Insights into Kenya golf history

Golfers at Royal Nairobi Golf Club. It turned 100 in 2006. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Golfers at Royal Nairobi Golf Club. It turned 100 in 2006. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Last week, I delved into the history of Kenyan golf, following a most riveting interview with Duncan Ndegwa, one of Kenya’s pioneer African golfers. Following that article, I have received numerous responses for even more golf history. The history of Kenyan golf dates back to the colonial era, after all, golf was gifted to us by the early British settlers. During the early 1900s, every District Commissioner apparently constructed his own private golf course and thus was borne the majority of the nearly 40 courses across Kenya.

After Kenya got her independence, golf and golf courses were seen as colonial relics, and some African leaders went out of their way to ‘eradicate’ these courses. The courses in Muranga, Meru, Embu and parts of the North Eastern Province disappeared during this purge.

Stories are told of a golf course in North Horr in Marsabit – I have seen no evidence of the same, but I have no doubt such a course once existed. The Kiambu course just barely survived and Nyeri lost 9-holes to the enemies of the sport. In more recent times, we have lost the course at Molo – famous for being perhaps the only golf course in the world where you could tee off in the Northern Hemisphere and hole out in the Southern Hemisphere across the Equator.

We have also lost the Makuyu course – more to legal wrangles between the membership and Kakuzi Ltd. The course at Magadi has also disappeared, perhaps golfers found the course a bit too salty for their liking? Across the country, many other smaller golf clubs are barely making ends meet and are in real danger of extinction.

Over the last decade, perhaps longer, I have made numerous attempts to piece together the history of Kenyan golf, and there should be a lot, unfortunately, information from individual golf clubs is scanty at best, as golfers we have done a poor job at documenting our history. The history of golf courses long gone, like those in Meru and Embu is literally non-existent; I have found no photos, not a paragraph on some of these courses. Their very existence remains only as fragments in the mind of aging locals.

This year, the Kenya Golf Union (KGU) celebrates 90-years of existence, making it the longest running sports union in Kenya. The KGU must be commended for keeping a ‘clean sheet’ in the sports arena that is more known for poor governance, mismanagement and political upheaval. The Kenya Open Golf Championship also celebrates its golden jubilee this year; again this is probably the longest running sports event in Kenya. And with a Sh65 million prize kitty in 2018, the Kenya Open is hands down the most lucrative sporting event in Kenya and East Africa.

The Royal Nairobi Golf Club celebrated 100-years of existence in 2006 and the Muthaiga Golf Club celebrated its 90th birthday in 2017. The Mombasa Golf Club was founded in 1911, making it 107 years old and the Kiambu Golf Club was established in 1916, making it 102 years old whilst Kitale Club was founded in 1924, making it 94 years old.

With this rich heritage and history, one would expect to find tonnes of historical material from Malindi to Kitale and from Muthaiga to Royal and Makuyu, but unfortunately, piecing together the history of golf in Kenya is a daunting task, one best left to perhaps an archaeologist.

I will continue to dig for the history of golf in Kenya, and I will publish what I find. I invite you to send me any information you may have as an individual and I challenge golf clubs to make it their duty to piece together their own history and to share the same with all of us.