A chat with the oldest golfer

Gabriel Wanguhu tees off at Nyahururu golf club on July 31, 2022. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Holding the golf club is to travel down memory lane for Gabriel Wanguhu, a veteran golfer. Every swing is a reminder of the glorious years gone by. At 79, he is the oldest golfer and member of Nyahururu Sports Club in Laikipia.

While he no longer swings the club with the same vitality he did 30 years ago, Wanguhu says he is not ready to drop the club. ‘‘I will play until I drop.’’ For him, golf is not just a passion but a lifestyle as well.

‘‘I play a nine a day every week. I come here in the afternoon to practice and to play with my friends,’’ he says, adding, ‘‘I generally enjoy sporting. When I was younger, I would go to the swimming pool at 7 O’clock before heading to the office.’’

In his heyday, the former manager at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) played Handicap 4, having started in Handicap 24. Now with age fast taking a toll on him, he has tripped to Handicap 13.

He explains: ‘‘The swing is not as powerful as before. The concentration is also not as good as it used to be. But at my age, this is acceptable.’’

The golfer knows this course like the back of his palm. It is here that he made a name for himself in golfing circles. A record nine-time winner of the club championship, six of the triumphs consecutive, he is easily a local legend.

Wanguhu is among the members who revived the 100-year-old club in 1989 after it had fallen into disuse for more than 20 years following the departure of the colonialists. To restore it, he and others had to rid the course off elephant grass, plant trees and trace its title deed to South Africa where it had been taken.

Out of the founding members, he one of the few surviving. Says he with nostalgia: ‘‘Most of the members are dead now. The remaining ones do not play anymore. They simply walk on the course.’’

This septuagenarian has not been out of a club all his adult life. ‘‘When I got my first job, I joined Nakuru Athletic Club. I later joined this club after relocating to Nyahururu.’’

His children and grandchildren have also taken up golfing. ‘‘I have raised my children in the club. It makes me happy to see them play. When my sons and grandchildren are visiting, I do not play anyone else at the club but them.’’

He wonders: ‘‘Why would anyone go to the course without their children? Don’t you want them to take after you?’’ Nothing makes him happier than interactions on the course.

‘‘Sometimes you will be troubled when you come to the club. But when you start playing, you forget it all. It is a great sport for unwinding.’’

Love at first trial

His interest in golf occurred by happenstance. Before 1984, he had not touched a golf club. ‘‘I hadn’t touched a club. My friend introduced me to the game.’’ It was love at first trial.

From the many rounds he has played, one championship final in the 1990s towers above others. He and his arch-rival played to the 19th hole following a tie after 18 holes. Wanguhu had the advantage of three extra strokes after his opponent’s ball flew to the bush. It was his game to lose.

‘‘I was waiting to place the ball in the green. From here, I was winning it. After our fourth stroke, he stuck the ball to the pin. My hit went to the bush. I couldn’t believe it. I lost to him. It was the most unlikely and painful loss in my career.’’

Besides his home ground, Wanguhu has played in virtually every course in the country, from Muthaiga to Sigona, Railways, Limuru and Thika Greens. He has also played regionally in Kampala and Arusha.

On how the game has evolved over the years, Wanguhu says there are more black people playing than before when most of the players were white. ‘‘The equipment was inferior then. We used wooden clubs. Things have changed. The quality of equipment has made the sport easier.’’

He says that many golfers today start to play early, refining their skills along the way. ‘‘My generation of golfers started playing in our forties and fifties. I was 46 when I touched a club.’’

Nevertheless, he is happy he tried golfing. ‘‘Without the sport, I am not sure I would be able to leave the house at this age. I would probably be using a walking stick. Walking the course is a good form of exercise.’’

Unless he is engaged elsewhere or he is out of town, Wanguhu is a daily visitor to Nyahururu Sports Club, his home being a walking distance to the facility, where he is now an honorary member in recognition for his service to the facility.

He agrees that golf has failed to shed its tag of an elite sport, noting that lack of public courses in the country is to blame for the situation.

‘‘The majority of Kenyans cannot access a course because these are owned by members-only clubs. This issue has to be addressed by establishing courses where anyone interested in the sport can play.’’

Golf has taught him many things about life, but foremost, discipline. ‘‘There are times when the ball defies you. You will hit it with precision only for it to fly into the bush. But you must keep trying to outdo yourself no matter what.’’

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.