Golf in Rhodesia

18th Green, Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls. Although only 190 metres long it is regarded as the toughest on the course.
18th Green, Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls. Although only 190 metres long it is regarded as the toughest on the course.

 

Mild, bracing, frost-free winters, warm moderate summers and sunshine and blue skies throughout the year combine to make make Rhodesia an ideal country for outdoor living. Add to the perfect climate an unhurried tempo of living, traditional hospitality, wide open spaces and a variety of scenic attractions to please the most jaded palate, and you have all the natural ingredients of a golfing mecca.

Rhodesian golf was born in Bulawayo in November 1894, just 13 months after European settlement of Matabeleland – a mere two years after the completion of of the Chicago Golf Club, the first 18 hole course in the United States. Salisbury followed Bulawayo in 1899, nine years after the arrival of the Pioneer Column.

Bobby Locke, on the clubhouse balcony left, watching the play at the 18th hole of the Royal Salisbury Golf Club
Bobby Locke, on the clubhouse balcony, watching play at the 18th hole of the Royal Salisbury Golf Club.

There are now over 70 golf courses in Rhodesia, 17 being of recognised championship standard.  The virtual absence of frost ensures that greens are maintained in tip-top condition throughout the year.  Because of the early sunrise and bright sunshine, daylight hours are long, enabling a golfer to play 54 holes or more in a single day.

Like their South African counterparts, Rhodesian golfers use the small ball*, considered by Gary Player to give twin advantages of greater length and accuracy.

Rules follow the conditions laid down by the Royal and Ancient Club (R&A) of St. Andrews.

Billy Casper playing against Gary Player at the Royal Salisbury
Billy Casper playing against Gary Player at the Royal Salisbury
Peter Oosterhuis, a regular player in Southern Africa
Peter Oosterhuis, a regular player in Southern Africa

Because of the high altitude of many of Rhodesia’s courses they tend, in compensation, to be longer than coastal or British courses. As a condition of any championship course the Rhodesian Golf Union stipulates a maximum width of fairway of 36m (118ft) at approximately 220m (722 ft) from the tee.

Bob White, one of Rhodesia’s leading amateur golfers, considers that, apart from perfect weather conditions, one of the main attractions of of golf in Rhodesia is its cost – “among the lowest in the world”.

Another attraction is that all the main courses in the country welcome visitors and temporary members.

Competitive golf is fast developing as one of the most important aspects of the game in Rhodesia. The amateur competitions include inter-provincial tournaments and national championships for both men and women. Juniors have a comprehensive calendar of their own. Rhodesia and South Africa have now established firm fixtures which include test matches between the two countries.  Rhodesia, as a member of the international golfing body, also sends teams to biennial world amateur championships – the Eisenhower Trophy.

Map showing location of golf courses in Rhodesia
Map showing location of golf courses in Rhodesia

Social competitions for amateurs are run at golf clubs throughout the country each week. These competitions attract a tremendous amount of sponsorship from commercial houses, and prizes worth many thousands of dollars are available through the year.

Rhodesia forms part of the booming South African professional circuit and features the $10 000 Rhodesian Dunlop Masters tournament which is held in December – either in Bulawayo or Salisbury.

Plans are also well in hand for a Rhodesian circuit worth nearly $30 000.  Brainchild of Warren Hills professional Roger Manning, the circuit will be played over 18 rounds in nearly three weeks at the end of September.  The rounds will be spread over about 14 courses in Rhodesia taking in some of the most remote, yet exciting, courses in farming districts.

More than 50 top South African professionals and a handful of overseas stars will be making the tour and playing for a $500 purse at each venue.  The circuit will be run on a grand prix points system with the overall winner qualifying for a $2 000 cheque at the end.

Manning, one of the country’s top professionals, hopes to include amateurs in the circuit. They will be able to play the entire circuit with the professionals at an all-inclusive rate which will mean an 18-round  tour  of the country.  He hopes to be able to attract amateurs from all over Southern Africa.

One of the benefits of the low cost of golf in Rhodesia is its increasing popularity with lady members and juniors.  Ladies are represented by a strong Ladies’ Golf Union and the Rhodesian Junior Golf Foundation provides the necessary encouragement for junior golfers.

In Rhodesia’s beautiful capital city, Salisbury, there area now 14 golf clubs within a 30-kilometre radius of the city centre.

