Features PARKVIEW TURNS 100
Parkview Golf Club will celebrate its centenary in 2016.
One of Johannesburg’s oldest golf clubs celebrates its centenary in 2016.
There is a sense of time standing still whenever I visit Parkview Golf Club. This old part of Johannesburg is steeped in history, and has stayed much the same since at least the 1930s. Only the suburban traffic outside the clubhouse entrance, on the busy corner of Emmarentia and Wicklow Avenues, has increased in volume. In an era when some golf clubhouses have begun to resemble boutique hotels in terms of size and luxury, Parkview’s remains as it always has been, more like a welcoming private home.
Standing on that corner, it’s easy to imagine a young Bobby Locke, just 17, striding into the club each day during the 1935 South African championships, embarking on the formative steps of his great adventure in golf which began at Parkview with him holding both the Amateur and Open trophies at the same time.
The story of Parkview Golf Club, which celebrates its centenary year in 2016, revolves around both early Johannesburg and Locke, who remains to this day a celebrated person at the club. One of the first functions of the club’s centenary programme, in February, will be the unveiling of a statue of the old maestro overlooking the clubhouse.
The first golf club in Johannesburg was founded in 1890, so it was another 26 years before Parkview entered the scene. Its creation during the middle of the First World War, when many prominent golfers were fighting in the trenches in France, has an interesting correlation with the modern day rise of golf estates in South Africa.The course was commissioned and paid for by the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company as a way of luring early Johannesburg residents to buy stands in the newly created suburb of Parkview. A hundred years ago this was largely treeless veld rather than parkland, but the “Park” theme was trendy among early 20th-century developers.
Golf was taking root as a popular sport among the middleand upper classes, and the most acclaimed golfer at the time in South Africa, Lawrie Waters, was assigned as course architect, just as Gary Player has been similarly chosen for so many golf estate developments the last 20 years.
Waters was a Scot from St Andrews who served as an apprentice to Old Tom Morris, and for health reasons immigrated to South Africa in 1894. He stepped off the boat in Port Elizabeth, and the very next day played on the original PE Golf Club course. “I was shocked when told it was the best course in South Africa,” said Waters, “and wondered what the worst courses inland must be like.”
Nevertheless, Waters headed for the Highveld, and a new life which was to see him win four SA Opens, the last of those in 1920, and design courses which over time have established great reputations, among them Parkview, the West course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington, and his best legacy, Durban Country Club. Waters probably wouldn’t recognise those courses today, and in truth they have been considerably improved upon by the likes of more celebrated designers Bob Grimsdell and Stafford Vere Hotchkin.
Much of the detailed history of early golf in South Africa is difficult to obtain, so I am indebted to Russell Stuart Wallace for his research into Parkview.Two years ago he published a book on the club, The Story of a Johannesburg Golf Club. It paints a fascinating picture of Parkview in the 1920s and 1930s, recording the highs and lows of that era. “When Waters was commissioned (in 1912) to design the Parkview course,” writes Wallace, “the future suburb of Parkview was on the very edge of what Johannesburgers considered to be their world. Standing on Westcliffe Ridge, shortly after the Boer War, the writer John Buchan described the scene: ‘A splash of mealies, perhaps, and an occasional clump of eucalyptus. Otherwise there was just the veld, the great internal sea, quiet, poetic, melancholy.’ ”
Origin of the sluit
Originally, the clubhouse and first tee were not in Emmarentia Avenue, but close to Zoo Lake, where the tramline from the city stopped. A dusty road led to the clubhouse.
Building the course had been a back-breaking project for those working under Waters, and it took nearly four years to complete the 18 holes because most of the site was a large, marshy wetland – a favoured spot for duck hunters. To drain the land, Waters first had to excavate a sluit, and this same deep sluit is today a distinguishing feature of Parkview’s layout. It enters the course between the fourth green and fifth tee, and leaves it near the 13th green, effectively splitting the course in two. There are only a few points where you can cross.
Waters, having grown up on the Old Course at St Andrews, designed Parkview with a narrow out-and-back links in mind, utilising the sluit as the principal hazard. By routing holes on either side of it, he ensured that it remained constantly in play throughout a round. When the course opened in 1916, though, the sluit was nowhere near the clubhouse. The opening two holes played down to where the 16th hole is today, and then continued on that side of the sluit for three holes before crossing over to the current first hole.The old ninth green (present fourth hole) was the furthest point from the clubhouse.
