Golf — to the man in the street is for the rich and famous. To the “towkays”, golf is a game where they can hobnob with people in political power or of great wealth.
But for old timers like me, it is a game you can play well into your old age! In Malaysia, there is no denying golf is a rich man’s game; stories abound about gambling and betting on the golf course, where a player deliberately misses a putt to win favour from a VIP or politician. Golf has become the king of sport with 450 million followers around the world.
It arrived in Borneo just after the Second World War. Sarawak’s golf history was started by a few colonial expatriates after the war when they established a unique nine-hole course at the Sarawak Club where the first tee box required the golfer to drive his shot across the present Jalan Budaya, whenever there were no cars passing through.
In 1968, my father Commissioner Dato Sri John Ritchie built Kuching’s second short par-three course on the foothills of Fort Margherita, directly in front of the Commissioner’s residence. Needless to say, having taken up the sport five years earlier at the age of 13 in the soggy Gymkhana Golf Club in Alor Star, I was declared champion of the inaugural championship with a flawless round which included a hole-in-one which former police officer and federal Minister of Environment Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar recalls! After 18 months, commissioner Ritchie, whose roots are in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, found the Sarawak police officers shirking their duties and playing more golf than doing work, and so the course was closed.
In 1969, the Prisons department commissioned two officers, Malaysian decathlete Cyril Pereira and M Ramadas, to build a government course for civil servants and it was here that ordinary Sarawakians first learned how to hack away at the ground and learn about the game.
Sometime in 1980, Chief Minister of Sarawak Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub or ‘Father of Sarawak Golf” decided to build Sarawak’s first international-class golf course in Petra Jaya and under the chairmanship of State Secretary Tan Sri Bujang Nor, formed a state golf development committee.
By this time, I had become somewhat of an accomplished golfer playing off a 13 handicap and having won the 1979 Malaysian Intermediate Amateur Net Championship at the Seremban International Golf Club (SIGC) in Negri Sembilan.
As a regular partner of Yang Di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Jaafar, I learnt a little more about the etiquettes of the game when you are in the midst of royalty, and by 1981, I was persuaded by a non-golfer Robert Cheah to establish GOLF Malaysia, the nation’s first golf magazine.
On Sept 28, 1982, a year after Tun Rahman became Governor of Sarawak, I played in the prestigious Governor’s Birthday Cup at the newly-built Kelab Golf Sarawak (KGS) which I won with a two-day net score of eight-under net score of 136, piping Prisons’ Michael Luang by a stroke.
Apart from trophy and other prizes, I was rewarded by the governor with a trip to Singapore where I participated in another golf friendly with His Excellency’s team. In the 1990s, I was also a member of KGS’ editorial committee under the late Datuk Dr Yusof Hanifah but my interest in writing about golf began to wane as I pursed other pastimes.
So it was with great pride that I went to the Arnold Palmer-designed Damai golf course to represent New Sarawak Tribune which was appointed the official newspaper for the prestigious USD300,000 Sarawak Classic from Aug 15 till 18. Thanks to Tun Rahman’s encouragement, the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation followed suit and in 1996, built the world-famous Arnold Palmer course.
Since the sporting Tun Rahman’s time, golf has come a long way as the KGS has been the venue of many major amateur tournaments. But we are still lagging far behind in the international arena. At present there are at least 300 pros in Malaysia, the most outstanding being Penang’s Gavin Green, who at 25, has already won three Asian Tour championship. Sadly, Sarawak only has two PGA-sanctioned golf professionals.
In Kuching, golf is still ranked by some as a game of well-connected people or who have nothing better to do than spend a day lazing about in the meadows and living off their parents’ goodwill. In fact, some quarters say the acronym GOLF — ‘Golongan Orang Lemah Fikiran’ — rings true for myopic senior golfers like me.
Even so, in the twilight of an exciting golfing life and now macular degenerated, I’ll be hacking away until kingdom come. And who knows, maybe join the roll of honour of old golfers who never die … but just lose their (golf) balls? The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.