Zanzibar Golf

The Zanzibar golf club was establish in the 1890's by the members of "the English Club." This club and it's centrally located Headquarters/Hotel was established in 1888 as a facility for "English Residents, together with officers of the Royal Navy stationed in these waters." Officers of six different warships as well as all the British diplomats based on Zanzibar were enrolled as founding members.

Shortly after the club was founded permission was obtained from the Sultan to improve some vacant land just south of town for recreational purposes. A Cricket pitch and soccer field were the first to be established and then in 1900 a Golf coursewas laid out. It had nine holes, the longest being the 9th at 336 yards, the shortest, the 1st hole at 157 yards.

The Zanzibar course had a beautiful local, running along a sandy embankment next to the sea, it was one of the first golf links in Africa. It's unique status however did not prevent it from being forced to accommodate both the old and the new in it's layout. Therefore to access the tee for the sixth and seventh holes one had to cross the cricket grounds and players on the fairway of No 3 had to carefully skirt the Sultan's powder magazine.

Despite these obstacles the course was very popular. Membership was soon extended to include "any British subject or American citizen of European extraction." Also "extraordinary" memberships were created which, when voted for by members, allowed non-British residents to become members. For churchmen and missionaries an "honorable member" category was created and they too soon took to the links after church.

If the Europeans tightly controlled club membership the local Zanzibaris were still able to access the course thru their work there as caddies and maintenance workers. The Caddies as a group were especially well known in old Zanzibar. Their golf game was always on and some gave lessons to visitors for a fee. After hours they maintained a soccer club that often did quite well in league play on the Islands. Their soccer team "United Service" even had a small role in breaking down prejudice and racial barriers. "Caddie players challenged colonial discourses of African infantilization by trouncing the team of European men, Mnazi Moja, on the football field in full view of thousands of spectators."

Despite these issues true golfers are not easily deterred from their sport and the links remained popular and heavily used for over 60 years. Shortly after World War 1 a championship competition was organized by the club. The winner of the first "Nicol" cup, "Golf Cup No 1" in 1924 was H.E.Gott. The club closed during the next world war and didn't reopen until the early 50's. In 1953 the "Nicol" Cup was re-established and it was won that year by Mr. E. Grange.

Today the golf club is no more and the English Club building is now the Africa House Hotel. The Golf clubhouse however still stands and is now a rather seedy bar and restaurant. I don't recommend the food but you can get a nice cold drink there and while sipping you might still see an old duffer or two putting balls around the ex-greens.

There are still players on Zanzibar and the President is one of them. In a 2001 newspaper interview President Karume revealed that he was the first President of Zanzibar to have earned a golf handicap, his is 24. The newspaper went on to report " President Karume promised the golfers that he would extend and renovate the dying Zanzibar golf course in his bid to revive the sport in the Isles."

There is a part of old golf course left in Zanzibar on which few golf addicts still play. I now promise you to reshape the course for the public and in future to make it a permanent venue for Mapinduzi Cup golf tournament instead of here he said amidst cheers and claps from the golfers.

by Torrence Royer 2006

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