History of the Skukuza Golf Club
Our Heritage – The History of the Skukuza Golf Club
When the Kruger National Park was established 110 years ago, there were no sporting facilities for staff. A fund for recreational activities was introduced after World War 2 and during the 1950’s and 1960’s the present day community hall and adjacent sporting facilities were developed. Many of the sporting facilities were created rather by accident than design as the rugby / cricket field appeared soon after the Technical Services Department “tested” heavy machinery in the area.
It was this rugby / cricket field which was the prime factor for the eventual establishment of the future golf course! About 1967, golf enthusiasts Nic de Beer and Jan Viljoen traveled the narrow dirt roads via Numbi gate to play a round of golf at Sabie River Bungalows in Hazyview. It was the sort of journey only fanatics would endure and for us would make no sense in this day and age! Soon it was realized that a few short holes around the rugby field would make matters allot easier. Not quite according to the requirements of a proper golf course, but at least it would be easier on the motor vehicles and ensure a little more peace at home!
Golf quickly found its niche in Skukuza and soon there were enthusiastic golfers such as Neels de Jager, Pieter Steenkamp, Jan van Achterberg, Soekie Schoeman, Con Maartens and Herkie Smit joining the intrepid Nic de Beer and Jan Viljoen. The restrictions of the “course” could not dampen their enthusiasm. Things went well for a while but as their dexterity increased, the men realized that more space would be needed to take the longer clubs out of the bags.
Ian Crabtree from the adjoining Sabie-Sand Game Reserve knew there was an old disused landing strip on the farm Toulon, owned by Bill Roche. Although it was overgrown with tall grass, he was sure that the golfers could make some sort of plan. In 1970 serious negotiations with Oom Bill Roche began and, being a very keen sportman in his younger days and also a dedicated conservationist it did not take much convincing. The preparation of the courser constituted mainly the clearing of open areas to be used as tees and some as greens. Initially six greens, or rather “browns” were ready. The greens had to be leveled before play by dragging hessian bags. Later a further three greens were added.
On 12 June 1971 the first six players teed off on what was now officially the “Toulon Golf Club”, the fore runner of the Skukuza Golf Club. Mr Roche limited the number of players to 3 four balls. An exception was made when ladies also played. In his own words: “In the case of mixed gruesome the number of participants may be doubled as women do not count, unless you are outnumbered”. The first six players were Nic de Beer, Jan van Achterberg, Jan Viljoen, Ian Crabtree, the late Pieter Steenkamp and the LATE Neels de Jager, all considered to be the Founding Members of the now Skukuza Golf Club.
The enthusiasm could not be dampened and even sponsors started appearing. The first sponsor was Vinto Minerals with three cases of Coke and soon after SA Breweries sponsored two cases of beer. The large boot of Jan Viljoen’s old Pontiac acted as the bar and apparently the conviviality after the game is not considered part of the club’s history and has nothing to do with anybody!
Skukuza golfers now at least had a golf facility within reach but a “practice area” would do wonders for their golf. One day the late Pieter Steenkamp had to clear an area for the laying of water pipes from the new reservoir, near the present seventh tee, to the staff village. No one is quite sure exactly what happened but the operator on the machine apparently lost his way on a wandering track through the bush, taking out many shrubs and small bushes before eventually reaching his destination!
The Park Warden could not contain his annoyance but was very surprised at the keenness of quite a few men who volunteered to help with the mopping up operation of this absolute disaster. All the ripped up vegetation and shrubs were removed, the water pipes completed and at the same time there was sufficient area available for the practice facility a few new holes!
On 23 October 1971, the founding meeting of the Skukuza Golf Club was held, with 19 members, including 5 ladies, present. The development committee of Nic de Beer, Pieter Steenkamp and Neels de Jager was elected.
The area, presently under housing, across the tar road running next to number seven’s fairway, saw the first part of the golf course being developed. Step by step five greens were completed and with a few adaptations, nine holes could be fitted into this small area.