Of these, Royal Salisbury is perhaps the most widely known, and has acted as host to such golfing “greats” as Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke, Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt, Dai Rees, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper.  The title “Royal” was conferred on the club when the Prince of Wales visited Rhodesia and enjoyed playing there in the early 1920s.

The beginnings of the club were modest in the extreme, the princely sum of $2 being voted for course maintenance. In 1968, approved estimates for a new luxury club house (now completed) and the reconstruction of several holes approached $200 000.  A comprehensive water reticulation system ensures Royal Salisbury faultless greens and well grassed fairways.  It is probably one of the most played-on courses in the world, averaging 112 rounds per day throughout 1971.

Royal Salisbury Golf Club, Rhodesia
Royal Salisbury Golf Club, Rhodesia

Royal Salisbury differs from most of the other championship courses in Rhodesia in being a relatively flat, park-like course, with no water hazards.  Its chief obstacles are an abundance of trees and strategically placed bunkers. The course record at Royal Salisbury is currently held by South African professional Tersius Claasens.  During the 1971 Rhodesian Dunlop Masters he shot a six-under-par 66.

Another championship-rated course is the Chapman Golf Club – a difficult, undulating, well-treed course, with an abundance of water hazards. The first nine has a tiger finish, the last four holes providing the most testing sequence of the entire course.

Henry Chapman Golf Course, within sight of Salisbury city centre.
Henry Chapman Golf Course, within sight of Salisbury city centre.

Over 5 000 pines and other trees grace the fine Wingate Park Golf Club, 16 kilometres from the centre of Salisbury.  Reported to be an easy course to play, the fact remains that no visiting professional or leading amateur has managed to tame it. The course record for this par-71 course stands at 68.  The par-3 hole with water protecting the front and left side of the green is particularly challenging.

Other good courses in the Salisbury area include one of Rhodesia’s longest (6 666 metres), Warren Hills Golf Club, said to have some of the finest greens in Southern Africa; the picturesque Salisbury South course with numerous impressive rock hazards; and Ruwa Country Club, east of Salisbury, where a water reticulation system has recently been installed.

From its humble beginnings in the swamps of the Matsheumhlope valley, where grass once grew over six feet high during much of the year, the Bulawayo Golf Club (par-72 course) can now hold its own with any in Southern Africa. A comprehensive water reticulation system ensures championship conditions throughout the year.

Host to numerous famous golfers, its greens have been favourably mentioned by many.  The Matsheumhlope River meanders through the course and provides a formidable hazard at a number of holes, notably the double hazard on the 12th, which has been described by a world-famous professional as worthy of inclusion in the make-up of an “ideal” course.

Golf at Bulawayo Country Club
Golf at Bulawayo Country Club

Gwelo Golf Club in Rhodesia’s Midlands is 272 kilometres from Salisbury and 164 kilometres from Bulawayo.  It is an interesting, undulating course with some tight and difficult holes on the first nine.  In comparison, the second nine hoes are more open and usually yield a lower score.

Gwelo Golf Club in the heart of the Midlands of Rhodesia
Gwelo Golf Club in the heart of the Midlands

Golfing maestros Bobby Locke and Gary Player, and Sir Jack Hobbs of cricketing fame, are among those who have enjoyed 18 holes  at the Hillside Golf Club in Umtali.  The Rhodesian Amateur Golf Championships are played here in rotation and the Manicaland Tournament is held  alternatively with the Umtali Golf Club.  The heavily-treed course is similar to that of Gwelo  – undulating with a particularly tight and difficult first nine, criss-crossed with water hazards.

Hillside golf course, Umtali is of championship standard
Hillside golf course, Umtali is of championship standard.

The Umtali Club is characterised by sharp undulations and tricky sloping fairways.

The beautiful setting of Umtali Golf Club, Rhodesia
The beautiful setting of Umtali Golf Club.

Umtali, one of the loveliest cities in Rhodesia, combines an impressive display of exotic flowering trees and shrubs with some fine architecture and a slight but unmistakable continental atmosphere derived from her Portuguese neighbour.

