The History of Durban Golf Club

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Babs Govender, Johnny Pirthipal, Ahmed Solwa, Justice Thumba Pillay, Miss India, Sanil Rampersadh, Farouk Khan

“When you climb a steep hill you will notice that once you reach the top there will be another steep hill to climb”. Nelson Mandela.

2018 is a year that asks us to reflect and celebrate three important historical legacies. The first legacy we commemorate is that of the great and iconic Nelson Mandela, marking one hundred years since his birth into our beautiful and rich country.

We also celebrate Durban Golf Clubs 90th anniversary, having been founded in 1928, the same year that the government adopted the oppressive blue and orange Van Riebeek flag. In this way, the very founding of Durban Golf Club can be seen as an act of resilience to racial discrimination.  

Our final reflection is upon that of the supremely talented golfer and unsung hero, Papwa Sewgolum, who had left us 40 years ago.

This is the 4th publication of Durban Golf Club; having produced the first edition to commemorate its Diamond Jubilee; the 2nd at its 75th celebrations and the 3rd after turning 85. We have to engage in comprehensive reviews of the past publications to

truly capture the detail of our rich and glorious history, the difficult moments but also the bright and victorious moments, and the spirit of our people’s impassioned commitment.

 

The years 1928 to 1958

In recalling the history of sports in Durban and district, the Durban Sports Ground Association was formed to manage all sports ground facilities that were allocated to the Indian Community. The DSGA represented the Indian Community because of the very nature of our segregated society formed and propregatated by that evil system of Apartheid. Therefore all sporting codes had to register with DSGA so that facilities can be assessed. The DSGA played a key role in not only maintaining the limited and inferior facilities (when compared to what the Whites enjoyed) but also to manage and befriend the various sporting codes that were emerging in Durban.

Thus it has been recorded that Durban Golf Club had successfully applied to join DSGA on 11th February1928. DSGA controlled the facilities at Curries Fountain, which entertained Football, Cricket, Tennis and Golf. DGC was allowed to play golf only if the other codes were not using their respective facilities. Note that the playing area, due to the limitations of space, overlapped each other. Football and Cricket took preference over Golf. It hasn’t been recorded but one wonders where the golfers sourced their equipment from. Unlike today we have 2 mega stores and almost every established golf club caters for its sole Pro Shop. DGC members participated actively in the administration and progression of DSGA.

In his message to DGC on its Diamond Jubilee, the then President of DSGA, Mr Abbas Rasool, ”It is an honour to pay tribute to those honourable men with their swinging clubs who for 60 glorious years have fostered the noble art of golf in our community. Developing and fostering it amongst people of all colours – setting players to match their skills against the elements which never relented. There have been the political obstacles in their path, but they blasted themselves out of the rough, negotiated the unsuspecting pitfalls of discrematory laws which hide out in the fairways and cautiously took to the greens to make sure that principles were not compromised.”

Golf at Curries fountain was first played in June 1928 and thus the birth of Durban Indian Golf Club. DGC’s very first President was Mr T S Parbhoo and the very first Captain was Mr P Moosa who is recorded as playing off a +6 handicap. Membership fees were just 2 shillings and 6 pence (25 cents); monthly subscriptions at 1 shilling (10 cents) and Competition fees were also 1 shilling (10 cents). Curries comprised of 9 greens and 18 tees. Par for the course was 68. At some time it has been recorded that there were 57 members.

In 1954, Durban Central and the surrounding suburbs with its rapidly growing Indian population, there was a growing need for facilities regarding Indian Education. Thus the area close to Curries was allocated to the building of Education facilities. The M L Sultan, Ghandi Desai, Orient School and Sastri College were soon on the horizon. It is important to note that our fore fathers elected firstly to prefer Education for the forthcoming generation rather than any other sport. After the closure of Curries, thus DGC had no golf course to host Tournaments for 7 years.

