A CHRONICLE OF CMR GOLF
Created by Peter Jesson
Periods in Time
The history of CMR is one closely associated with the gold mining developments that were a feature of this part of South Africa towards the end of the nineteenth century. It should not be surprising therefore to find that like many others of its era this story began with land that was owned by a mining company.
In 1894 the Main Reef Mining Company bought the farm Paardekraal which was then sold to Consolidated Main Reef Mines and Estates. It was later cut up into 332 stands forming Maraisburg. The plans were passed in 1902. Mr C H Spencer became Mine Manager of CMR Mines and Estates in the same year and served in the position until 1912. In 1905 he became Mayor of the Town Council and was subsequently honoured by the naming Spencer Avenue after him. Spencer Avenue formed the boundary of the golf course for many years.
At about this time Mr J E Healey became Mine Manager and set about designing and constructing a nine-hole golf course in the “beautiful valley that was being marred and polluted by mining operations”. There were few trees in the area except for black wattle and the bulrushes in the vlei contained within the course boundaries. The course was designed around the watercourse bounded by the mine dumps in the south and east and Spencer Rd and Maraisburg Rd to the west and north. The course was opened for play in 1932 – website, TLGU 75th Anniversary Celeb says founded in 1914, West Rand Times of 25 April 1975 (60 years diamond jubilee says 1913 as a nine-hole golf course)
Bridges and culverts were built to provide passage through the course and to contain the waterways. The greens were not greens at all, having no grass and consisting of sand only and the fairways were mown veld grass, mown with ox-drawn scythes. The plan was to build a clubhouse to the southeast of the course near the first mine dump of sand at CMR, but it is not known whether it was ever built on that site. A bowling green and small clubhouse were built to the west of the golf course clubhouse. This original clubhouse was constructed of wood and iron and stood for many years.
Somewhere between 1924 and 1937, under the guidance of the new Mine Manager, Mr G R Heywood, the course was extended to 12 holes, seemingly through the provision of extra tees. At the time grass was planted on the putting surfaces and the first “grass” covered greens emerged.
In 1937 Mr Heywood decided to call in golf course architects and turned CMR into an 18-hole course. The areas forming part for the new course included the portion between the water course and Maraisburg Rd, the area to the north of Maraisburg Rd and an area to the west of Spencer Rd. Thousands of Bluegum and Pine trees were planted, Bluegums to the south and Pines to the north, separating the fairways. This layout, with all its road crossings served the golfing community for 52 years until the latter half of 1989.
It was also decided at the time that a new clubhouse would be built to the north of Maraisburg Road because a liquor licence could only be granted in a proclaimed area. The new clubhouse was opened in 1938. It was built by a stone mason, Mr George Kenny, who was employed by the mine and later it was modernised and served the members until the present clubhouse was built. The first committee meeting took place in the new clubhouse on 29 November 1989.
The period from 1939 to the early 1950s represents a period sparsely documented and probably influenced greatly by the war years when many were called to active service. It is quite understandably a grey period in CMRs history.
The post war years
One picks up the thread again during the mid to latter part of the nineteen fifties. To support our story we have the privilege of having members who are still active golfers and have provided valuable input to this tale. One must forgive them if some of the detail is hazy but they should be forgiven as their membership spans almost fifty years.
During the mid-eighties, the Roodepoort Council, now owners of CMR, decided to sell off the property north of Maraisburg Road. This included holes eight and nine and the clubhouse, putting green, parking area and surrounds. Messrs Player/Jacobs/Kirby was commissioned by the Roodepoort Council to design and build 6 new holes with bent grass greens. Spencer Road was relocated and holes 11, 12, 13 and 14 were lost in the process. The club decided that a course with mixed bent grass and old “florida” grass was unacceptable and Rob Marshall was commissioned to rebuild the remaining greens according to Kirby designs and USGA specifications.
Members played parts of the new course as it was developed during 1989. The official handing over of the 6 new holes built by the Council took place during the year and the balance of the reconstruction of existing holes continued for most of the year. The official opening from the club records appears to have taken place on 2 March 1990.
In the 1940’s the course consisted of 6 par 3s’, 6 par 4s’ and 6 par 5s’ – in the earlier parts of the 1950’s the course was changed with 5 par threes, 8 par fours and 5 par fives
The late Frank Abnett, first member of the Club, when interviewed for the Diamond Jubilee, recounted;-
“Main Reef Gold Mine had to provide recreation facilities for their employees so they laid out a nine-hole golf course with a bowling club on the same property. The bowling club was located where the greenkeeper’s cottage is now situated (need to identify position in terms of the course as we know it today) and this was the old clubhouse. This original clubhouse was built of wood and iron, and it stood there for many years.