The Star newspaper described Parkview as “the prettiest course on the Highveld,” and Joburg residents were known to appreciate its attractive setting by regularly having picnics on the fairways! But it was also viewed with trepidation by the golfers of that era who, wielding their hickory shafted clubs, found it the most challenging and nerve-wracking test in the country. By 1928 it was 6 100 metres long, with a par of 78. In two 72-hole Transvaal Opens played at Parkview in the 1920s, the winning scores were 305 by Jock Brews and 308 by Bertie Elkin.
The modern Parkview course we know today was established in 1930-31. That was when the golf club did a deal with the developers to buy the land from
WATERS DESIGNED PARKVIEW WITH AN OUT-AND-BACK LINKS IN MIND, REMINISCENT OF THE OLD COURSE AT ST ANDREWS.
them and secure the club’s future. In exchange they handed over the old clubhouse and four of the holes (1-2, 17-18) which the Company wanted for housing. Colonel Hotchkin, fortuitously in South Africa working on the new Humewood links in Port Elizabeth, agreed to design four new holes, the current 12th to 15th.
If you drive through the neighbouring suburb of Greenside, and know your golfing history, you cannot help but notice that many of the street names were inspired by golf. All because of Parkview. The top UK links courses are well represented, such as Troon, Muirfield, Cruden Bay and Hoylake, plus the names of Open champions – Sarazen, Cotton, Vardon, Hagen and Taylor. There are 26 streets in total with golfing origins.
Locke’s name is not among them – there is a Bobby Locke Road adjoining the Randpark Golf Club – but that was principally because all the street names had been taken by the time he won his first Open in 1949. At Parkview he has not been forgotten though. The club hosts the Bobby Locke Festival in November each year, and club director Jerry Fraser informs me that the Bobby Locke Invitational will be upgraded to a 54- or 72-hole tournament in 2016 in order to attract the country’s best amateurs.
Locke’s historic triumphs
Wallace has uncovered an interesting aspect of how 17-yearold Bobby became the darling of South African golf with his Parkview triumph in 1935. Fresh out of school, he had finished second in the Transvaal Open earlier that year, and Bert Keartland, a Parkview member and sports editor of The Star, took a shine to the youngster. Keartland lived within walking distance of the course, and invited Locke to stay at his home for a month before the championship, as well as during the championship itself.
Considering that his family resided at Brakpan, on the East Rand, this was a godsend for Locke, and he made the most of this stroke of fortune. Each day, Mrs Keartland would pick Locke up from the mining house where he worked in Johannesburg, and drive him back to Parkview so he could familiarise himself with the course.
The Amateur Championship came first, and Locke won that in dramatic fashion. In the semifinals, against Parkview’s experienced top member, Armour Matthews, Locke was two down with three to play, and won on the 21st hole. In the 36-hole final he was in an identical dilemma against Frank Agg (who like Locke was to receive Springbok colours), and again the match went to extra holes, with Locke winning on the 38th.
The SA Open started the next day, and Locke opened with a 70 in chilly, winter conditions (it was autumn). He continued to lead through the next two rounds, but in the final round he faltered and was caught by Jock Verwey (Gary Player’s father-in-law), who had finished a few holes in front of him. When Locke bogeyed the15th he was apprised of the situation. He needed a birdie and two pars over the closing holes to beat Verwey. At that time the nines were reversed, so Locke was finishing on what is today the sixth to eighth holes. Unaffected by the pressure, the slender youngster prompted to birdie all three of the holes, and win by three.
The Parkview committee immediately made Locke an honorary member, and he was to embrace this privilege for the rest of his life. After his tournament days were over, he spent many happy hours on the course, and in the bar, before his death in 1987. He was there on a regular basis. The SA championships never returned to Parkview, and perhaps their absence have added to the lustre of Locke’s historic achievement. It was the most famous one-off in their history.
Parkview can nevertheless claim a strong championship pedigree. The club hosted the Transvaal Open in 1960 and
1966, attended by the best local players, and on both occasions Gary Player was a clear winner from Harold Henning. Parkview had by then also unearthed another home-grown champion, Dave Symons, whose name is synonymous with the club. He joined as a junior in 1952, and will be forever remembered as one of our great “true” amateurs, loyal to Parkview all his life. He was SA Amateur champion, yet a victory to treasure came in the 1961 Transvaal Amateur at Parkview, when he beat Reg Taylor on the home green of a 36-hole final. Symons won the club championship 16 times over four decades, between 1959 and 1988, and served as both club captain and president. His most famous quote was “the golfer who can play well at Parkview can play well anywhere in the world.”