 

The years 1958 to 1988

On 16th December 1961 Springfield Golf Course was opened; as the only course that was allocated to people of colour in Durban and surrounds, replaced Curries. The course was located where one would currently find Makro in Umgeni Road. There were 9 holes with 9 greens but 18 tees. The course and its limited amenities wore the title of being primitive. The members of DGC maintained and managed Springfield. They had to contend with broken tractors, collapsing gang mowers, antique green cutters, burst water mains, limited man power and many other related negative issues. Full time staff comprised of 3; 1 green keeper and 2 labourers. But the members passionate and commitment prevailed. Mr George Moonien was the green keeper. “When I started working here there were only 2 trees growing on the course. I planted all the trees that you see growing here. I nursed them and watered them and watched them grow to the size that they are now. These trees are like my children,” said George. Surely children are like trees; the greener they are the more adorable they are; the drier they are the more ruffled they get.

George played off a 4 handicap and interestingly revealed that during the many years while taking care of the golf course he had discovered at least 10 corpses; some of them murdered whilst others found their demise through exposure; apparently the soft sand in the bunkers was regarded as a “hole in one”.

The very first group of golfers to tee off at Springfield compromised Papwa Sewgolum, R T Singh, Paul Lutchmiah and Caesar Sikakane. A fairly large number of golfers and spectators attended the opening ceremony. Caesar and a few other Black golfers changed the colour dimension of DGC. In August 30th 1969, after numerous representations to the Durban City Council, a temporary Clubhouse was built. Tournaments were managed on weekends. A feature of the Tournaments was the regular attendance of most of its members. Apart from the Club Champions and Mainstay and other sponsored days, the Coke Tournament used to be the most popular. In 1968, the initial year, Coke decided to sponsor a Golf Tournament to the value of R 750-. Whilst DGC celebrates 90 years in existence, note that Coke has been with us for the last 50 consecutive years. In 1971 it was played on Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th and Monday 6th September 1971. 3 consecutive of golf! Wow! Competitions were keenly contested.

After being in existence for 50 years, DGC celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a tournament sponsored by National Mutual on December 1979 at Springfield over 18 holes. Entry fee was R6- including green fees at R2-. Defying the ethos that no amateur should receive cash, the prize money was R60- for 1st position, 2nd received R40-, 3rd at R30-, 4th at R25-, 5th at R20- and 6th to 10th receiving R10-. For the best gross score, R25- was offered. A big difference from what is offered today; alas, no cash but a voucher. The Tournament Director, Mr. Lambie Rasool, “So the National Mutual competition is wide open to the golfer who is consistent. All the golfers are well handicapped so no one has any undue advantage. My advice to the players is to relax and not take any chances. A cool and relaxed player enjoys a tremendous advantage over those that are not.” If we all adopt this attitude there will be no four letter words heard! Butch Soobader won the tournament by 1, with a score of 70, having birdied the 18th. The 2nd position was shared between Danny Moonsamy and Randolf Human on a score of 71. Butch was 6 shots clear with 3 to play but, alas, he blew it on the 16th and 17th proving that once again, “it’s not over till the fat lady sings.”

After playing golf at Springfield for some 20 years Springfield was expropriated by the South African Railways. Compensation to DGC was agreed to amount of R 127 000- but no payment was done. Simultaneously the market gardeners located close to the golf course and Umgeni River, known as Tin Town were also served with eviction orders. In 1981 DGC began playing their golf at Windsor Park Golf Course. It must be noted that Windsor was strictly reserved for White golfers. After various representations to the White City Council by DGC together with DSGA, the Club was promised facilities at Linear Park as quid pro quo. They also requested that Windsor be available to them whilst Linear is being built. Subsequently the by-laws were amended by the Natal Provincial Administration to allow Windsor to accommodate people of colour. However DGC was in a dilemma as it was not only an affiliate of the South African Council of Sports (SACOS) but also a founding member with some senior members working tirelessly to propagate the SACOS ethos, “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society.” SACOS had seen sport as a powerful medium in achieving a non- racial democracy; but in some areas it lost its appeal as it seemed to be too pre-occupied with issues such as use of venues, hotels, private schools, etc that were reserved for Whites. Merit and not race shall be the criteria when an international team is selected to represent SA. For a person of colour to use an exclusive venue reserved for Whites, one had to apply for a permit (as in Papwa’s cause) which was against SACOS’s principles. Thus DGC was forced to withdraw its membership because its members couldn’t wait for Linear Park to be built.