If the tiger prefers his golf at the championship Hillside course in Umtali, the less experienced golfer will derive equal enjoyment from the spectacular 32-kilometre drive to the Vumba Mountains.  Here, at Leopard Rock, in a gentle Constable-like world of lush green meadows and luxuriant vegetation, he can cheerfully pit his resources against the nine-hole (18 tees) course in the hilly grounds of a picturesque hotel. Nearby are the magnificent gardens of the Vumba National Park.

Sundowner Time beckons; the final hole at Leopard Rock in the Vumba.
Sundowner Time beckons; the final hole at Leopard Rock in the Vumba.

Those who fancy a combination of excellent trout fishing and golf should  travel north to the champagne air of Inyanga, where entrancing mountain scenery is interlaced with swift-flowing streams, waterfalls and picturesque lakes.

Troutbeck Inn at 2 002 metres offers an undulating, attractively treed nine-hole (par-34) course with imposing water hazards. The 6th hole (downhill par 3) is, in the opinion of Bobby Locke, who holds the course record with 31, one of the best holes he has played in Southern Africa.  The carry to the green across a swift flowing mountain stream has to be precise; bunkers trap any fall away to the right, rocks intercepting an approach from the left.  Annual spring and autumn tournaments include a “long-drive” competition from a special tee overlooking Troutbeck Lake, with a water carry of 165 metres, and an uphill finish. The present record is 270 metres.

Teeing off over the lake at Troutbeck, Inyanga
Teeing off over the lake at Troutbeck, Inyanga

Interesting water hazards are also encountered on the Rhodes-Inyanga National Park course, situated among stately pines and conifers within easy reach of an attractive hotel, the Inyangombe and Nyamziwa falls, Nyangwe Fort and the mysterious “Slave Pit” structures.

The Mare and Inyangombe rivers, particularly, form interesting hazards on the 4th, 5th,6th and 7th fairways, while the Mare River, bordering the 2nd 3rd and 4th fairways, is “out of bounds”.

A new course, with many interesting holes, has been built at The Montclair, one of Inyanga’s leading hotels.

Another popular golfing venue in the Inyanga area is Brondesbury Park. This fine nine-hole course under full water reticulation, offers superb views of the surrounding mountains, and winds its way through picturesque peach and apple orchards.  The back four holes, with many natural hazards, form a peninsular 300 metres above the valley below, and the tricky eighth hole (par-3) plays to a taxing uphill finish.

Golfers can also enjoy a holiday at Melsetter in the Chimanimani Mountains, 144 kilometres south of Umtali.  A nine-hole golf course provides uninterrupted views of the formidable mountain range and nearby is an excellent hotel.  The mountains themselves are the popular haunt of climbers, hikers and botanists, and the Rhodesian Outward Bound School has its headquarters here.  Spectacular scenic drives are legion.

Golf at Melsetter in the foothills of the Chimanamani Mountains of Rhodesia. Pork Pie Hill in the distance.
Golf at Melsetter in the foothills of the Chimanamani Mountains of Rhodesia. Pork Pie Hill in the distance.

Those motoring en route from Melsetter to Birchenough Bridge can profitably make a short stop at Chipinga, play a game of golf at the local nine-hole course and turn off on a secondary road to Chirinda Forest, part of a vast primeval forest which once covered Central Africa.  At the edge of the forest is Mount Selinda Mission, an historic centre of fine African carvings and furniture.

Off the beaten track are various farming and community courses such as this one in Wedza:

Teeing off at Wedza Country Club
Teeing off at Wedza Country Club

 

One hundred and sixty-one kilometres west of Birchenough Bridge are the enigmatic Zimbabwe Ruins.  Below the majestic brooding Acropolis is a neatly tended nine-hole golf course, where the sixth hole runs along the foot of the Acropolis.  Bobby Locke is among those who have enjoyed a game of golf in these unique surroundings.

Golf at Zimbabwe Ruins in the shadow of the Acropolis
Golf at Zimbabwe Ruins in the shadow of the Acropolis

Other notable attractions of the Fort Victoria area are fishing and water sports on Lake Kyle. Kyle Game Reserve and the historic headquarters of the missionary work of the Dutch Reformed Church, Morgenster Mission.

That some these and other country club courses in Rhodesia exist at all is due largely to to the strong community spirit of local residents. Farmers commonly should the responsibility of a specific hole, importing their own labour to keep the hole in good condition. Mining companies have also created some admirable courses for their employees.