Battle of Parkview
Parkview has known moments of drama and concern over the years. In 1922, during the general strike in Johannesburg, Air Force biplanes landed on the course (current fourth hole) when they came under fire from rebel miners.The pilots used the sluit as a defensive position. In the 1960s the golf club was threatened with expropriation by the city council, which wanted to build a highway through the golf course. Parkview kept rejecting the council’s offers, but did look northwards for alternative property, at Bryanston and Fourways, in the event of a worst-case scenario. Parkview was balanced on a tightrope for several years before the threat receded in the early 1970s.
Today the club remains strong and financially sound as it enters its centenary year, yet 20 years ago it was seen as a club in decline. The club president at the time, Geoff Sproule, informed the members that a “thorough overhaul” was required. One of his suggested options to members was to sell the course and merge with another golf club. Rather than take such a drastic step, Sproule favoured a property development on the course to regenerate the finances. Nothing was done about it until, in 1999, Parkview lost its greens due to a black frost.
It was decided to rebuild the greens to USGA specs, and finance the upgrade by selling land adjoining the fourth hole (The Wallers) for housing. The Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust objected – the last thing the residents of the area want is to lose the precious green lung that the golf course provides – but the development turned out to be one of quality, and hardly intrusive.
Golf Data were commissioned to upgrade the course, primarily because Golf Data owner Robbie Marshall agreed to work in consultation with the committee. Late Parkview member Alan Fieldgate was the project manager, and did an outstanding job ensuring that the upgrade was done to the club’s brief.The “new” course was opened in January, 2002, and it is one of the best renovations of an old, classic design that I have seen in my years at Golf Digest.
Golf Data upgrade
This is what I wrote at the time. “The Golf Data team, headed by Robbie Marshall and Sean Quinn, have buffed up a deteriorating parkland classic and discovered gold underneath.” They not only built new greens, but introduced modern bunkering, swales and mounding, and transformed the par-3 15th into a signature hole through creating a water hazard in front of the green.
Before then, Parkview had not come close to making Golf Digest’s annual list of the Top 50 courses, but in 2003 it entered the rankings at No 37, testimony to the approval it received regarding the changes. Even with all the many new courses that have entered the rankings since then, it still remains in the Top 50, at No 48 in the 2014 rankings. Penn A4 bent grass was planted on the greens, a first for Gauteng at the time, and they are still as superb as ever. Course superintendent Rich Metcalfe has kept the course looking as good as it was following the upgrade.
An outstandingly well-presented course is important these days in attracting new members and ensuring that visitor rounds stay healthy, but Parkview’s principal allure over the years, for Locke, Symons, and its many members, has been its wonderful club spirit.The social side has always been just as important as the golf. That spirit has waned at many golf clubs around the country in this new millennium, but it continues to thrive at Parkview. The clubhouse has as much to do with that, as have the kind of people who join the club. When you walk through the front door, it’s only a few short strides to the bar or locker room, or downstairs to the putting green and pro shop. It’s impossible to get lost here.
The clubhouse was renovated for the 90th anniversary in 2006 – a spacious new verandah overlooking the 18th green being one of the major improvements – but nothing drastic was done in terms of changes to the traditional 19th-hole bar. By popular demand it was retained as it always has been. In days gone by it used to be a regular “watering hole” for members on the way home from the city, and on competition days it is still packed with golfers, who prefer to stand with their mates, or sit on bar stools, rather than decamp to the lounge.
It’s definitely less rowdy than it was in days gone by, though. One story about the Parkview bar dates back to the 1960s, as recorded by Wallace in his book. On a cold winter’s night the barman couldn’t get rid of the remaining members who were drinking in front of the fireplace, so he said farewell, leaving the club president, Willoughby Moreton, in charge of the bar. However, as the night went on, and the members became colder and more inebriated, they realised they were short of wood for the fire. No problem to Moreton. Six bar stools were broken up and thrown on the flames. When he came to replace them, he could not find any square topped stools, so bought round topped stools instead.
“For many years the bar sported six non-matching round-topped stools among the more numerous square tops – a memorial to Moreton’s night of excess!”
AS THE NIGHT GREW COLDER, AND THE EVENING MERRIER, THE MEMBERS BROKE UP THE BAR STOOLS AND THREW THEM ON THE FIRE.
FLYING THE FLAG The Parkview clubhouse, with its front verandah immediately behind the 18th green.
CLASSICAL LOOK The clean lines of the Golf Data redesign are evident here, around the green of the par-4 tenth hole.