- South African PGA
South African PGA
The first professional golfer in South Africa was Walter Day, son of golf ball maker Benjamin Day and his wife Catherine. He moved from Edinburgh to Musselburgh to work as a golf club maker before emigrating in 1893 to take up an appointment at the Cape Golf Club. Around the same time, the professional ranks were added to with the arrival at Port Elizabeth Golf Club of another Scotsman, Jack Johnson from North Berwick.
When the second South African Tournament was held at Port Elizabeth later that year, Day and Johnson played a challenge match as part of the week’s activities, with the latter winning by 2 holes. The SA Tournament returned to Port Elizabeth the following year and Day gained his revenge for the previous year’s defeat. This rivalry then continued as their challenge matches became a regular feature of the annual national golf festival.
These head to head encounters came to an end in 1903 when the South African Open Championship was instigated at Port Elizabeth. There were now several professionals earning a living in the country – four of them took part in the first Open – but another twenty years would then pass before a “Professionals’ Match Play Championship” was added to the SA Tournament programme at Royal Cape in 1923.
Sponsored by Argus Newspapers, the prize money for the winner was double that paid to the South African Open champion, so this was quite an incentive for those participating in an event where no entrance fee was paid. Fourteen entered the competition, so six matches were played in the first round with two byes. Jock Brews, that year’s SA Open winner, was beaten in the second round of matches and the final was played between two Pretoria pros; Bert Elkin from Pretoria Country Club defeating Jimmie Johnstone from Pretoria Golf Club 4&3 in the final.
Jock Brews bounced back at Durban Country Club 12 months later, beating Archie Tosh 4&2 in the final, and he retained the title in 1925 at Johannesburg Golf Club. In fact, of the eighteen editions played up until the tournament was suspended due to the Second World War in 1941, Jock Brews or his brothers Sid and George featured in ten finals: Jock won two and lost two; Sid won five and lost one; and George lost both his finals – to Sid in 1926 and to Charles McLivenny in 1931.
Sid also won the South African Open eight times over a 26-year span, starting in 1925, and he claimed a number of prestigious national titles in Europe, including the Belgian Open in 1929 then the French and Dutch Opens in 1934, both of which he retained the following year. He also came second in the 1934 Open at Royal St George’s, finishing 5 strokes behind Henry Cotton.
Another player who reached four PGA finals but lost all of them (between 1925 and 1932) was Englishman Robert Grimsdell, who emigrated to South Africa in the early 1920s. He didn’t have much luck on the professional playing front but he made up for that lack of success with his work as a course architect, designing dozens of layouts around the country over many years from his home base at Scottsburgh, to the south of Durban.
In advance of WWII bringing about a 5-year suspension of the competition, Bobby Locke won the last three South African PGA Championships (and SA Opens) that were staged, having just turned professional in 1938. He’d go on to win a total of nine South African Opens and seven South African PGA Championships, among dozens of other tournaments that were played around the country.
His international triumphs included the Irish and New Zealand Opens in 1938, the Dutch Open in 1939, the French and Mexican Opens in 1952, the German and Swiss Opens in 1954 and the Australian Open in 1955. Of course, transcending all of these championships were his four wins in the Open Championship, beginning with a 36-hole playoff victory against Harry Bradshaw at Royal St George’s in 1949. He also won eleven times in four years on the PGA Tour in America, between 1947 and 1950.
The PGA tournament was held at the same venue as the Open and Amateur until 1956 but the professionals’ event was then played at Houghton in 1957 while the other two competitions took place at Humewood. Houghton and Durban hosted the championship for a few years – it switched from match play to 72-hole stroke play in 1965 – before it settled at Germiston Golf Club outside Johannesburg for a short spell in the late 1960s then moved on to nearby Huddle Park for a couple of years. Gary Player (1959 and 1969) and Harold Henning (1965-1967) won five of the ten tournaments that were played during this sixteen-year period.
The event was located at Wanderers Golf Club in Sandton between 1972 and 1995, bringing much needed stability to the championship. Dale Hayes won three tournaments in a row early on in this residency; Gary Player won a couple in 1979 and 1982; and Ernie Els pitched in with two titles in the 1990s.
There was also quite a bit of success for foreign golfers: Americans Tom Weiskopf (1973), Hale Irwin (1978) and Corey Pavin (1983) all flew home with a winner’s cheque in their back pocket, as did Zimbabweans Tony Johnstone (1989) and Mark McNulty (1993). Houghton then hosted for four years from 1996, with both Nick Price and Tony Johnstone continuing the winning ways for Zimbabwe-based professionals by lifting the trophy in 1997 and 1998.
In the new millennium, the PGA Championship enjoyed a 5-year stretch at the Woodhall Estate outside Pretoria (2001-5) then nine years at The Country Club Johannesburg before moving a short distance south to Eye of Africa, where it’s been staged since 2016. Only two multiple winners have appeared in this modern era: Louis Oosthuizen in 2007-8 and Jaco Van Zyl in 2009, 2013 and 2016.
Of the 85 editions of the competition played up to and including 2020, most have been held at The Wanderers (23), followed by Country Club Johannesburg (9) then Houghton (8) and Durban Country Club (6). You’ll not find Germiston (1966-1970) or Zwartkop (1955) below as they’re currently not ranked in any of our South African listings.
South African PGA Top 100 Leaderboard