Gate receipts at exhibition matches and sponsored tournaments are proving the increasing popularity of golf as a spectator sport. Considerable sums of money are being spent in improving the courses already in existence and sponsors are increasing their prize money as the professional circuit grows in importance.

With Rhodesia’s increasing awareness of the importance of tourism, a new golf course to international championship standard has been built on the banks of the Zambezi near the Big Tree at Victoria Falls. The course was built for the Southern Sun Hotels group and was designed by Player, Brews and Vincent (Pvt) Ltd of Johannesburg. The designing company included South Africa’s great professional, Gary Player, and Dr. Vane Vincent.

Fairway on the ninth hole at Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls
Fairway on the ninth hole at Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls

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Map of Elephant Hills Country Club Golf Course
Map of Elephant Hills Country Club Golf Course

 

Africa’s Toughest Course. Hole-by-Hole

Simon Hobday is the touring professional at the Elephant Hills Country Club and Rhodesia’s leading professional golfer. The following are his comments on what he considers to be the toughest course on the Southern African circuit:

Hole 1,  530 metres (par 5)

This is hardly reachable in two, with a water hazard on the right which could collect your second shot.  A good, fast, opening hole.

Hole 2,  220 metres (par 3)

A really tough hole, and most players will need a wood to get home. There is also a water hazard which could collect your tee shot.

Hole 3,  400 metres (par 4)

A dog-leg to the right which spells trouble from the tee. Most players would need a six or seven iron after a good drive. The rough on the right is almost impenetrable so you should aim to avoid it.

Hole 4,  433 metres (par 4)

An almost straightaway hole, but some are going to need two woods. Plenty of trouble for anyone who goes off course.

Hole 5,  420 metres (par 4)

The water hazard on the left is reachable off the tee. A long iron will be needed for your second shot.

Hole 6,  520 metres (par 5)

A very long hole with a dog-leg to the left. Reachable in two, but it takes a brave man to hit the driver off the tee and three-wood his second shot to a very tight green.

Hole 7,  419 metres (par 4)

A dog-left with trouble on the left off the tee. A six-iron or seven-iron will be needed for the second shot.

Hole 8,  175 metres (par 3)

A shortish hole with a dam on the right to collect your second shot and a bunker on the left. You will need a four or five-iron.

Hole 9,  524 metres (par 5)

A snake-shaped hole not reachable in two. Both the drive and the second shot need to be very accurate, and the third shot is on to an elevated green.

Hole 10,  445 metres (par 4)

This dog-leg left needs your best drive and best iron to reach the green. And that’s ignoring the trouble off the tee and the water hazard on the left.

Hole 11,  415 metres (par 4)

A straightaway hole with a baobab tree to be avoided. lt’s fairly wide, but you’ll need a six-iron or seven-iron for your second shot.

Hole 12,  507 metres (par 5)

A dog-leg left reachable in two – downwind! Great care is needed if you are to avoid trouble, and the green is under a baobab tree.

Hole 13,  200 metres (par 3)

A short hole with many traps. You will need a good solid three-iron or four-iron.

Hole 14,  410 metres (par 4)

A dog-leg to the right. You will need an eight-iron for your drive, but there is little margin for error and you will find the rough extremely troublesome.

Hole 15,  540 metres (par 5)

A long narrow hole with a water hazard on the right to catch your second shot. Testing, but one of the best holes on the course. If you reach this in two you must have been eating bananas!

Hole 16,  418 metres (par 4)

A dog-leg to the right with an uphill section where you could find yourself amongst a bank of trees. You will probably need a five-iron for your second shot.

Hole 17,  425 metres (par 4)

A dog-leg right, and a whole heap of trouble off the tee. The right is dense and you will need a very good second shot.

Hole 18,  190 metres (par 3)

The toughest hole on the course. It calls for an immaculate two or three-iron uphill to a double-tier green. Plenty of fives will be made here!

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Detailed list of main Rhodesian Golf Courses

(click on image for a closer view)

 

The above has been taken from various Rhodesian tourist and information publications mostly dating from the 1970s.

 

* The small, or British ball, had a diameter of 1.62 inches whilst the slightly larger American ball had a diameter of 1.68 inches. Both balls had to weigh 1.68 ounces. The larger American ball finally won the day in 1990 from when all golf balls have been the same in both size and weight.