East London Golf Club (ELGC) is one of the oldest golf clubs in South Africa, founded in 1893. Over the past 125 years the position of the course has changed three times. The common feature of all three courses was great views over the sea.
The current layout is a coastal gem, which encompasses hills, dunes and indigenous bush. Constructed in the 1920s, the builders were forced to caress the land, rather than move thousands of tons of earth, which was fortunate for ELGC. Today its relatively undisturbed terrain is its most pleasing feature. Course designer Col SV Hotchin’s original drawings are still on display in the clubhouse.
The course has a combination of both links and parkland features and is home to several species of buck and bird life.
Views from the 12th green overlook the nearby harbour, seaside hotels and city. While city appears to be almost within a well-struck drive away, one of the main factors against relocating from the old “Grens” course, the second ELGC, was travelling distance from the town
ELGC is consistently ranked in South Africa’s Top 20 courses, and is rated as one of the best Championship courses in South Africa. The Club has hosted the SA Open six times and is a regular home for National and Regional Championships, and hosts many Seniors and Nomads Tournaments. It was also the venue for the first Africa Open, a European Tour event. The best golfers on the European tour played the course. The regular feedback was that it was one of the best natural tracks played by the professionals. Not only that, they really enjoyed the hospitality and knowledgeable crowds.
Aside from golf, there are bowling greens and croquet lawns within the grounds.
The club is renowned for its catering, events and conferences.
East London Golf Club traces its history back to an exact date, 20th April 1893. The club’s tee-off started with a meeting held in the town to discuss the feasibility of a course. The Daily Dispatch reported that the event was “well attended”, and all the attendees became members. The list of founders would not go down well today: there were no ladies.
The splendid layout that is East London today bears no resemblance to the modest start, which comprised one putting green. However, the initial committee swung into action, and the first course, with 12 holes, opened on 6th July 1893, in honour of the Duke of York’s wedding. He later became King George V.
While the dates are exact, the first location is not. Some of reports position it the Quigney, a beachside suburb, on the site of the Kings Hotel. Others have it on the old railway workshops. The third option was that it hugged the coast. The likely position was the workshops, because the course was moved when the latter had to expand.
What is certain is that the first competition took place on the 23rd September 1893, less than six months after construction started. It was won by E Page, handicap 35, with a net score of 72. The best gross was 83, from scratch golfer HH Elliot.
Any urgency to relocate the club faded with start of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. The conflict, according to British politicians, was scheduled to last only three months. Three years later the Boers’ surrendered, and a year later the club moved to the Grens site in Baysville, after which the school is named.
The first course did not have a clubhouse. The second was more fortunate. The committee was able to use an old military blockhouse on the site, and convert it into a club. The course, according to archives, was primitive. Although it was 18-holes, the golfers were only able to tell rough from fairway by rows of white marker stones.
However, in 1906 the SAGU deemed the course championship standard, and “Grens” hosted the SA Opens and SA Amateurs, won respectively by HH Ballinghal and AG Gray.
Despite SAGU’s faith in the course, members were not satisfied. Several of the farsighted ones established a body tasked to find another strip of coastal land suitable for the third East London Golf Club. The First World War (1914 -1918) stopped any progress. However, once victory was secured the project got going again, and in 1923 the club procured the current site of ELGC and building started, funded by the 160 membership and other donors. The project met fierce resistance from a body of members who felt it was too far from town, but luckily for ELGC the majority liked the idea.
The views of a Mrs MM Reid, whose mother Mrs Gilby Wiggins founded the ladies section, endorsed the decision to find another site. She spoke of the fairways inundated with worm coasts, the dreaded “Double Donga” hole, where well-struck balls disappeared, and cattle getting through the wire and feeding on the fairways.
Douglas Wilson, an early member, distinguished both himself and the club by heading the South African Golf Union from 1949 to 1951. He died in 1969. Wilson was club champion in 1929, and went on to be club captain and president. Despite his love for the game, the second course was apparently in such poor condition that he gave up golfing for a few years. Another reason to move.
Today ELGC is not only one of the oldest but one of the best-loved courses by members and visitors, with a ranking that is consistently in Golf Digest’s top 20.