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Thursday, 20th August 2015

The last official rounds of golf were recently played at the present home of the Grahamstown Golf Club, ending almost 120 years of history which started in 1891.

The golf course, reputed to be the third oldest in the country, started as a 9-hole fairway on the Cradock Road Flats was somewhat further from town than the present course.

A second course which opened in 1904 was developed in the vicinity of St Andrew’s Preparatory and the lower part of Hill 60, straddling the railway line.

By the end of 1906 a third course was developed around the Cradock Dam with the 1st tee being near the old West Hill Station at the top end of Constitution Street and a clubhouse above the Cradock Dam on the side of the Settler’s Hospital.

The old club house, destroyed by fire in 1915 and replaced with a wood and iron structure, featured in a famous trial in 1907 relating to the death of nine-year-old Edith Pinnock whose body was found in the cellar.

The clubhouse’s caretaker, Thomas Henry Kerr, was charged and acquitted of the murder.

The move to the current site happened in 1932 with the existing clubhouse, which has undergone much renovation over the years, being built in 1933.

The club’s first elected president was Mr Justice W H Solomon in 1897.

Previously the club’s president was the winner of an annual 36-hole competition.

Later presidents included the controversial Dr Leander Starr Jameson who donated the club’s magnificent Championship Trophy in 1911 and which is still in use.

Its longest serving president was Mr Justice Thomas L Graham from 1906-11 and 1914-40, whose wife was women's president from 1907-18.

Bernard Wynne is reputed to be the Grahamstown Golf Club’s most successful golfer, winning the Club Championship as a schoolboy in 1925 as well as in 1927 and 1928 as a Rhodes student and the SA Amateur Championship in 1928, 1930, 1933 and 1938, which is still a record.

Wynne was also the first winner of the Freddie Tait Cup for the leading amateur at the SA Open in 1929.

The most successful of the club’s women members was Rose Calmeyer-Leach who was selected for Eastern Province every year from 1979-1996.

Others were Shirley Maclachlan who was women's champion on nine occasions and Zani Richardson and Kirsty Mcrindle who were each champions on five occasions.

Pine trees were once a feature of the course with 11 000 planted between 1929 and 1933 but they were thinned out over the years and almost all of the remaining trees were removed after a devastating hailstorm in 1993.

The course was always badly affected by drought with water being drawn from the Cradock Dam from 1938 and a limited supply, pumped from Slaai Kraal, only being provided by the municipality from late 1984, allowing for on-tap sprinkler irrigation for tees and greens supplementing the supply from the Cradock Dam which was still in use until 1987.

Famous golfing personalities who have played exhibition matches on the course include Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson in 1956 and Hugh Baiocchi and John Bland in 1978.

A history of the Grahamstown Golf Club was written by Hugh Eales and Rob Cross in 1996 and recounts a number of amusing incidents:

a 198-yard hole-in-one with a putter off the 17th tee by Professor Don Liddell in the 1940’s; a ball “over-clubbed” by Chris Stone on the 18th landing in the club fireplace, and a ball struck by Lady President Barbara Mills off the 9th tee dropping into a passing truck transporting ostriches and not being seen again.

In their epilogue to the history the authors state that: “Nobody will claim that this is a course of great distinction... Yet it has unique charm and a sense of history within an historic region. It has made a substantial contribution to the evolution of golf in South Africa.”

The Club will soon be moving to the new Belmont Valley course for a new chapter in the history of one of the country’s oldest golf clubs.

Article by Jock McConnachie for Grocott's Mail. Photo showing new golf course's Club House at Belmont Valley courtesy of Grocott's Mail.