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History of King David Mowbray

The Merger Story

One of Bob Grimsdell’s best designs set to close at end of year, as Cape Town golf clubs merge their assets.

By Stuart McLean

King David will live again at Mowbray

King David Golf Club, home to one of South Africa’s top 100 courses, is to begin winding down at the end of the year. Golfers in Cape Town will be losing one of the most characterful and enjoyable courses in the region, an original Bob Grimsdell design, which was No 75 in Golf Digest’s 2014 course rankings.

If all goes according to plan - there remains two special general meetings in October - the members at King David are to merge with Mowbray Golf Club, forming a new club, likely to be known as King David Mowbray to preserve the heritage of both these clubs. Mowbray has the bigger membership, and a history stretching back more than a century, but have agreed to combine the names when the merger happens on January 1.

There was the chance of King David disbanding altogether, with their 400-plus members splitting off to various clubs throughout the Western Cape, but the opportunity to keep the King David name alive in local golf has solidified the merger.

King David owns the land adjoining Cape Town Airport on which their golf course was built in the 1950s, and it will be put to tender next year. The course is in an industrial area – out-of-bounds on the 13th hole is a bus depot – and has considerable value either as a property venture or commercial development.

On the sale of the land, King David will make a significant charitable donation in addition to an amount of R40 million that will be made available through a trust to the new King David Mowbray Golf Club for capital expenditure over the long term. The King David members are undertaking to hand over an asset that they first donated to the club and then maintained for many years. Conservatively, the donation could be R200 million.

The future of King David has been in doubt for several years, because of its situation and the increasing costs of maintaining the course to a high standard. The club has had meetings with more than one club regarding a merger, and have found Mowbray a willing partner, as well as a convenient location.

“Our members are excited to be moving, and I know that Mowbray feel the same way about welcoming us,” said club manager Amanda Forknall, who will probably be relocating with them. “It’s a win-win for both clubs.”

Mowbray, which has been struggling financially in recent years, will benefit from an immediate R5-million cash injection from King David’s funds, while R35-million would be available for long-term capital expenditure if the new club secures a favourable lease with the Cape Town city council when the current one expires in 2020. Mowbray will also benefit from the generosity of King David in relocating their charitable and development efforts to Mowbray. They plan to continue a sports trust that will support this.

Mowbray is one of the best situated golf clubs in Cape Town, with easy access from the N2 highway, just 10 minutes from the city centre. As a former SA Open venue it has the potential to regain its status as one of the Western Cape’s leading golf clubs and attract considerably more visiting golfers from the large tourist market. The course was ranked No 95 by Golf Digest in 2014, and would benefit from general improvements.

King David will be missed by Western Cape golfers, not just for its fine golfing layout, and a spacious practice range (rare among older clubs), but by the many student and social golfers who were welcomed there at reasonable rates. It was one of the first clubs in the Cape open to all races, and today it’s the regional home of Disabled Golf and the Golf Development Board. King David has been supportive of playmoregolf and also the Peninsula Golf Club, made up of ex-members of the defunct Mitchells Plain course.

King David’s longest-serving and core members are largely from the Jewish community, and it is one of the group of Jewish country clubs – embracing a variety of sports – founded around the country following the Second World War, when Jews were not always welcome at premier clubs. The others were Wingate Park (Pretoria), Oppenheimer Park (Welkom), Circle (Durban), Wedgwood (Port Elizabeth) and Alexander (East London). King David was formerly a rural dairy farm, and was chosen as the site for a country club because the Jewish community were then largely resident in nearby Parow and Bellville.

In its heyday King David was one of the country’s top championship tests. It should have hosted a SA Open, but these were the preserve of Royal Cape and Mowbray in Cape Town until the late 1990s. Nevertheless, it was used for Sunshine Tour events in the 1960s and 1970s, and its tree-lined fairways and tight doglegs always provided a long, stern test for players using the equipment of that era. In the last two Western Province Opens played at King David in the 1970s, only one player, Allan Henning, broke 288 for 72 holes. Hugh Baiocchi won the 1973 WP Open with a total of 292.

Gary Player was a big fan of the course, and joined the club members for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2004.

King David was built on sandy soil, and Grimsdell created some interesting greens complexes. Unfortunately they are not in the majority, and so some good holes do suffer from having unimaginatively flat putting surfaces. There are six superb holes on each nine, but the remaining six are plainer. Three of the short holes rank among the best in the region. The second, 12th and 15th are exceptional, unique and tricky. You won’t find their like anywhere else in South Africa. It’s a pity they can’t also be moved to Mowbray.

King David has always been a pleasant parkland walk. It feels quite rural and tranquil and shady once you get away from the perimeters. The club will be hosting a festival week from November 18 to 22 with special guests Dale Hayes and Denis Hutchinson. The final club championships will also take place that week.

