Royal Port Alfred History

The early beginnings and subsequent development of Royal Port Alfred Golf Club was outlined in the memoirs of Walter Vroom, written for The Kowie Announcer, in 1962.
This is his story:

“In 1906 it was pointed out to Dr. Jones-Phillipson that here was a good place for a golf course. He promptly applied to the Town Council for a grant of £50 to start a club, but they declined, and there the matter stood until the following year when Walter Vroom wrote to Dr. Jones-Phillipson saying “Don’t give up the idea of forming a Golf Club – get the two Hotel Keepers to come in and I will give my share and we can start a Club”.

Royal Port Alfred Golf Course

Royal Port Alfred Golf Course

“Acting on this suggestion the Doctor arranged for a meeting to be held in his house. Those present were Dr. C.E. Jones-Phillipson, Dr. W.H. Atherstone, the two hotel keepers, Messrs. W. Stow ( Grand Hotel ), G.H. Holloway ( Railway Hotel ) and Mr. W.H. Vroom ( Cove Mansions ). After some discussion it was agreed that each would contribute £20 to make a 9-hole course and then form a club. William Stow gave his £20 although he said that he had never heard of anyone making money out of sport!

“William Stow who negotiated the acquisition of the land employed convict labour and cleared the land for a 9-hole course to be constructed, with shell grit being used for the putting greens. According to Walter, the hardest worker was Dr. Jones-Phillipson, because when the ground was bought he got small loans from friends to pay for the land and he begged sneezewood poles and wire in order to fence the course.

Report of Mr A G Gray – Port Alfred, 26th July, 1907

“On the 23rd, 24th and 25th July, 1907, I visited Port Alfred in my professional capacity at the request of the promoters of the Port Alfred Golf Course. I spent 2½ days making careful observation and in laying out the Course. My opinion is as follows: “The site is a picturesque and excellent one, commanding beautiful sea and inland views. At once it strikes one as a fine natural site for a Course. It is entirely covered with springy turf on a sandy soil, with natural bunkers. There is much variety. I consider the Course is the most sporting I have seen in this country, and should be included as a Championship Course. In about two years time there will be turf greens here; meanwhile, blue ground or shale greens are being prepared. I have no hesitation in stating that if the promoters are willing to spend sufficient money on their venture it will be a first-class Course, unequalled in South Africa”-  A G Gray.

The course was ready in December 1907, so in that month a meeting of all those interested took place at the Railway Hotel when it was agreed to form a club and fix the fees etc. Walter Vroom let the club have a room at a nominal sum, received any goods sent for the club and lent them a cart and two oxen. It was also decided to add an additional nine holes and this was done by Dr. Atherstone, assisted by Laurie Waters, the golf professional of the Royal Johannesburg Golf Club.

The full 18-hole course was completed and opened in April, 1908 when professionals played for a purse of £30. They were George Fotheringham (the winner), Gray, Day, Wilkins and Laurie Waters. The Port Alfred Municipality agreed to a grant of £75 in 1909.

There are only four Royal Golf Clubs in South Africa – Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Alfred.

Brief History of the Royal Port Alfred Golf Club
July 13, 1907A project to build a Golf Course was launched and preliminary work commenced. The first nine holes were laid out by Dr Atherstone (the only golfer among the original 5 sponsors).
December 2, 1907The first AGM was held, office bearers were elected. The first 9 holes were completed before the year end.
April, 1908Second nine holes were completed.
1911Club membership passed the 100 mark.
September, 1913Mr L Waters was invited to design the new layout. The old course was closed and the temporary course came into use.
December 15, 1914The new course opened, using Kwido’s Cottage (5 St Andrews Road) as a temporary clubhouse.
December 16, 1916The new clubhouse was opened.
April 12, 1921Princess Arthur of Connaught visited Port Alfred and named all the holes. Twelve of those names remain on the present layout. (She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the current Governor-General).
May 31, 1922The Ladies Section was formed.
December, 1922S A Amateur Golf Championships were held at Port Alfred.
April 6, 1923Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught paid a visit. The Prince commented that “the links surpasses anything that I had ever expected”.
April 6, 1924Arising from the Prince of Connaught’s visit, “Royal” status was granted by King George V.
May. 1925Prince Edward of Wales (later Edward VIII and later still Duke of Windsor) spent a week at Port Alfred during his Empire Tour, and played several games on the links in spite of a right hand bandaged after so much handshaking during his Empire Tour.
1927The Bridge Section was formed.
1933Visiting British Amateur Ladies played the course.
1934Visit of Prince George, the Prince of Wales’s brother, during his Empire Tour. (Later to be Duke of Kent)
1944Dr Murray produced his re-arrangement of the course, creating two loops of nine holes each.
1946Subscriptions were 4 guineas per year.
1950Membership exceeded 300.
1954W H Vroom (one of the Foundation members) opened the new bar at the clubhouse.
1960Membership was above 600.
1961Start of the “Hugh Kelly” era, president and benefactor. President 1966-94. (Hugh died August 1998).
1962“The Kelly Foursomes” was inaugurated.
1966The course was redefined to loops of 13 and 5, and remains so.
1968 The “1820s” began to meet on a weekday morning for a casual 13 holes. It is a band of retired, semi-retired and not-so-fit members who find it difficult to negotiate the strenuous last 5 holes. This group still flourishes.
1982The Club commemorated its 75th Anniversary with a Gala Dinner at the Kowie Grand Hotel and Bobby Locke as guest star.
1989To celebrate the town’s centenary year, “The Four Royals” tournament was established – a gathering of teams of golfers from all four “Royal” clubs in South Africa (Port Alfred, Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, later to be joined by teams from the Royal Harare).
1995The “Mad Hatter” tournament was launched – a fun week of golf bringing to Port Alfred men and women golfers from all over South Africa.
1997Membership exceeded 1000.
From 2000A fence was erected round the course creating a haven for indigenous fauna, which eventually included bushbuck, impala, duiker, fallow deer, springbok and blesbok.
2007The Club celebrated its centenary and the opening of its redesigned and extended clubhouse.