By 1974 the course was completed but yet without a clubhouse. In the beginning a tarpaulin was pulled over some nearby schrubs as and when required. Later a steel frame was erected, covered by a tarpaulin to give the clubhouse a more acceptable shape. Neels de Jager’s small bakkie served adequately as the bar.
Growth pains were inevitable but friends and sponsors such as Vinto Minerals and SA breweries maintained their valuable support. Already at Toulon, Volkskas Makelaars supported the fledgling club with a donation of R50 for the development of the club. With the completion of the course they now donated R450 for the supply of water to the course. The first floating trophy was donated by Barlows and competed for on 23 March 1974.
Gradually the need arose for a worthy golf course and own clubhouse. Once more negotiations with the Park Warden had to be undertaken. After careful consideration Dr. Tol Pienaar, then Park Warden, approved the request and a start could be made to move five of the holes to the new area. At the same time, a clubhouse was completed in time for the first playing of the “Joke of the Lowveld” tournament in May 1979.
To commemorate the opening of the course it was decided that this tournament will be the main event on the club’s calendar and will in future be played during the first weekend in May every year. Originally the event covered three competitions, one on the Friday afternoon and two competitions on Saturday. The popularity of the competition increased to the extent that more competitions were added. By 1988 two competitions per day were held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a Ladies Day on the Wednesday Afternoon. Presently there are two competitions on all four days of the Tournament.
Towards the beginning of 1984 the installation of the automated irrigation system on the course was completed with the assistance and involvement of the local members. This obviated the moving of the sprinklers umpteen times a day.
Soon the membership of the club exceeded expectations and it became apparent that the clubhouse and its facilities were not sufficient any more. The Park Warden at the time, Dr. Salomon Joubert, a very keen golfer himself, agreed to the construction of a larger clubhouse.
With the increase in staff members, more housing were needed. It was decided that the area on which three holes of the original course remained, was to be utilized for new housing. The concession was made that the Board would develop three new holes for the club. This was done on the opposite side of Lake Panic and it created the opportunity of also constructing the new clubhouse on that side of the lake.
Under the leadership of the then chairman, Stoffel Ahlers, sponsorships were obtained from a wide range of interested parties and suppliers. Cash was raised in as many ways possible, all helping to construct the present facility. Johan Schoeman drew up plans for the building and with the expertise of the members of the club, the building was completed in 1989 and officially opened by Dr. Tol Pienaar during the “Joke” tournament the following year. At that time the building was fully paid for!
Since the Skukuza Golf Club came into being, the course and its facilities were only available to the members of the club, Parks Board staff and their invited guests. After all these years eventually pressure was brought to bear on the committee to open the course to the general public and after serious consideration and discussions with SANParks senior management, this was done on 15 November 1999.
Many characters, members and visitors, formed part of the atmosphere and spirit that has always been associated with the Skukuza Golf Club. Who can ever forget the infectious laugh of Nic de Beer, Barry du Toit and his relish for rum and raspberry mix, the dominance of ladies golf at the club by Deidre van Niekerk and what would league golf be without Gawie Venter and Scholla Scholtz, Mike Rochat with his ever present cane and Coke and Rob Stegmann who flew all the way from Japan, with various flight changes incorporated, in order to make his tee off at the “Joke” in time.
The club also saw many well known individuals walking its fairways. It played host to the likes of Mr. FW de Klerk, the Crown Prince of Malaysia and golfing legends such as Hugh Baiocchi, Mark McNulty, Bobby Lincoln, John Bland, Tony Johstone, Dale Hayes, Mark Wiltshire, Jeff Hawkes, Joe Dlamini, Trevor Dodds as well as the present course record holders Wayne Westner and Phil Simmons.
Today, the Skukuza Golf Course is a magnificent 9-hole (18 tee) golf course situated in the world renowned Kruger National Park in South Africa. It is found on the outskirts of Skukuza Rest Camp within the rich wildlife sanctuary and provides the visitor with a harmonious close-to nature golfing experience.