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Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Club

Gill and i went to see the Club when we were in South Africa in September 2016. We just went to the proshop, but certain things were pretty apparent: men only, and a seemingly blindingly obvious and reminiscent pecking order. Maybe first impressions can be misleading.

View of the Clubhouse

View of the Clubhouse

This is from the Club’s website on the history of the Club: Over a century of South African golfing history, few clubs, if any, are able to claim a heritage like that of the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.

The Club is the product of a merger of the former Royal Johannesburg Golf Club and the former Kensington Golf Club in 1998. Possibly the first merger of its kind in South Africa, it has produced a financially sound club with modernised facilities and a strong and supportive membership base.

Essentially, the improvements to the Clubhouse and the two courses at Royal Johannesburg were funded from the sale of the Kensington property. The result is a superb facility, with two outstanding parkland golf courses ideally suited to preserve the value of both clubs, and meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The Johannesburg Golf Club was founded in 1891 and was located on the current premises as far back as 1909. It received its Royal Charter in 1931. On the occasion of the Club’s Centenary celebrations in 1991, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews sent both its Captain and Chairman of its Rules Committee as official representatives.

The Club was instrumental in forming the Transvaal Golf Union in 1908 and from its membership provided the first President of the South African Golf Union in 1910. The Club has been the home of the Gauteng Senior Golfer’s Society for over 60 years. The PGA of South Africa also relocated to the Club in 2005.
History of Royal Johannesburg Golf Club

Founded on 6 November 1890, members of the Johannesburg Golf Club first began playing “behind Hospital Hill”, in the area that later became known as Clarendon Circle and Empire Road. The search for more suitable land, and the rapid development of the city, caused the club to move no less than four times, before finally being established in 1909 on the land it still occupies today.

During a visit to Johannesburg in 1930, the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII, played the course. Some six months later, he agreed to become its patron. In July 1931, a letter was received confirming that King George V had graciously consented to adding the “Royal” prefix to the club’s name.

In 1933, the founding fathers recognised the need for a second course, resulting in the purchase of a suitable farm to the east. Just two years later, the club professional, Robert Grimsdell, had constructed 21 new holes, and both courses were in play. No sooner had he completed this onerous task, than he was asked what alterations would be required to accommodate a new clubhouse to be built in more central position. By the third Saturday of March 1939, the present clubhouse, and the “East” and “West” courses, were officially taken into use.

The Royal Johannesburg can claim to have led the development of golf in the former Transvaal. Almost single-handedly, its members founded the Transvaal Golf Union, and ably administered it for the first 25 years.

A standing trophy, first presented in 1895 to the winning amateur of its “Christmas Tournament”, is still in use today as the “Challenge Cup”: won by the top regional amateur golfer.

History of The Kensington Golf Club

Kensington will be fondly remembered by a host of South African golfers as the venue where many significant tournaments and competitions were played, particularly in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It will also be long remembered as one of the finest recreational golf courses of its time. It seems natural then that the name should live on in the equally prestigious surroundings of the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club of today.

Little is known of the original Kensington Golf Club that closed its doors in 1918, after fighting valiantly to overcome difficult times and frequent setbacks. It is said that the majority of members migrated to Parkview. But within a relatively short space of time, certain residents in the area threw in their lot with another Kensington Club, one more devoted to tennis and bowls, and established a 9-hole course.
The late T.P. Gray, then captain of the golfing section of the club, almost single-handedly acquired the site on which the Kensington course was to be situated. Having identified a piece of land described as a wilderness of “sluit”, “donga”, bog and coarse grass, he negotiated its price down from £100 to £15 per acre. Gray then had the further audacity to borrow the full purchase price from the seller, Mr. Oliver, who appears by far to have been the club’s most generous benefactor.

A company was then formed which sold shares to a fast growing body of members. The proceeds were used to establish the new layout. At their first independent meeting it was agreed that, as a mark of appreciation for all the help that they had received from the Kensington Estates, they should call themselves the Kensington Golf Club.

And this is Nelson mandela on Gary Player, quoted in a Golf Digest article: Because he was a professional golfer who spent much of his career performing outside South Africa, Gary Player was always perceived as being one step removed from the world of politics. Yet, few men in our country's history did as much to enact political changes for the better that eventually improved the lives of millions of his countrymen. Through his tremendous influence as a great athlete Mr. Player accomplished what many politicians could not. And he did it with courage, perseverance, patience, pride, understanding and dignity that would have been extraordinary even for a world leader.

During my many years spent in prison, I was frequently made aware of the harsh treatment Mr. Player endured as a representative of our nation. In 1969, at a very important tournament in America (the PGA Championship) a group of militant demonstrators who opposed apartheid yelled in the middle of his swing in an attempt to disrupt him. They threw ice at him. Once they even tried to rush him, but Jack Nicklaus, who is the greatest golfer of all, brandished his golf club and helped restrain them. Amid this, Mr. Player finished in second place, perhaps his finest performance ever.

On another occasion, in Australia, protesters ventured onto one of the putting greens in the middle of the night and etched, with white lime, the slogan, "Go Home, You Racist Pig" on the green. Mr. Player frequently received threats against his life. There were people who thought he was partly to blame for apartheid in South Africa, when in truth he was no more responsible for that policy than Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer were for racial conflict in the United States. Mr. Player was in danger many times, and the American FBI stayed in his company for months on end to protect him. That must have been terribly distracting, yet he endured and stood his ground.

Gary Player

And he always remained loyal to South Africa. Many athletes, you know, have fled their countries for the U.S., but Mr. Player remained true to his South African heritage. He did his best to explain the complex nature of trying to invoke change in our country, and always set a tremendous example for all South Africans. For example, he successfully lobbied our government to allow golfer Lee Elder and tennis player Arthur Ashe to compete in South Africa. He established the Gary Player Foundation, which has done a great deal to further education among young black people in our country. I am proud to serve as a trustee for the foundation. Upon my release from prison, I met with Mr. Player and told him, "You have not received the recogntion you deserve." I was very sincere in saying that.

Mr. Player was voted the top athlete in the history of South Africa. His accomplishments as a golfer are extraordinary. He won 163 tournaments worldwide and compared very favorably against the greatest golfers of all time. He won tournaments in five different decades — including the Grand Slam—all four professional majors in his career.

That is impressive, but it is important to note that Mr. Player also was voted one of the top five influential people in our nation's history. His accomplishments as a humanitarian and statesman are equal to, and may even surpass, his accomplishments as an athlete. That is a legacy that will last forever.

Royal Troon