the grounds and the facilities and seeing how management and staff are keeping it running despite their many challenges, I remembered what is to me a very profound quote by Bobby Jones: “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots, but you have to play the ball where it lies.”

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