Kelley's 120-year chronicle of Zim golf

HARARE - Veteran Zimbabwean sports journalist John Kelley has published one of the most compelling books on the history of sport in this country, this time focusing on his beloved golf – a sport he has played and covered as a journalist for decades.

Staying the Course is a fully-packed 200-page book on the 120-year history of golf in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe.

It’s a powerful and absorbing story of a sport that has punched above its weight in this country and given us truly world-class sportsmen who have made the nation extremely proud over the years. 

“Staying the Course has taken many months to research and write,” Kelley opens in his prelude.

“The book is a very first important by anybody to discover golf facts and recollections that encapsulate 120 years of history, drama and fortitude that adds up to a tribute to those people who have been deeply involved in the sport throughout these many years.

“For example they built some 85 clubs around the country as well as designing and constructing a similar number of golf courses. Many of them were destroyed through politics, but golf rose to the challenges. Literally thousands of people had extraordinary careers and the widest possible interests in carrying through many remarkable deeds. Whatever their various golfing skills or other attributes, their overall contribution to the sport in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe since the early 1890s have all combined to create a pageant of golf.

“Staying the Course attempts to encapsulate in all into just under 200 pages. It is a powerful and hopefully very readable story full of triumph, tragedy, endeavour, stamina and personalities. This book cannot be referred to as a formal history with a chronological theme that most readers are used to. So many records have been mislaid or destroyed and so many memories have been taken to the grave. Staying the Course is therefore not a dry history but the rich story of golf in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, described as was best possible in those circumstances, covering the raw beginnings through to unpredictable times at Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980 and beyond. From there it does not come to an ending. Instead it gains strength towards a new beginning.”

Golf in this country was introduced in 1894-05, four years after the arrival of the Pioneer Column. Kelley credits Cecil Rhodes, founder of the British colony of Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) for the success here of golf and sport in general, because he deliberately included many talented sportsmen in the Pioneer Column as he wanted the new country to be strong on sport in the long term. The results of which we probably see to this day.

Staying the Course closes by describing how the arrival of black Zimbabweans into the sport following Independence in 1980 with such enthusiasm and with their funding, and according to Kelley, “saved and ensured a sound future for golf in Zimbabwe.”

He writes: “It might otherwise have died but many clubs suddenly found new lifeblood in rapidly growing African memberships that to a large extent have replaced those Europeans who left after 11980. In some cases this way by as much as 40 percent.”

The author, John Kelley, was born at Brackley, England, in 1931. He began his journalism career there, firstly as a sports writer and editor and then editing various provincial newspapers. His first golf feature was for the British Golf Monthly magazine in 1965 after caddying for Harold Henning in the Open Championship.

In 1965, he migrated with a young family to this country in order to join The Herald as cricket and golf writer, transferring to the Sunday Mail as sports editor and then back to The Herald as news editor. In 1976 he left to set up a news agency which became the biggest in Africa in terms of world-wide accreditations. In 1986 he was invited to temporarily join the staff of The Journal of Commerce, New York, to work on contract in Hong Kong mainly covering financial matters but also traveling the Pacific Rim, including into China.

Meanwhile, he was also writing cricket and tennis for Associated Press and for Agence France-Presse, the world’s biggest sports agency, covering mainly Test and ODI series and Davis Cup tennis. After 24 years of service with them he retired from journalism in Zimbabwe but AFP invited him to join their team covering three Open Championship in Britain – 2008, 2010 and 2013 with special duties for interviews and media conferences. He has written about Zimbabwe Country Districts golf in 2011, titled The Way We Were. This year, he received a Lifetime Achievement in Golf awards from the Zimbabwe Gold Association.

His latest book, Staying the Course, is a fine piece of journalism from a fine writer from times gone by, a must read for any sport fan in Zimbabwe and abroad. 

The book’s foreword was written by Monsieur Pierre Bechmann, 2012-13 captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, Scotland, the first to be elected to this post from outside the United Kingdom.

Writes Bechmann: “John Kelley’s excellent history of golf in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe will bring back happy memories to many golfers around the world who vested the country and were impressed by the beauty of its land and the kindness of their hosts. It will be hopefully encourage golfers in Zimbabwe to continue to promote our sport and welcome new generations of players. Our members wish their fellow golfers in Zimbabwe a happy and successful future.”

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