Linear Park, appropriately named after one of our own, Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course, was opened in July 1982, which, once again, comprised of 9 holes with 9 greens and 18 tees (what is today referred as the “back nine.”) There were no other facilities besides an ablution block with ladies and men together with a mini half way house. The 2nd 9 holes were opened in 1995. Bob Grimsdell and Bill Kerr designed the course and DGC enjoyed the privilege of being the resident golf club. It is indeed truly a tribute that the golf course was fittingly named after our most famous legend, Papwa Sewgolum.

From 1985 onwards, the refreshments provided at the half way house was managed by Mr Ameer Radhella. Ameer himself was a very competitive golfer with a big fade. Off the tee on the 1st hole he would drive his ball towards the road, heading to be out of bounds but eventually the ball would find the fairway. Construction of the new clubhouse began in 1990 resulting in the pre-fab facility being demolished. The Council provided a temporary container where members shared their half way snacks under a tree close to the 10th hole. Portable toilets were also provided.

 

The years 1988 to 2018

Natural disasters also took its toll on the golf course. The floods in Durban during 1988 had also affected our golf course resulting in the current 14th green being washed away and grossly destroying the current 16th hole. Thereafter the 14th hole was shortened with a temporary green. A new green was built and opened in 2016. The 16th was redesigned from a par 4 to a par 5.

In 2012 the course experienced another natural disaster, unlike the one we had in 1988, apart from other areas being damaged from a very severe storm, the fifth hole fairway became unplayable and the sixth hole was adjusted to a par 4.

The 2nd major celebration of DGC was the Diamond Jubilee held on 20th November 1988 at the Elangeni Hotel. In his address, Judge Thumba Pillay said, “The Diamond Jubilee of any club is not only an occasion for joy but also one for reflection. It is also cause for celebration, as it is not a distinction that comes easily, 60 years in existence is no mean achievement.” It was indeed a great evening with sumptuous meals, honouring those members who had administered the club with their respective unselfish input and some dancing to end the night off. Our guest of honour was Mr. Ibrahim Patel, president of the non-racial South African Rugby Union. Commenting on the current international rugby tour, “SARU has consistently maintained that tours are a side issue. The urgent issue is that Africans meet to solve their domestic problems. To this end, we are treating the present tour as we have every other tour. The fact that this particular tour is generating a lot of emotion does not change the fundamental intention of a continuing struggle to eradicate apartheid.”

Sometime during early 1991 the second 9 holes at Papwa was opened which we now refer to the 1st nine. Papwa was now a fully-fledged 18 hole golf course. The front 9 holes is generally regarded has the tougher 9. Green fees were adjusted to R8-.

The building construction incorporating the Caddy Master’s office, Cafeteria and Club House with admin offices was completed in 1993. In 1994 DGC accepted the opportunity to manage the Cafeteria. The Committee canvassed amongst its membership to sublet the Cafeteria. Of the 5 applications received, a tender was awarded to Mr. Hashmuk Patel stipulating that amongst other conditions to be adhered to; he was requested to consider the general membership’s religious beliefs by not preparing and serving Beef or Pork and its related products.

It must be noted that all administrated duties and all other related duties were conducted by elected officials. They utilised their own resources whilst conducting work for the club. Then in 1995 the Executive Committee decided that the club should employ a full time secretary because of its growing membership together with the additional work load. Miss Nazatana Gaffoor was appointed as the very first paid Secretary.

In 1997 DGC, through the wisdom of the elders and the general membership initiated the formation of a Trust to safe guard the assets of the club. The sole beneficiary of the Trust is the DGC. One of the functions of the Trust is the “furtherance of the objects of the beneficiary.”

During the same year, on 17th March a large number of families squatting on private land off Derna Road in Reservoir Road were evicted leaving about 700 people homeless. The Council then provided food and shelter for them in an area that is adjacent to Papwa. Twenty one years on, yet no permanent accommodation has been allocated and in recent years the club had been experiencing challenges in regard to power outages.

Tournaments were of a very competitive nature. Apart from the popular club championships, DGC enjoyed sponsorship from Coke, Pro Shop, Sham Memorial, Trophies and Engravers, V K Insurance Brokers, Nkobi Holdings and Wardens Cartage, ending the season on a grand celebration.

