Dr W. F. Atherstone laid out the original 9-hole course at Port Alfred Golf Club in 1907, assisted by the Port Elizabeth professional A. E. Gray. A year later, professional Laurie Waters from Royal Johannesburg added a second nine holes.
Prince Arthur of Connaught, grandson of Queen Victoria, was Governor General of the Union of South Africa from 1920 to 1924 and his wife Princess Alexandra of Fife was invited to the club to name the holes in 1921. Thirteen of those names remain in place today.
Prince Arthur then petitioned The King at the start of 1924, asking for the club to be granted use of the royal title. Almost immediately, his uncle King George V bestowed this, with the club becoming known as Royal Port Alfred Golf Club on 6 February 1924.
The course had been the venue for the South African Open and South African Amateur two years earlier, and it would host the national men’s Amateur again in 1932, along with the South African Women’s Amateur in 1927 and 1931.
S. V. Hotchkin suggested some course changes during his trip to South Africa in the winter of 1927 and club minutes from two years later state that the Greens committee were only authorised to “carry out some of the minor alterations he recommended but at the least expense”.
In 1953/4, Bob Grimsdell was invited to give his opinion on whether the layout could be reorganized as two loops of nine holes but “he found that this was close to impossible and ventured that the 13-5 configuration was the best option of the time”. He returned in 1967 to give his approval for a new short hole, currently the 8th.
In the new millennium, some of the sand hazards have been re-shaped as pot bunkers and greens on the 1st, 4th and 9th holes have also been enlarged.
The following edited extract is taken from Golf’s Royal Clubs by Scott Macpherson:
“From the clubhouse, the course stretches out in front of you, with 15 of the 18 holes identifiable. Its strength is its lack of weak holes: all have some intrinsic interest, and this is clear from the fact they are often referred to by their hole names than their numbers. Images rush to mind when we hear of the Hippo’s Bath, Whale’s Back or Shelly Beach.
The seaside course entertains with sloping fairways, blind holes and firm greens. Situated in a lush landscape featuring many shrubs and bushes but few trees, it has many links qualities although the land by definition is not ‘linksland,’ rather more of a raised beach – still excellent ground for golf.
Of the four royal golf clubs in South Africa, Royal Port Alfred is the youngest but was the second to gain the royal title. Those who visit the club will notice it has a traditional feel, and it is easy to imagine the fun early golfers had here with a lively gutta-percha ball and hickory clubs.”