Mr Abnett was one of the outside, or town members, so called because he was not a mine employee – he lived across the then car park and had some 100 metres to walk to the pub, which he frequented almost daily. He joined in August 1924 for the princely sum of one guinea (Two Rand ten cents) entrance fee and two guineas yearly subscription. One of our long standing members (Frik Honiball) of more than 51 years continuous membership recalls that he paid 3 pounds to join the club in 1960 and also recalled that he was then the youngest full member of the club
Mr Abnett lived to a ripe old age and those members of long-standing will recall the special place in the bar that was set aside as “Uncle Frank’s Corner”. He regularly occupied this seat in his later years as he joined the members after the Saturday afternoon rounds were completed.
CMR, like most clubs I am sure, have many stories to tell about the members who have played on their fairways over the years. Amongst our most senior members are those who joined in the mid-fifties when CMR was still owned by the mine. Some of the well-known names that come to light are Archie Quinn – he was also club captain form many year; Owen Gush who was Chief Magistrate at the time amongst other distinguished personalities and sportsman
The Club Professionals and the Players
When one talks about the history of CMR one professional golfer, Don Ellmore comes immediately to mind. In years gone by, one could hardly think of the club without the Ellmore family. Don was always ready to share a few words with everyone in his own friendly and inimitable way. He was not only a highly regarded teacher of the game, but also mentored a number of well-known professionals and played with some success in professional tournaments. The most notable of these was finishing second to the legendary Bobby Locke in the South African Open championship. He was also chairman of the Professional Golfers Association for three years.
But there have also been others, many of whom were assistants to Don and included Bruce Bain, Garth Pearson, Eddie Holding and Don’s son Ronald, who played the Sunshine circuit for a time.
Each year, in the seventies, due largely to Don Ellmore’s efforts, CMR used to host a Pro-Am tournament which included many of our top touring professionals and some overseas players too. Among them was Denis Hutchinson, who was renowned for having a small wager with everyone possible in the field. For the members at CMR this was undoubtedly a highlight of the year and afforded many of them the opportunity to play with these top professionals.
Don’s wife Janet won the Ladies championship for many years and both on and off the course in her own way made a significant contribution to CMR.
In 1959/1961 CMR had an SA Amateur Golf Champion in the being of Alec Rossell. Comri du Toit also became SA Amateur Champion in stroke and match play events and moved on to become a professional golfer, later joining Royal Johannesburg Golf Club Bobby Locke and Peter Heine, the Springbok fast bowler, regularly played at CMR during mid-week.
The Ladies of CMR
The lady golfers of CMR also have their own special place in CMR’s history. They were pioneers in the development of golf in the West Rand as it was called for so many years.
The following quotes from a publication commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Royal Johannesburg Golf Club, issued by the Transvaal Ladies Golf Union, bears testimony to the role that CMR ladies played.
Referring to the formation of the West Rand Ladies Golf League, the article in the 75th Anniversary publication states:
“The inaugural Meeting was held at Randfontein Golf Club on 5th January 1954, and were very well attended, members of eight clubs being present.”
The eight clubs were Krugersdorp, Crown Mines, CMR, Randfontein, Windsor Park, Goldfields West, Blyvooruitzicht and Venterspost. Mrs Beron, the CMR representative, had called the meeting and Mrs Lyddon from CMR was “unanimously elected” as the first “Chairman of the League”.
The Committees and Management
In the early years of CMR mine management played an active role in the management and development of the club.
This ended with the taking over by the Roodepoort Council in the sixties. The Council was represented on the Club’s committee and contributed in large measure to the development of the club. The political transformation of South Africa in the nineteen nineties gave rise to a period in which interest at local government level was focused elsewhere and the close relationship that existed for so many years declined.
Over the years the committee structure and constitution of the club has been re-written to streamline the operation by having a smaller management committee with subcommittees to support it. The present constitution provides for a committee rotation system that allows new blood to be injected on a regular basis.
By and large the challenges of the past and the development of CMR were in the hands of people who gave much of themselves. These people included miners, politicians and ordinary members. It is in order to pay tribute to them and to trust that the pioneering spirit and commitment to CMR that they displayed will be replicated in those who carry the responsibility into the future.