Enter the new Millennium and DGC celebrated its 75th Anniversary on 18th October 2003 at the Yellowwood Room in the Royal Hotel. The function was graced by the Mayor of EThekwini, Obed Mhlaba and the Deputy State President, Jacob Zuma. In his message, the Mayor said, “The Club’s transition in the new democratic South Africa and its frequent geographical relocations indicates the difficulties involved in maintaining this non-racial facility during a time when it had very little support from the city. The Durban Golf Club is to be commended for its persistence and the role it played to enable sport that is free from racial discrimination.”

In 2005 DGC was awarded the contract to manage Papwa Golf Course. This was indeed a major achievement in the long history of the club and a true testament to the unwavering support, persistent and difficult negotiation with the City Council, hard work and passionate enthusiasm from our Fore Fathers and of course to all others who had followed subsequently. The contract entailed total control of the golf course, in respect of maintenance and upkeep and the collection of green fees. The initial contract was for a period of 6 years with an option to renew it for a further 6 years. In return DGC will receive a monthly subsidy and 20% of total green fees collected. It must be remembered that the contract was awarded soon after lengthy sensitive negotiations were held between The Divine Life Society and DGC in respect of the building of a Ghat in the area of the previous 13th green. To legalize the contract, the club formed “The DGC Development Company”. The purchase of machinery and related material, the hiring and placement of ground staff was now the responsibility of the MANCO. Noted that immediately the golf course improved in respect of better greens, tees and fairways; a welcome change from being previously nick named,“Goat Track.”

Early in 2005 the club addressed a request from some aging and medically disadvantaged members regarding the introduction of golf carts. Initially 4 carts were purchased at a cost of R36 000- each. Currently we have 20 in stock and they are very popular requiring members to book them well in advance.

During Mr. Siva Padayachee’s presidency in 2007, through his generous contribution, the Sun Deck together with the under parking of golf carts was constructed. In recent months (2018) the flooring in the Club House and the Sun Deck had been improvised. The golf range was also completed under Siva’s term of office together with the opening of our most welcome bar in 2008.

The National Lottery, after some very strong motivation from Exco eventually donated R450 000- in September 2010, which was utilised for the fencing of the first 9 holes. Also in 2009 Royal and Ancient donated an amount of 10 000 pounds (R121 758) which was used to pay for the drilling of a borehole adjacent to the 11th green so that our water bill will be reduced. However after abstracting water from the borehole it was tested negatively; its content revealed a fair amount of salt which is not conducive for plant growth.

The next major celebration of DGC was in November 2013. Apart from the publication of a Brochure and a bumper golf day, the club hosted a grand banquet at Coastlands, Umhlanga. Our guest of honour was the Deputy Mayor of EThekwini, Logie Naidoo. Once again, it was an exceptional celebration with tasty meals and an entertaining dance party with live music. In his address Mr. P. Rajaruthnam, President, paid tribute to the many stalwarts of the past whom literally put their shoulders to the wheel. “The present membership should always be cognisant of the tremendous challenges encountered by our Founding Fathers and their struggles to overcome the problems that finally culminate in our eighty five years of existence.”

During the last 5 years Manco has been in regular consultations with EThekwini in regard to extending the golf course management contract. Currently we enjoy a “month to month” contract, which doesn’t augur well considering the huge amount required to purchase machinery. We require the contract for at least a minimum of 6 years. In regard to the condition of the golf course and the related maintenance, credit must go to our Greenkeeper, Mr. Henry …. And Mr. Dhanashan Nair who manages Manco. Further we were offered the contract to manage the Cafeteria on a one-year lease after the Patels closed shop in 2016. Our case study indicated that expenditure for equipment would not be realised in one year. Currently we produce limited meals from our limited space in the bar. The Bar is managed by Mr. Deena Pillay and his able staff.

Ten years from now, DGC will reach the biggest milestone in its rich history. It is our hope that more incoming personnel will keep contributing in order to capture the entire history in more and more deserved detail. It will also be an extremely gratifying and a proud moment if we can produce another Professional golfer like our Papwa. To date Papwa Sewgolum is the only Pro who ever wore the club colours of DGC and that is some 60 years ago. In our efforts to encourage a more racial and gender diverse membership, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could produce our very first female tour professional, but who knows, maybe you reading this will be that next someone.

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