This year, I have had the pleasure of working on the Kenya Open @50 documentary and booklet, an assignment I am carrying out for the Kenya Open Golf Ltd (KOGL) as they celebrate their golden anniversary. This task has given me the great privilege of sitting with some of Kenya’s golf greatest legends, among them, the 93-year old Duncan Ndegwa, whose story is heavily punctuated with the sport of golf.
Mr Ndegwa was born into a humble family in 1925, in Nyeri County. He often herded cattle as a young man. He attended Alliance High School, Makerere University College in Uganda and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Mr Ndegwa said it was around 1954 when he first played golf on the Royal and Ancient golf course at St. Andrews. “I was introduced to the game by a man who told me that golf was the shorthand for - gentlemen only, ladies forbidden,” he said. “And whilst that was true in the early days of the game, today, many ladies skillfully play the game.”
Back home after his economics and statistics studies in Scotland, Mr Ndegwa tried in vain to gain access to golf clubs in Nairobi.
“In those days, golf was a reserve of whites only,” he added. “Together with the late John Mucheru, Mohammed Rajab, Peter Ngugi, Chris Kahara, Lawrence Nginyo Kariuki and others, we formed the Tubogo Golf Club whose home was at Ndumberi where we converted a football field into a nine-hole golf course.
Ndumberi was the golf ‘Mecca’ for African golfers and even today, sections of the local community still refer to it as “the St Andrews of Kenya”.
As Kenya gained independence in 1963, Mr Ndegwa was appointed secretary to the Cabinet and head of the Public Service, a role he played until 1967 when he was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya. During this time, golf clubs across Kenya started to admit indigenous Kenyan golfers.
And fast-forward to 1973, Ndegwa was appointed as the patron of the Kenya Golf Union.
Mr Ndegwa is widely credited with saving many golf courses from extinction in Kenya.
“Many of my colleagues in government saw golf courses as colonial relics, and they went out of their way to shut the courses down, converting the land to residential estates or farmland. We lost the golf courses in Embu, Meru, Muranga and other parts of Kenya due to this attitude,” he added.
“Luckily, we were able to intervene and save many more with the help of former vice- president Mwai Kibaki and president Jomo Kenyatta.”
As the patron of the KGU, Ndegwa invited former president Daniel Arap Moi to the 1977 Kenya Open and in 1979, former president Mwai Kibaki started what would become a long leadership tradition of presidents attending the prize giving ceremony of the Championship.
As we concluded our interview with Mr Ndegwa, his verdict was that golf:
1. makes liars out of honest people.
2. makes cheats out of truthful people.
3. makes cowards out of brave men.
4. makes fools out of everybody.
5. is a game where the ball always lies poorly and the player well.
6. The way you are on the golf course, is the way you are in life.
“Without golf, my life would have been poorer, I have no regrets in activity spent in golf,” Mr Ndegwa concluded.