“It will be business as usual at King David right up until, and including, December 31,” said Forknall. “The course will be kept in the best condition possible, and we anticipate a bumper season with golfers wanting to play the course one last time.”


Mowbray Golf Club

Golf in South Africa was started by one Lt General Henry Torrens who was sent here in 1885 to head up the British forces in the Cape colony. Only 9 days after his arrival, he set up a meeting at which the formation of the Cape Golf Club (later Royal Cape) was put in motion.

The first course was built in Wynberg where play began in 1886, when golf was a more widely-enjoyed sport and soccer took over as the country's most recognised sporting event. After relocating to the Rondebosch Common in 1891, the Club opened a new course in 1906 on a property in Ottery. Until it was closed in 1910, the course on the Common was kept going, despite a number of hazards you would not normally expect to find at a leading golf club. For example, rugby matches were played across the first hole on Saturdays, the second was right next to a Malay cemetery and the fourth also served as a Municipal rubbish dump. Being a Common, the members of the public were also allowed to ride their horses there and even graze their cows.

It was from this background that the Mowbray Golf Club was formed in 1910 by the group of players who didn't relish the long trek to Ottery and it's because of this heritage that the only rugby you will find at Mowbray is on Saturday afternoons on the big TV screen in the bar.

The original course was designed by a very talented member but over the years many changes have been made according to the designs of leading golf architects of the day. The last major modernization programme was carried out in 1993 and since then, continuous improvements have been the overriding philosophy.

1993 was a tumultuous year in the history of the Club, for on the night of October 31st, the clubhouse was dramatically gutted by fire. Difficult times followed but in December 1994, a magnificent new clubhouse had risen from the ashes and was ready for occupation.

This was not the end of the Club's troubles. A number of problems were experienced with the condition of the golf course. Thankfully, these have all been corrected and the course has now regained its reputation of being one of the most popular golfing destinations in South Africa.

Through the years, Mowbray has hosted the South African Open seven times, the Bell's Cup on three occasions and all major amateur championships. Many of the world's biggest names in golf have played Mowbray, including Bobby Locke, Norman von Nida, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Vijay Singh (a winner of the Bell's Cup) Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino and Ernie Els.

King David Golf Club

“The Foundation of King David Country Club was developed out of a need for a centrally situated venue to provide complete sporting and social amenities for a section of the community who were finding it difficult for a variety of reasons, to obtain such facilities. The ambition of the sponsors was to provide a Country Club similar to Wedgwood, Port Elizabeth, Alexander Park, East London, Wingate, Pretoria, Reading, Johannesburg, and the Circle, in Durban.”

The brochure said that the only property suitable in size and cost was on the Cape Flats. “Eventually a farm, ‘The Fens’, in extent some 220 acres, was offered to the sponsors for £33,000.” The organising committee then looked to the suitability of the site. “Mr R Grimsdell, undoubtedly the foremost golf architect in the country, was commissioned to report on the property and was highly favourable. ‘I have rarely seen a better opportunity to construct a first-class golf course of national importance,’ Grimsdell reported.

“It was decided therefore to ascertain the degree of support available and an option to purchase the property was secured. The campaign for members was launched by Adv. H M Bloch QC at a meeting at the Minor Zionist Hall on 9th September 1952.” The meeting was attended by over 200 ‘enthusiastic’ people. “The total capital sum required to complete the scheme was estimated at some £90,000 to £100,000. “From the moment that the property was bought, recruiting members gained tremendous impetus. Foundation membership nears 400 and the total funds available exceed £50,000. A fixed bond on the property of £21,000 for five years at five percent has been secured and the amount available for purchase and development of the property is in excess of £70,000.”

When the farm located on the Cape Flats was bought by Jewish golfers in 1954, it was to be a modern sports club offering a wide range of sporting activities including golf, bowls and tennis as well as a host of other social activities. In its heyday the Club had 750 members of whom 375 were active golfers and was considered one of the premier layouts in the country. King David also supported the local communities and disabled golfers by being an open and accessible club to all. Each member was always “an expert in his or her own right!” Returning members and visitors say there is nothing like it in the clubs they have joined overseas. Missing is the warmth with which they were welcomed and the inviting inclusivity. A book has been published to preserve our great golf course that was King David and our respective memories of the many characters who graced our fairways.

We look at the Honours boards with the names and portraits of all the past Presidents, Chairmen and the caricatures of Captains and acknowledge their dedicated commitment and contribution over the past 60 years.

In 2016 a new chapter in the history of King David Golf Club awaits us with our amalgamation with Mowbray Golf Club. A new chapter, a new beginning.

However, we carry with us our KD spirit, a flood of wonderful warm memories and pride and a commitment to a shared and illustrious future with the new entity, King David Mowbray Golf Club.

For after all , it is the love and challenge of the game that unites us all.