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How playing at the golden oldies of golf in East Africa feels

GOLF By Vincent Wang’ombe | November 1st 2019
Madison Group Chairman Samuel Ngaruiya (right) awards the overall winner Dr Wycliffe Kaisha (left) during the Madison Doctor’s golf tournament held at the Muthaiga Golf Club last week. [Courtesy]

Two weeks ago the Safari Tour was played at the oldest golf course in Kenya, the Royal Nairobi Golf Club which was started in 1906 with its first club house then situated at where City Mortuary is currently.

I have always wondered why the pioneers of golf did not start the game in Mombasa where all the visitors to the colony first set foot.

This week the Safari Tour is being played at the Entebbe Golf Club, which holds the title of being the oldest golf course in East Africa.

Started around 1901, the club that is at the shores of Lake Victoria, has over the years entertained golfers who stuck to the fairways and punished those who used it as a walkway while visiting the rough to extricate errant shots.

The course may not be the longest and there are a number of par four holes that the long hitters can get to the green with their tee shot. It is a thinkers course and those that plan their shots, and not those that can hit the ball a mile, are able to coax birdies and eagles out of the ancient course.

There is one thing that the two old clubs of East Africa have in common, the members have seen it fit to elect golf captains who are keen on the Rules of Golf.

The two golf captains have made the ultimate pilgrimage to the Mecca of the Rules of Golf in St. Andrews, Scotland where the Rules of Golf were first written in 1754. It is no wonder that the two courses are well marked in as far as the rules are concerned.

As the Chief Referee for the Safari Tour, I was however compelled to add a local rule for the two events that allows golfers to lift and clean their golf balls.

At Royal Nairobi Golf Club, the local rule was strictly “lift, clean and replace”. Which basically means that the players were required to replace their ball exactly where it lay when lifted from a closely mown area.At Entebbe Golf Club, we have given the players some latitude to place a ball that has been lifted under this local rule within a scorecard length of where the ball was lifted from.

This is because the condition of some fairways is not at their best.

To me, the difference between the two local rules is as clear as night and day. This week I have learnt that some professional golfers may not know the difference between the two local rules. One particularly chatty professional golfer walked up to me before teeing off on the first hole of Entebbe Golf Club and asked me: “I see we have preferred lies like we did at Royal?” he asked

“Yes we have playing under the preferred lie local rule here at Entebbe but we didn’t have the same at Royal” I responded.

My attempt to get more information about what he had understood by the local rule of lift clean and replace were met by a blank look. I quickly understood that he must have been doing the wrong thing when playing at Royal Nairobi Golf Club.

I was sad to realise that some players may have been getting an undue advantage by introducing this local rule that was meant to help them due to the fact that balls were getting some mud due to the wet conditions.

The truth of the matter is that many golfers don’t fully understand that even on the putting greens, they are required to replace the ball at exactly the same point where they picked them up from and not an inch or two closer to the hole. This is a rule of golf that is as true and as old as the two ancient courses of East Africa.

 Wang’ombe is KOGL General Manager

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